THE owners of a boutique glamping retreat in Warwickshire say they hope a ‘surge in ‘staycationers’ will help them bounce back from a three-month lockdown that is forecast to have cost the business more than £100k.
Jo Carroll and Steve Taylor of Winchcombe Farm Holidays are now ready to welcome back guests after taking comprehensive steps to make their holiday homes COVID-Secure.
Winchcombe Farm Holidays in Tysoe, is preparing to throw open the doors to its luxury lodges as they emerge from a damaging three-month lockdown following this week’s Government announcement allowing holiday accommodation in England to reopen soon.
Situated in the picturesque Cotswold village of Upper Tysoe, it is one of thousands of small independent holiday home companies to have welcomed the green light for trading again.
Jo and Steve say they hope show staycationers will help them bounce back in business, although think the current quarantine rules will greatly affect the amount of foreign tourists they normally see flocking to the area.
The enterprising couple, who established their glamping business just over two years ago on the foundations of their former privately-run nursery, currently have three lodges and a tree house for guests on their farm. Work on opening a fifth lodge this year, called Ben’s Burrow, had to be shelved as they were relying on income from this year’s main season to complete the build.
Steve said: “It goes without saying the last few months have been catastrophic for the tourism and hospitality sector as a whole. We’ve had to delay our expansion plans and have spent the last few months just fighting as hard as we could to stand still.”
The entrepreneurs received emergency support from the Government’s Hospitality Grant Scheme – which covered all their basic utility bills – plus free business rates for this year, but fell into the 10% of workers who didn’t qualify for any personal financial help.
Steve said: “The business was set up as a partnership and we were self-employed. As all the profits we made are poured straight back into the company, we couldn’t claim a Self -Employed Grant. Neither could we furlough ourselves as we aren’t PAYE”.
Winchcombe is opening to a busy calendar of bookings and re-bookings for the summer months but fear that concerns around a possible second wave of the virus is deterring longer term enquiries.
Jo said: “We would normally have a bursting diary for the autumn months too, along with a waiting list for cancellations; however, we’re just not seeing that this year.
Certification from Visit England’s ‘Go to Good’ Scheme and the AA’s COVID Certification Scheme – both aimed at building consumer confidence in travel – should offer reassurance.
Jo added: “The housekeeping regime between guest stays is rigorous but essential in the current climate. It includes dishwashing the entire contents of the kitchen and treating carpets and soft furnishings with virucidal disinfectant mist, with our housekeepers changing their PPE each time they enter a new room.
“We’ve had to double up on staff, spend a fortune on PPE and extend check in times, so we can complete the level of sanitary clean that is required to make us compliant.”
“There’s obviously a huge cost implication, however, it’s better to be able to open again and welcome in guests than remain closed.”
Further preventative measures include the removal of all non-essential and fabric furnishings, including rugs, from the properties as well as books, games and toys and the welcome baskets now only contain single-packaged items.
The couple are preparing themselves for a long journey ahead amid industry speculation that it could take years – rather than months – to fully recover from the effects of lockdown.
Steve said: “The revenue from the first few months when we reopen will be used to refund the remainder of guests who had to have their stays cancelled. This, on top of fear of a second wave of coronavirus in the autumn, makes it difficult to try and make any headway this year. On top of that, we’re nosediving into a depression and think it’s fair to stay that recovery for hospitality and tourism will take a lot longer than some other sectors.”
Once cash flow allows, the couple are planning to resume work on converting a former day nursery building into a new holiday home that sleeps 11. It is hoped the lodge, which comes complete with exclusive star-gazing dome and hot tub, will now be complete by early winter.