While the travel industry may not be operating ‘business as usual’ during the current crisis, it doesn’t mean to say that they have lost their fighting spirit. In fact, many companies in the sector have admirably adapted their offerings and risen to the challenge of helping others in need. The message is clear: with the world currently grounded, the travel industry faces the toughest test in its history, but this pales into insignificance compared to the challenges facing our health services during this pandemic.
Giving back, quietly and without any fuss is one of London’s most luxurious hotels – Claridges. It is offering beds, dinner and breakfast to 40 NHS key workers from St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, as well daily packed meals for over 500 NHS workers and community support teams across London.
The Accor group of hotels, meanwhile, has launched an emergency response platform to provide NHS, key workers and disadvantaged people with accommodation solutions in the UK. So far, more than 60 hotels have already been repurposed for NHS, key workers and welfare bookings from local authorities and charities. The Accor Response Desk has been created, in collaboration with Accor’s hotel owners, in order to centralise needs and provide accommodation solutions for those most in need. Through this platform, all requests can be sent to Accor Response Desk via ARD.UK@Accor.com. This system means the company can respond quickly to needs and pen the doors of hotels across the UK for emergency use.
Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) is also repurposing beds and is working with the government to protect the UK’s homeless from COVID-19. Rough sleepers known to homelessness charities will be relocated into 300 rooms that IHG have made available.
Lysbeth Fox, founder and CEO of Fox Communications, a London-based PR agency with a host of luxury travel clients, recently commented on the current crisis: “In spite of the differences that divide us, in this crisis we are united. In every walk of life, regardless of status or race or privilege, all are affected; no one escapes unscathed.
“And with this is mind I (like many others), have been looking at ways to use my abilities and access in order to help the greater good. I have tasked my team to take a day each week to help their local community or NHS volunteer during working hours, which is something we all feel passionate about undertaking. As I investigated other ways to support and help, I was heartened to see how many businesses are already doing amazing things.
“Of this I am certain. That while this situation is difficult and painful, it also represents great opportunity to make a difference when it’s greatly needed – to remind the world that we stand together, to bring light into darkness and to answer real need.
“It’s companies like those helping others that make me proud to live in a world that truly comes together and shows good can be achieved through corporations.”
One such example is Original Travel, which has opened entries to NHS staff for its ‘At Your Service’ initiative, a pot of over 400 luxury prizes worth a combined total of £50,000.
The luxury tour operator says it wanted to give thanks to the NHS in the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19, and so kickstarted proceedings by offering a luxury holiday for two worth up to £10,000. Following its rallying cry to the wider luxury industry, 109 brands – including the likes of Monica Vinader, Swarovski, Laurent Perrier, Goat, Jigsaw, L K Bennett and Rupert Sanderson – joined the initiative to offer almost 400 prizes between them, worth over £50,000.
‘At Your Service’ is a free to enter raffle. It will be open to all NHS workers until the closing date of 5 July 2020. To enter, NHS staff will need to use their NHS email addresses which will be verified by Original Travel. New prizes will continue to be added until 5 July so brands can still get in touch to be involved.
Tom Barber, founder and director of Original Travel, says: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the response to our ‘At Your Service’ campaign and the community feel of British brands coming together to reward those most deserving. We know it’s a small gesture, but one we hope goes some way towards expressing our collective gratitude to NHS staff for the selfless way in which they are tackling the worst crisis this country has faced in a generation and more. We hope from today that the campaign reaches NHS staff far and wide and that our ‘At Your Service’ idea will give them something to look forward to soon.”
Renowned for their locally sourced, seasonal dining, Bristol’s Bird in Hand and sister pubs, The Pump House and The Redan Inn, have repurposed their kitchens to meals for those in need during the COVID crisis. Led by executive chef, Toby Gritten, the team will be working to deliver nutritious home-cooked meals to local NHS services and vulnerable individuals in the area free of charge. The team will also be redirecting fresh grocery and butchers boxes to the local community to help supplement the dwindling supermarket supplies.
Over in South Africa, the renowned wine estate, Boschendal, has teamed up with neighbours to provide food packages and education for communities in need during the COVID crisis. With 4,500 acres of agricultural and conservation land, the property is well known for its far-to-fork menus, but over the coming weeks Boschendal will be redirecting all of its fresh produce and livestock to local child development centres, high schools and underprivileged communities. Led by the community organiser, Wilmien Wicomb, Boschendal will also be facilitating the delivery of basic medical supplies to support the medical clinics as they become saturated and distribute books for children unable to go to school.
The team will seek to drive awareness of the disease and education surrounding the spread through a series of pop ups across the communities. These will offer running water, soap and sanitation for those in need, and will be assisted by trained local youth to answer questions people may have and share factual information.
The farm will be operating with skeletal staff for the foreseeable future, though additional projects are being deployed to ensure all staff continue to receive their salary while working away. These projects include knitting of blankets for the local community, engaging with the education programme and helping with deliveries – with strict health screenings in place. All this is expected to demand more than their 500+ staff, and Boschendal says it hopes to employ further staff members from local communities to support those in need during this difficult time.
Mahlatini, the luxury African travel specialist, is also doing its bit for good by launching a campaign that aims to honour the work of our #HealthCareHeroes. The public is invited to nominate a deserving individual to enjoy the journey of a lifetime, once the pandemic is over, worth over £10,000. Renowned for its expertise in designing extraordinary trips, Mahlatini will be working alongside luxury hotels The Last Word to construct an itinerary that features all of South Africa’s icons.
The winner and their guest will be flown to Cape Town where they will spend two nights at the exclusive Last Word Constantia; they’ll be transported to the famous Winelands to spend two nights among the vines in The Last Word Franschhoek; and flown north to Kruger National Park where they will spend three nights among the wilderness in the remote all-inclusive retreat, The Last Word Kitara. The prize includes international flights, transport between properties, game drives, conservation fees, along with drinks and dining where possible.
“We’ve been humbled by the many heroic stories of those leaving their families at home to staff hospitals and maintain essential services, working long shifts in over-crowded conditions, often with limited resources,” says Chris Goldring, director of Mahlatini. “The team wanted to play our small part to show our gratitude and offer hope for a brighter future. Our clients often tell us how our African trips provide the perfect reset button to stressful lives and enthuse about the restorative power of the African wilderness. We want to gift this extraordinary experience to Mahlatini’s ultimate Healthcare Hero, even though we know it will be a challenge to select from so many worthy nominees.”
The public can nominate a Healthcare Hero online or via Mahlatini’s social media channels. Nominations will close on 29 April, with three shortlisted heroes selected by a Mahlatini panel, and the ultimate hero finally chosen by a public vote.
Little Emperors, the private members luxury hotel club, is donating 50% of all new member sign-ups and referrals and 10% of all renewal fees in March, April and May, to Heroes+. Its mission is to help support the welfare and wellbeing of NHS staff as they fight COVID-19. Founded in 2009 by Rebecca Masri MBE, Little Emperors is a private travel club with 35,000 members, working with 4,000 of the very best luxury hotels around the world.
Meanwhile, individual hotels across the world, such as Orania.Berlin, are also doing their bit to help. With its kitchens and restaurant closed, the Berlin-based hotel realised that it had excess food which would go to waste. With many care facilities, like night cafés and soup kitchens, having stopped operating in Berlin, the team realised they could put their stocks to good use. The hotel also recruited its grocery suppliers Hamberger and Deutsche See to support them with providing as much food as possible so that the chefs could cook over 800 meals for the Berlin homeless aid association, Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe e.V.
In Cognac last week, Hôtel Chais Monnet also prepared and delivered 365 freshly-cooked meals to the town’s central hospital – the first of the hotel’s multiple planned meal deliveries during the pandemic.
The five-star hotel, which is currently closed in line with regulations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, reopened its kitchens, to cook up a three-course menu for the frontline workers who are helping to keep Cognac safe. The hotel is hoping to carry out this initiative again this week. The community outreach is part of a wider movement established across France called ‘Chefs with Caregivers’, a network of top restaurants cooking for doctors, nurses and caregivers in this time of crisis, as they fight to keep France fit and well.
Many hotels which are members of Preferred Hotels are also pulling together to help others in need. Found in Chicago’s Hyde Park, Sophy Hyde Park recently closed its doors to the general public and opened them instead to University of Chicago Medical Center staff battling the coronavirus — free of charge. “The Sophy Hyde Park will offer up 90 of its 98 rooms,” hotel spokesman Gayle Conran said. “It’s really the closest hotel, only about a mile away, so medical staff won’t have to drive home…”
The K Club, another member and one of Ireland’s most exclusive hotels, is also housing healthcare workers who may have been separated from their families for periods of time. While Edgbaston Park Hotel & Conference Centre has been accommodating key workers, primarily NHS workers from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, which is just one mile from the hotel. They have so far accommodated over 1,000 room nights and the team on-site is making an effort to applaud the NHS staff in the main lobby every Thursday at 8pm and treating them like VIP guests with takeaway breakfast service and room service in the evening.
Luxury travel club, the Voyager Club, co-founded by Sophie Caulcutt, is known for its impeccably-curated selection of unique luxury hotels and exclusive private residences from around the globe. With an aim of helping keep the beleaguered travel industry alive – and to help us believe that there are adventures still to be planned – it has launched travel gift cards for future travel. What’s more, for cards worth £350-£1,000, the company will make donations to the The Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. This provides emergency support and care to patients, testing kits and PPE to front line workers in over 62 countries including those with the weakest healthcare systems.
Finally, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has praised millions of people around the world in the Travel & Tourism sector for going the extra mile to lend crucial help to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.
Millions of people employed by WTTC member companies have volunteered their time and expertise, many putting their own lives on the line, to provide essential help to their beleaguered communities with relief efforts. This has ranged from furloughed airline cabin crew being deployed to help in hospitals, to operating additional flights for medical cargo, luxury hotels opening their doors to provide free rooms to healthcare workers or helping with grocery shopping and running errands for the elderly self-isolating.
Hotel giants like Hilton, for instance, have teamed up with American Express to launch their Rooms for Responders initiative, offering free accommodation to more than a million healthcare professionals across 10 medical associations fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise operator, has offered a number of its ships to act as floating hospitals to treat patients suffering from less-critical, non-coronavirus related conditions. In the US and Spain, Room Mate has also offered up hotels in New York, Madrid and Barcelona, to be transformed into temporary hospitals to help in the Covid-19 fight.
United Airlines, the fourth largest carrier in the world, has offered free flights to New York and California to medical personnel, while Spanish flag carrier Iberia is working with the Spanish Federation of Healthcare Technology Companies (Fenin) and the Oesía Group to bring medical supplies from China to fight COVID-19.
Furloughed airline cabin crew have responded in numerous ways. In the UK, those working for TUI Airways have provided essential support to the health systems, in order to help relieve pressure on health workers.
In China, Trip.com has donated more than three million surgical masks to more than 25 countries around the world.
Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of WTTC, said: “WTTC wants to pay tribute to the millions of people throughout the global Travel & Tourism sector for selflessly going the extra mile to help their communities to overcome and combat the Covid-19 pandemic threat. We recognise their quiet heroism in offering essential help and assistance to those on the front line fighting this terrible virus.
“Whether its tending to the sick, opening hotels for health workers or manning foodbanks, they, like countless others, have risen to the challenge and shown with their hearts and actions that we are stronger together and we will win this battle.”