My Viewpoint – by Susan Stuart of the Four Seasons Hotel, St Fillans

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We re-opened in time for Valentines but even then we could feel the effects of Covid-19. Soon after I met with my staff and discussed going onto short working hours. At the time I am sure they thought I was being a bit melodramatic but the decision was the right one to make.

2 March – I could see that the public had stopped booking hotels and going out. So when I wrote my car off it forced me to rethink how the following few weeks were to function. We were still on winter trading hours so I stocked up on staff meals.

Then the government started to react and over the space of a few days, we were an industry being shut down but not. There was direction for restaurants etc but not hotels

On Monday 16th March my forward diary for March and much of April cancelled – every call, every email was a cancellation – I had been there with Scottish Water two years previously but you are still in the hospitality business to be taking bookings and be a host, not to be cancelling. It was the same on the Tuesday. This time my staff heard me speaking to guests and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife because they knew it was serious then. It was two very emotionally draining days.

I had 3 staff meetings in 1 week, the last of which was to put staff on furlough. The tone of government was getting increasingly serious about staying at home and I half expected a curfew.

Finn (my dog) hadn’t been himself over this period and I had a suspicion that he had eaten something. On 23rd I called the vet with my thought that he had perhaps eaten a t-shirt – “Best to X-ray him and based on his history we may need to operate straight away as we are going onto emergency treatment only from tomorrow.”

Lockdown became increasingly intense. We have a village store in the village and two hotels. We closed and I hope that this will be through to late May, opening then in some form. Hotels in Lochearnhead and Comrie are closed too. Our neighbouring hotel, The Achray continues to trade and is doing take-aways and deliveries plus a charitable isolation menu for the area.

I have live-in staff so it has been a novelty for them initially but they are getting bored. I may put them back to work occasionally with the 3 on 1 off furloughing rules – I am not sure.

After the initial madness, it was a case of what direction do we turn to, to get information. Information was changing by the hour with a lot of top line strategy/theory being distributed. Things started to settle and we learned that grants were going to be distributed by councils. This generated so much “noise” that it was hard to filter through it all. Everyone was trying to be helpful and it meant that you read 20 pages of roughly the same information. This support has run a little late but considering nearly every organisation has had to furlough staff and react to an unknown set of circumstances, I think the delivery by the government has been pretty good. They promised hospitality grants prior to Easter and that is when I got mine.

Business rates relief has been most welcome and prompt – a result of simply cancelling a D/D. The furloughing is now coming on-line but is a little more complex to process. A big decision I made was to pay my staff their furloughed wage in March out of my own pocket way in advance of the government pay out. My belief is that staff are on minimum wage so every penny for them counts and they are my responsibility. I hope I don’t have to wait too long for the repayment.

I am still a relatively new business so I still have close relations with my bank (Natwest) and accountants (JCCA). Both have been worth every penny in recent weeks as they are intelligence gathering and have been a fountain of knowledge. I ultimately decided to stick to the JCCA “Covid 19 Hub” to get up to date information. They screen everything that becomes available and then post a sensible summary. It was JCCA who advised me to apply for CIBLS, now that it is 100% government funded.

Having a close relationship with my bank has also meant that it was easy to speak to them about support until grants kick in. The prospect of calling my bank without a relationship and asking for financial support would have been massively daunting.

Now bookings for April/May are being postponed. People are prepared to think about 2021 so hopefully we can look forward, but ultimately we are lucky. We have beautiful countryside that we can enjoy from our windows. ”

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Hotel Magazine Scotland News Team

Hotel Scotland is a new publication (2017) from the publishers of DRAM – Scotland’s leading on-trade magazine. Hotel Scotland is a newsy magazine which covers all aspects of the industry in Scotland. From who’s who, to industry issues and refurbishments.
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