Portsmouth's hospitality businesses are booming thanks to British staycations
Although travel restrictions to several countries have been lifted, many of us are still sceptical about dipping our toes into the world of overseas holidays.
Journeys to airports, limited planes, foreign hotels and confusing travel insurance has put many off the once-blissful idea of basking in exotic climes.
But while our region may not be all that exotic, our hospitality sector still has plenty to offer those seeking a holiday in the UK for their own slice of escapism.
‘It’s been a challenging year so far – it’s tested us a little but it’s been amazing. We’ve had really positive feedback,’ says Eleanor Good, co-manager of The Oven Campsite at Hayling Island. Since they reopened on July 4, she and her husband Jason, whose family have run the site for 40 years, have spent their time answering hundreds of calls and emails from keen holidaymakers.
And the situation isn’t too different at The Old Dairy Farm glamping and bed and breakfast, at Emsworth, as Debbie Williams and her daughter Lily make and re-make beds for their excited guests.
Debbie says: ‘We have had so many inquiries. Our weekend availability is now fully booked until September. Like everyone, we didn’t think we were going to have a season at all so we’re grateful to be open.’
The Queens Hotel, Southsea, has also reopened its doors to the public – but it never fully closed. In April, at the height of the crisis in the UK, this grand establishment housed several NHS workers in their hour of need.
Managing director at the Queens, Farid Yeganeh, says: ‘From offering respite and solace to NHS workers on the frontline, to being the focus for a community cooking project that has seen many hundreds of meals for vulnerable people prepared at the Queens Hotel, we have certainly remained busy.’
But now they’re all back in business doing what they do best: caring, catering and accommodating excited holidaymakers, coming from Scotland and Hampshire itself.
Eleanor, 41, says she has definitely felt a buzz when her happy campers arrive at their 14-acre site. She explains: ‘With some travel restrictions still in place, I think people are really keen to holiday in this country.
‘We’re a lot busier than we usually are. We’re normally booked out during the six weeks but with a lot of children off school already, many families have taken their holidays earlier.
‘I think a lot of people want to get outside properly and camping is perfect for that.’
Debbie, 59, adds: ‘The glamping has been chock-a-block and I think there’s a lot more interest in self-catering.
‘The B&B has five rooms and we have now run the site for more than 10 years. We started glamping three years ago and have four yurts in our Oak Tree Paddock.’
Naturally, the biggest concern for everyone in the hospitality industry is keeping staff and customers safe. Farid, 50, says: ‘Every inch of the hotel has been deep cleaned using the very latest fogging technique – a cleaning process which happens in hospitals. All high touch points in our public spaces will, at a minimum, be sanitised every hour during peak times.
‘Serving staff are wearing face shields and all staff members have received training in preparation for welcoming guests back.’
For Debbie and her luxury yurts and rooms, she has decided to provide fewer soft furnishings for guests but claims no one has asked her about Covid-19 precautions. She explains: ‘We used to always meet and greet our guests and give them a tour of the site. But now I send all the information and maps in an email before they arrive. I miss the customer interaction but they know we’re on site if they need our help.
‘From a business perspective, I have found the guidelines really confusing but we’re doing the best we can and ensuring we’re all staying safe.’
For the months that they were closed, Eleanor and her family spent hours discussing the way forward when it came to making their campsite Covid-19 compliant.
‘Our office has perspex screens now and only one person is allowed in at a time,’ says Eleanor. ‘We have given all of our staff PPE and there are hand sanitising stations across the site, especially by the toilets and shower blocks.
‘We have also hired external cleaners, as well as our own. Our staff have been amazing.’
But like Debbie, Eleanor says the guidance wasn’t all that clear. ‘The only problem we had for reopening was that we weren’t given a lot of time to read the guidance,’ she explains.
‘We also have an outdoor pool and as soon as it was announced that they could open, we had phone calls about it. But we haven’t been given any guidance so we’re working on it.’
But thanks to their staff and dedicated managers, the Queens Hotel, Debbie’s Old Dairy Farm glamping and B&B, and Hayling’s Oven Campsite have successfully reopened and are providing service with a smile.
Farid says: ‘We were happy to introduce new ways of doing things, if it meant we could safely open the doors to our guests and be certain that our team could work safely too.
‘The best part of opening the doors once more was to hear people enjoying themselves, relaxing with their friends and family – bringing the Queens Hotel to life once more.’
‘We love seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they arrive for a holiday,’ adds Eleanor. ‘We are still slightly nervous because you never know what’s round the corner and the country could go into lockdown again, but we’re doing our best to make sure everyone is safe.’
Take your pick
There are plenty of places in Portsmouth available for mini-breaks and staycations. Here are a few:
:: Queens Hotel, Southsea: queenshotelportsmouth.com/(023) 9282 2466.
:: The Old Dairy Farm, Emsworth: theolddairyfarmemsworth.co.uk/07737 236 446.
:: The Oven Campsite, Hayling Island: theovencampsite.co.uk/(023) 9246 4695.
:: Southsea Leisure Park: southsealeisurepark.com/(023) 9273 5070.
:: Florence Gardens Boutique Hotel, Southsea: florencegardens.co.uk/(023) 9200 9555.
:: Best Western Royal Beach Hotel, Southsea: royalbeachhotel.co.uk/(023) 9273 1281.
:: Ye Spotted Dogge, Old Portsmouth: yespotteddogge.co.uk/(023) 9242 7154.