Impact of lockdown on Isle of Wight guest house

An Isle of Wight guest house owner has spoken about the real impact lockdown is having on his business — losing half of his bookings and £30,000 in income.

With only one booking made since the beginning of lockdown, Keith and Christine Beckett, the owners of the Swiss Cottage guest house in Shanklin, are hoping everything will get back to normal so they can make it through the winter.

Keith said: “Nothing has changed, we have advertised on all the booking and tourism sites. We are saying we are open but people are not going to jump straightaway and if they do, where are they going to go?

“A lot of people may go to caravan sites, private lodgings or homes — wherever they feel the safest.”

Visitor numbers at the couple’s guest house have dried up — approximately 50 per cent of the bookings and income for the summer has been lost and there are fears more could be lost if things don’t pick up.

Currently, things are ‘dead’ for July and August, which could lose the business another £20,000 on top of the £30,000 loss in the season so far.

Keith said: “We have had literally nothing come in, apart from the deposits we have brought forward, around £3,000 to £5,000. That is not a lot of people, probably around 20 bookings but they were regulars who booked in advance.

“We have had to move all the bookings to a suitable time though. It was advised we move them to September, so about 90 per cent of bookings have done that.

“The others have pushed them back to next year, which doesn’t help us this year as we carry over the deposit.”

Even though the business has received grant funding from the government, without any further trade, the couple said they have been left with little to survive on as bills still need to be paid.

Keith said: “With commercial properties, you have still got all the commercial advertising, licences for the bar, TV, music licences — you still have the same bills, you still have to pay them.

“You just hope you are going to get some more guests. We haven’t got any collateral, it is all in the property in the bricks and mortar, nothing to fall back on, no savings.

“If we don’t get back to business, in the winter the bills will come in and we will literally not have any money to pay them.”

Any hint of a further spike of the virus would ‘decimate the season’ for Swiss Cottage, and many other Island holiday accommodations.

Keith said: “We need another 100 bookings in the next six weeks to be anywhere near where we have previously been.

Lockdown restrictions have been in place since the end of March, with only day trips allowed and a ‘social bubble’ allowed to be formed with a household and one other person — but overnight stays at guest houses, B&Bs, hotels and other holiday accommodation is advised against.

Even if the rules are potentially be eased, with a pencilled-in date of July 4, Keith says the problem will still be the lack of bookings, as ‘you don’t get people overnight’.

He said: “The ferry companies haven’t seen any sign of people making their minds up to actually come here, they aren’t putting the ferries on straightaway because there isn’t going to be a need.

“People are still scared of travelling. We get a lot of senior citizens coming to the Island but they are not going to travel by public transport – a lot of them are still shielding and that is not going to change overnight.”

The Swiss Cottage has put social distancing measures in place to try to make their guests feel as safe as possible, including two sittings at breakfast and an in-and-out door to avoid unnecessary encounters, but this comes at a cost.

Keith said: “We are only a small hotel but we try to be a home away from home, you try and do the best you can.

“It is a worrying time for everyone — some properties that are struggling during this time may have to shut down.

“We have to encourage people to come to the Island.”