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How do you plan in a rapidly changing environment?

Jan Nicholson and Kristina Rowe are trying to stay one step ahead

No matter what new rules or guidelines may emerge over the summer, Kristina Rowe, joint owner of the Kendal Hostel in Cumbria, is aiming to cover all bases with her forward-thinking planning efforts.

When you’re not yet sure what will or won’t be allowed across the UK hospitality sector as we move into the second phase of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, there are only so many practical steps you can take.

It’s something that Kristina Rowe is coming to terms with as she tries to work out how best to prepare her 14-room, 67-bed hostel in Kendal for her next batch of visitors.

While the Kendal Hostel, which has been closed since March 24, has been able to greatly reduce its overheads – “My gas bill fell from £700 to £5.98 in April,” noted Kristina – its owners are at a loss about what to do next.

Among the options that Kristina has been discussing and planning with her mum and co-owner, Jan Nicholson, are ways for guests to self-check-in so that they don’t need to have any contact with staff. “It’s something we’d already tried a few times,” she said, “and I can see us doing it a lot more.”

Kristina anticipates that her larger dormitories won’t be allowed to take mixed groups for the foreseeable future, but rather than seal them off, she may be able to offer them to individual families. It’s not ideal, but it would at least keep some revenue from these larger rooms coming in.

Cleaning processes are also a hot topic within the sector, but she is struggling to come up with ways in which to improve what she already does – the hostel’s cleanliness is already highly rated online. “Will we need to leave rooms empty for two days between guests?” she asked. “That would obviously affect our profits quite a bit.”

The communal nature of hostels poses another problem. Unlike B&Bs and holiday cottages, where guests can enjoy a degree of self-containment, hostel guests tend to mingle a lot more. And in a grade-two listed building, there’s little she can do in a hurry to create more private facilities.

This may lead to issues when it comes to the shared kitchen, dining and living room. “We’ve been looking at the idea of timed entries for people to go into these rooms, although that would be tricky – and we don’t even know yet if it would be required or the right thing to do,” Kristina said.

The curse of the unknown

In many ways, it is this “not knowing” that’s the real problem. “With the latest government announcement, I really had no idea what they were saying,” said Rowe. “I know a lot of people have taken it to be about common sense and that we all know what we should and shouldn’t be doing, but I think sometimes people really need things spelling out.”

One thing that Kristina was able to do was secure the £10,000 government cash grant available to small businesses. She also thinks she would qualify for a loan, but is reluctant to go down that route just yet.

Her gut feeling is that the hostel might be able to start trading at some point in the summer; to prepare for this possibility she is currently making improvements to her website, with some free help from her local Chamber of Commerce. She wants a website that she can make changes to herself – something not possible before. It is vital to have a better level of control during this period of uncertainty.

A glimmer of light?

Though facing a seemingly endless maze of unanswerable questions, Kristina is trying to remain optimistic throughout the crisis – and suggested there may even be light at the end of the tunnel. “I think a lot more people are going to be looking to stay in this country,” she commented. “I think people are finding new ways to explore what’s around them and asking, ‘Are there things we can do here that we don’t need to go abroad for?’. And hopefully, that will be a good thing for us.”

For now, though, all the family business can do is try and pre-empt what’s going to happen with it’s planning efforts – whilst keeping an eye on the news. “If the government says we can all open in July, and the message is clear, then I think that would result in flocks of people coming to Cumbria,” she said.

Three top coronavirus tips from Kristina

  1. Speak to your community
    You have to talk to people in the same boat as you for help, ideas and support. You can get stuck in your own bubble.
  2. Don’t panic
    A lot of people are spending every moment of every day worrying about this, but we’re just going to have to deal with it as it unfolds. Have a plan in place, but accept it could change.
  3. Believe in yourself
    So many people are doubting themselves right now, but if you believe you’re doing your best and that what you’re doing is right, then try and have some confidence in that.

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