The volcanic ash cloud that has forced airlines to cancel all flights in and out of the UK since Thursday continues to cause unprecedented chaos for many hoteliers.
Mass cancellations are a daily occurrence in many hotels, while others have been forced to tempt stranded visitors to stay with reduced rates, rather than look for an alternative route home.
Vincent Madden, general manager at the Sofitel at London Heathrow's Terminal 5, said many guests are booking rooms speculatively then cancelling when flight restrictions are extended. “People will book for the following night, hoping that they may be able to fly, then cancelling the next morning. On Saturday alone we had over 300 cancellations,” he said.
At Hilton hotels, departures are starting to outweigh arrivals. “The initial short-term impact of the travel disruption saw an increase in last-minute bookings, particularly at our airport hotels. Several days in, guests are finding their way home on land and we are witnessing a decrease in arrivals as people are choosing to cancel their travel plans,” said a spokesperson.
The Lovat, in Loch Ness, Scotland, has had to tempt stranded visitors to extend their stay at the hotel. “We’ve had to change our sales tactic slightly to encourage guests to stay,” said managing partner Caroline Gregory. “In particular we’ve offered those who are already with us, and cannot return by air, the opportunity to stay longer with a reduced rate.”
London-based Firmdale Hotels is weathering the storm, with stranded guests balancing out non-arrivals. “Occupancy hasn’t really been hit. People can’t arrive and can’t leave – so guests staying on are balancing out those who are cancelling,” said operations director Carrie Wicks. Although, she added, the hotel group’s events department has been hit hard, with 20 rooms and a private event cancelled.
The flight restrictions, which are in force until at least 1am Tuesday, will continue to cause disruption if they persist through the week, said Madden. Although, he added, every ash cloud has a silver lining. “The story isn’t all doom and gloom, we’re continuing, it’s just what is going on is very unprecedented. So long as the uncertainty doesn’t continue, our bookings and cancellations will decrease. Then, once things are back to normal, we anticipate a huge amount of bookings.”
Volcanic ash cloud sparks hotel bookings frenzy >>
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