CONFUSED? RUNNING A HOSTEL IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

In March this year our world was turned on its head. We moved from planning for our 2020 summer season and making improvements to the hostel facilities to being closed down because of a public health emergency.

At the time of writing this the Scottish Government has given a date of 15th July 2020 for the reopening of the tourist sector. Announcing a date is easy, but what does that actually mean for those of us at the sharp end?

First of all, there are understandably a host of new protocols for how accommodation providers deal with hygiene, cleaning, disinfecting and laundry issues. We have always prided ourselves on running the cleanest hostel we know and so obviously we will follow the same approach to how we handle this issue. Inevitably, though, it will add considerably to our workload and running costs.

More important in some ways for us is the maze of regulations, guidelines and recommendations from the UK and Scottish Governments and trade bodies. Physical distancing guidelines have a major impact on the number of households and guests we can take and what we can offer them. This is a dilemma which affects all hostel owners. Because hostels traditionally have a mix of private and dorm rooms and lots of communal facilities we are being treated in a different way from other types of accommodation.

Consider a few questions. Can we sell dorm beds? What’s the maximum number of people allowed to gather together indoors, with appropriate physical distancing? How many households are allowed together indoors, with appropriate physical distancing? If you have more than one household (plus “bubble”) in a hostel can the guests use the kitchen, lounge and drying room? If you have the allowable number of households in a hostel (all in private rooms with allocated toilets and showers) do the members of those households have to physically distance from each other? In short, what can we sell?

We deliberately haven’t given the answers to these questions because the rules (and therefore the answers) keep changing. When the goalposts are constantly being moved it becomes very hard to devise a reopening plan which won’t quickly become out of date. All hostel owners have the same issue, although what they decide to do will depend upon the physical layout of their individual hostel and their own financial circumstances.

For us, we don’t feel that the rules in force as at 15th July would allow us to run our hostel in a viable manner. We have therefore taken the difficult decision to hold off our own reopening date to 27th August. By then we think that there will have been further changes to the rules which should allow us to run the hostel something closer to the way we want to, and in the way our guests expect.

We’ll obviously keep this under review as and when circumstances change, and we’ll update our website to confirm our current policy. Meantime we will keep fine tuning our reopening plan. We’re looking forward to welcoming our loyal guests back (and meeting new ones) soon.

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