Well, that wasn’t the beginning to the holiday season that any of us were expecting, was it? With growing horror, I think we all realised this was far more serious and widespread than fist thought in January, and of course we complied immediately with the lockdown.
There were several practical problems with this. I hoped initially that we would be able to visit on the basis that this is my job, and essential travel, but it very quickly became apparent that I would not be able to check the flats as my insurance company had asked me to do. Luckily, they were very helpful, and allowed me to organise the Sainted Sammy ( what would I do without him?) to do a fortnightly tour of inspection, a bit like the riding out of the landowners in olden days to inspect the borders of their land against reivers. Except Sammy does his tour on a bike, not a horse, and as far as I know there’s no fanfare, courtiers, or feasting. Sadly.
Utility companies have, in general, also been good, allowing me to reduce direct debits and payments. This has been essential to try and reduce outgoings with no income at all.
Then there was the heartbreaking task of contacting all my guests, which I’ve currently done up until the end of May. Most people were lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I ended up in tears on many occasions. People, by and large, were happy to move their holiday til later in the year, which at least meant that I didn’t have a huge run on the bank balance.
There was the odd person though that was aggressive. Maybe one or two who insisted on every penny back. Nobody had travel insurance. Who even thinks about that for a week in Millport? Even if they’d had it, it wouldn’t have covered them for this. But here’s the rub- neither did my insurance. Despite having what is commonly known as Business Interruption cover, this only comes into play for a notifiable disease basically on my property. And then only until I can get the property cleaned ready for the next guest. Government help? Well, initially we were told yes. Then no. Then maybe. Eventually after many sleepless nights, I was awarded the 10k grant. This may seem like a huge wad of money to many. Indeed, it is. But when I put it in the context of my running costs for three flats, and refunding or moving 24 bookings for late March,April and May, it began to look a bit tight.
This is my business, and many of you might assume that the deposits that I’d taken over the winter would still be sitting in my account. However the reality for myself and thousands of small seasonal businesses- holiday flats, cafes, restaurants, is that the profit that you’ve made over the summer, sees you over the long and lean winter, when bookings are scarcer than hen’s teeth. There wasn’t much sympathy for us in the press either, with most papers suggesting that the grants were being given out to any old second homeowner.
Which is why I was dismayed , and so downhearted when the government guidelines published yesterday came down ,unequivocally, on the side of the consumer. It stated, in no uncertain terms, that every holiday maker was due a full refund. In effect, the buck stops with us. There seems to be no support, or understanding that behind every company, no matter how big or small, there’s a harrassed person, desperately trying to be fair to all, and still stay in business. While I understand ,so well, the disappointment that a cancelled holiday brings ( my daughter and I had a holiday booked in New York for Easter ), there seems little support for the provider. A run of full refunds paid leaves nothing in the bank to live on, or to keep running while we are closed- and who knows when we can open? A plumber, or a hairdresser ,can pick up tools and be back working within days of the Government relaxation of lock down. A holiday is booked in advance. It needs reassurance ,that it will be OK to travel. It needs funds in the bank for the guest too, and we know many people are struggling.
On occasions this month I’ve remembered the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, ( which we went to see at Christmas!) . All Jimmy Stewart’s bank customer’s are baying for all their money back. He tries to explain ” What, do you think the money’s back there in the safe ? I don’t have your money, it’s in Joe’s house, and Mrs Green across the way. ” . I’ve felt very much like that sometimes. ( Minus his accent and overcoat. There’s some similarity in the hair though….)
So i’m struggling on .I’m encouraged by the majority of my lovely regular guests, and their small acts of kindness in a landscape I don’t recognise. I hope that we can open soon, and I can rediscover my sense of purpose, which seems to have disappeared. I hope that I can stop eating everything in sight eventually. I hope we can all survive this, both physically and mentally.
Stay safe, friends.