Some of the world’s biggest hotel operators are holding talks with the government about providing vacant beds to the NHS as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates across Britain.
Sky News has learnt that hotel groups are in discussions on Thursday afternoon with ministers and Whitehall officials to offer “huge” additional capacity to help the NHS cope with an anticipated spike in medical demand.
City sources said that companies including Best Western Hotels, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Travelodge and Whitbread’s Premier Inn chain were among those involved in the talks.
Among the proposals being discussed was for hotel operators – which have been hit by a savage fall in demand – to provide rooms for vulnerable groups who are at enhanced risk of contracting coronavirus during the coming months.
They are also understood to have raised the idea of using spare hotel rooms for NHS staff who cannot return home after treating COVID-19 infections because of the risk of passing the virus on to family members.
A third area floated by some industry figures has been the potential use of hotel cleaning staff to bolster the NHS’s ability to clean hospital facilities, although it was unclear whether this issue was discussed on the call with Whitehall.
Further details of the hotel industry’s participation in the coronavirus recovery effort are likely to emerge in the coming days.
Earlier this week, Rob Paterson, who runs Best Western’s UK operations, said: “We are in unprecedented territory so we would be willing to take unprecedented steps to support the national effort.
“If the NHS wants additional bedspace, and we can partner with other companies to provide the right medical equipment and supplies and we can do it safely, then we would be willing to start having those conversations immediately.”
It was unclear whether Thursday’s call also covered the financial strains facing the hospitality industry as a result of the virus outbreak.
Leading figures in the sector have warned that one million jobs or more are under imminent threat unless the government agrees to pay a proportion of the wages of company employees whose jobs will effectively be mothballed for several months.
The hotel industry talks make it the latest sector to find its resources and expertise commandeered by the government to help with the fight against COVID-19.
Engineering and manufacturing companies including Meggitt have been drafted in to aid the quickfire design of new medical ventilators amid a predicted surge in demand as more people become seriously ill.
Major food retailers and banks have also been holding frequent talks with ministers about the need to keep the food and financial supply chains operating as the crisis facing Britain’s economy intensifies.