With Covid cooping up many of us indoors throughout the pandemic, and home working becoming the new normal, one of the mostly badly affected business areas has been hotels.

Whether it’s the loss of travellers wanting to stay the night, business conferences being hosted online, or weddings being postponed, hotels have been under pressure from a variety of angles.

One such hotel has been the Hampshire Court in Chineham, where manager Steven Lawson says that that ‘things will only get better’ for hospitality as he reopens his venue this week, with it being fully booked at the weekend.

He said: “The money’s not stopping now. Everyone from the CEO down can see hospitality will bounce back really quickly and we need to be prepared for that.”

As with many businesses across the country, staff at the Hampshire Court had to close on March 23 following the announcement of a national lockdown. At the time, Steve remembers that they “really didn’t know what was happening.”

“The team were asking a lot of questions about what happened next,” he said, “and at that point we weren’t aware of the furlough scheme until about 10 days later. That first week was really unsettling for everybody.”

The Hampshire Court operated a skeleton team during this time, with two members of staff working 12 hour shifts to ensure the building was secure, with thousands being lost each month on just Norton Park being closed.

“We were still having other team members ringing in with questions about when they could come back, and at that point we didn’t have all the answers,” he said. “As we got into April and May, the company [Q Hotels] were burning money, so to speak. With 21 hotels it was costing the thick end of £2 million a month to keep them in hibernation.”

However, as lockdown restrictions began to be eased, the hotel looked to examples such as in Las Vegas, where hotels reopened with around a third of their total capacity. Unfortunately, this meant tough decisions had to be made on redundancies.

“We tried to avoid redundancies at all costs,” said Steve. “I was overwhelmed when I started these meetings by the response I got. When we were looking at a department and saying we had to cut hours by half, teams all came together to divide the hours up rather than making people redundant.

“I was really overwhelmed by that, and of my 170 staff we only made four people physically redundant. Two of those were for people who were in their sixties and planning to hang up their boots.”

On reopening in July, rural hotels in the group succeeded in drawing customers back, while the Hampshire Court “really struggled”.

“It was a different story for Hampshire Court,” Steve said, “because it’s really a business hotel and of course a lot of companies took the stance that business travel was off until further notice.”

As a result, it went back into hibernation until a time that the business market picked up. However, an offer from the NHS changed their plans.

“Word got out that we were doing this, and in October we were approached by the NHS and we became the Covid vaccination centre in Basingstoke,” Steve said. “We’ve supported the vaccination effort and so about 115,000 people have been vaccinated in the centre.”

As a result, the hotel went from having one of the more uncertain futures of the group to one of the most firm, as it stayed open during both lockdowns as a vaccine hub.

This week, the hotel once again reopened to paying customers, while also continuing to vaccinate residents. This involved layout changes to have different entrances for different visitors, but with all facilities reopening.

Steve said: “Our policy throughout is to ensure that the hotel is clean and safe. The NHS team have created a buzz within the hotel for sure, but we are looking forward to welcoming our guests back and doing what we do best which is delivering great hospitality.”

To help guests get used to coming back, the hotel has undergone risk assessments for Covid, as well as making rapid tests available at reception while temperatures can be taken on request. There are also a variety of offers and price reductions on offer as the team looks to the future.

“I really think the hospitality sector economy will bounce back very quickly and strongly,” Steve said, “as people want to get out and have a break as they have been locked within their own four walls for so long.”