Before we start I must just say that in the context of so many people losing their lives, talk of financial or business problems as disasters seems trite. I’ve been lucky that I barely know anyone that went to hospital, let alone died and I’m very grateful for that.
Staring into the abyss
There are lots of versions of the stages that we go through when facing a difficult event like bereavement, divorce or bankruptcy but they generally have in common denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I recognise all of these in my behaviour as things snowballed into the surreal in March. First there was plenty of denial- we simply didn’t believe that our country could be locked down and if it was surely only for a few weeks. As the first guests wanted to cancel because of worries we had no special conditions and pointed out that we simply couldn’t afford to vary our terms.
Then came the lockdown and we had to start cancelling holidays. Some of the big national agencies got a legal opinion that a credit note or alternative holiday in the same property would fulfill our obligations and so we entered into a period of literally bargaining as well as calculating. The big issue for us is that we take commission from deposits and use it to run the business all winter so we didn’t have the money to refund. With our limited resources and overdraft we could cope with losing April, May would hurt but we’d get over it, June would be a body blow, July & August might be the end of us.
The press and campaigners painted businesses unable to give refunds as money grabbing fat cats, it was confirmed refunds were compulsory and I might have been depressed for an hour or two before acceptance set in for a few days. As government support through the furlough scheme, rates relief, grants and vat holidays arrived I got a surge of energy like I’ve never had before. This was compounded by an outpouring of support from our customers and then a marvellous thing happened- VE day.
The graph above shows traffic on the website from March until mid July. On the left the spike is the first Harry Redknapp programme on Sandbanks followed by a slide into minimal traffic during lockdown. The first spike on the right is the day after VE day- we beat the Nazis so we’re not going to let this virus get us down, we’ll bally well go on holiday to Britain because Britain is great!
Even now I feel a bit emotional remembering that day, suddenly the tills started ringing again and like all good marketers I immediately poured petrol on the fire by switching on all the pay per click and other advertising that had been suspended. At first we wondered if it would be a temporary blip but no, as the days and weeks went on traffic and bookings went on increasing and the calendar filled up.
Now the question was when would we be allowed to open, as the bookings arrived, we issued refunds 2 weeks in advance of arrival until finally the news came that holidays would be allowed from 4th July. We were saved! No gradual reopening for us, we went from empty to full in one day and what a day it was!
It's been a mad season extending right through September into October and there have been many challenges, particularly as our linen supplier and other key partners have been hit hard but we've got through it with relatively few mishaps and we're now in a strong position to cope with whatever the winter brings.
The next big dip
As I'm writing in October the rule of 6 has been in place for a month which has caused some cancellations in larger properties but the effect has been manageable. Last week the three tier system was announced and this will have a much bigger impact, particularly on our Christmas and New Year bookings. London and surrounding areas have just gone into tier 2 and the way things are going I have to wonder if we are heading for another shutdown.
The good news is that we are now prepared both financially and mentally to face what the winter throws at us and with advance bookings for 2021 up more than 250% it's going to be very busy next year.