The UK Government has issued instructions that certain non-essential businesses and venues must close. These instructions require businesses in the accommodation industry (namely, hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses) to close their doors to guests as quickly as is safely possible. Any decision to close must also be implemented in accordance with social distancing guidelines. However, there are a few important exceptions to protect vulnerable guests.
Where a guest falls into one of the express exceptions provided below, they are able to remain in situ:
a) Those who are living in the accommodation temporarily (i.e. as 'interim abodes') because their primary residence is unavailable.
b) Key workers who are unable to travel to their country of residence.
c) Permanent residents who are unable to travel to their country of residence.
d) Non-UK residents who are unable to travel to their country of residence.
e) Those who require emergency accommodation, for example those who are homeless, vulnerable, or do not feel safe in their own home.
f) Those who are unable to move into a new home due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.
The UK Government has provided further guidance that accommodation providers may also remain open where:
a) They are part of the response to support key workers or vulnerable groups.
b) There is a specific need for some or all of the site to remain open, for example where:
i. People are unable to live in their homes due to flooding; or
ii. Public services are using the accommodation for emergency purposes.
c) A holiday or caravan park is a guest's primary place of residence.
Separately, the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 25 March 2020. The Act introduces a raft of provisions to deal with the virus and related events, and provides the Secretary of State with the power to close 'premises' (including hotels) and impose restrictions on persons entering or remaining in premises. The Act may lead to other types of businesses deemed non-essential being required to close, which in turn may impact on accommodation providers’ supply chain or subcontractors.
In light of the new legislation and the current Government guidance, we have set out below some of the steps you can and should be taking now in order to ensure best practice:
1. Safely liaising with guests in order to explain the current guidance and to determine whether guests are able to remain on site or, unfortunately, will be required to leave. This may include asking guests for written confirmation (such as a signed declaration) as to which exception above they fall within.
a. Check whether there are any language barriers with guests to ensure all guests understand the situation and can respond accordingly.
b. Also remain aware of obligations regarding obtaining guests' personal data.
2. Notifying the closest local authority:
a. as to the number of guests remaining onsite; and
b. that steps have been taken to ensure all remaining guests do fall within the above exceptions.
3. Reviewing the number of hotel staff who may be staying on site and deciding which customer services are considered essential. From there, and to the extent possible, all non-essential staff should be advised to return to their primary places of residence.
4. Keeping records of communications with guests and staff, as well as decision making processes. This is important in case these documents are required later for auditing purposes or similar.
5. Only accepting new guests who fall within one of the exceptions identified above. This may include, again, asking guests to confirm in writing upon booking/signing in at reception.
6. Separately, reviewing any rights or remedies under insurance policies, including coverage for business interruption. It may also be a good time to review any separate ongoing contractual obligations to determine whether these can be met or whether force majeure clauses or the doctrine of frustration may need to be invoked.
If you would like more detailed information, please get in touch with your usual Baker McKenzie contact, or our dedicated COVID-19 team here.