Coronavirus crisis grips city
by Colin Campbell Friday, March 20
UNTIL now it seemed about the worst thing that could happen to a hotel in the current situation was to have a member of staff test positive for the virus and for that information to be leaked to the public. Not something that would go down well on booking.com, even though precious few people are booking anything these days.
But now it emerges that the worst thing that can happen to a hotel in the current situation does not involve accidental transmission of coronavirus. The worst thing is when a hotel makes all its staff redundant with immediate effect, turfs them out of staff accommodation with immediate effect, and they have to go to sleep in their own tents in the woods.
And then all that is posted on social media to inform the media and public. That, by a clear distance is the worst thing that can happen to a hotel.
Because the future for the Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore, in the eye of a storm over their treatment of hard-working staff, is now precarious to say the least.
Do its owners plan to demolish it before or after the virus fades?
They might as well, because they’ve already succeeded in demolishing its reputation.
It’s hard to believe in the current climate – or any climate – that any management could issue most of its staff with a brutally abrupt letter where the opening sentence tells them their “services are no longer required”, and goes on to tell them “to vacate the accommodations immediately”.
But the Coylumbridge, owned by the Britannia Hotels Group, did just that, using the coronavirus as a reason.
Bosses there might as well have made a declaration that the hotel had been hit by a mix of leprosy and bubonic plague. The effect on repelling customers would have been just the same.
We know about this because a Spanish employee, Alvaro Garcia, posted the letter on Twitter – and sparked an absolute firestorm of condemnation directed at the hotel and the group that owns it. He said he didn’t know now what to do or where to stay, but planned to sleep in his tent in the woods.
Hundreds of people – which by now has probably swelled to tens of thousands – reacted with fury, branding the actions of the hotel and its owners despicable, repugnant and any other incendiary word they could lay their hands on. Their numbers included MPs, MSPs and councillors “ashamed to be Scottish”. Highland MSP and Scottish Government Minister Kate Forbes was appalled.
In terms of critical reviews, these add up to a whole lot more than a complaint on Trip Advisor about a stained lampshade or a frayed carpet.
It’s impossible to underestimate the damage done to the Coylumbridge Hotel or the Britannia group resulting from this – and quite frankly, who cares?
Many people are in a fraught, tense frame of mind right now and this is the kind of thing that will not vanish from their memories once the coronirus alarm is over. The Aviemore hotel will be smeared with that letter for a very long time to come, if it actually remains in existence. And it is no knee-jerk reaction to say that is very much in doubt.
It’s not a “Ratner” moment – it’s far, far worse than that. And Gerald Ratner’s disparaging remarks at a dinner about the brash worthlessness of his own company’s low-cost jewellery – supposed to remain private – have remained in people’s minds for the past 30 years, and effectively destroyed his company.
While Mr Garcia is sleeping his tent in the woods on these chilly night I’ve no doubt hotel and company bosses will have their heads in their hands in their offices asking themselves: “What in God’s name have we done”.
All because of one letter and an extremely callous and heartless action amid the coronavirus crisis– self-inflicted destruction – which has instantly reduced reputations to rubble.