Spate of hotel fires sparks renewed call for regulation

With Willenhall Holiday Inn the most recent of six, business-destroying hotel fires in 2019 alone, it seems that the hospitality industry is gripped in an epidemic of blazes. These high-profile fires, all of which have consumed buildings in their entirety, have stretched the length and breadth of the country and have not discriminated between big brands and independent hotels. Alongside Willenhall, devastated businesses include the Bristol Premier Inn, the George Hotel in Rye, the Old Coastguard Hotel in Cornwall, the Marton Hotel & Country Club in Middlesbrough and the Belleisle Golf Course in Ayr.  

This alarming spike in flaming catastrophes raise questions over the current safeguards in operation in the industry, and leave many pondering the ongoing security for businesses and guests alike. Is it simply a case of more businesses bring more disasters, or is this an example of budget cuts in local authorities leading to diminished accountability for operators?

Historically, all hospitality operators were required to submit to a third-party assessment of their quality, including but not limited to the safety of their operations, along with a visit from a local authority fire safety inspector to assess fire safety. On the surface, these inspections provided a snapshot of the quality of operations useful to guests considering a stay at a property, but arguably, they also provided operators with access to an unrivalled expert for advice and guidance. Can we really expect your GM or employees to expertly apply the ins and outs of fire safety, including tools and evacuation strategies, when they haven’t spent years fighting fires? Probably not.

Budget cuts, changes in EU Directives and competition clauses, and the boom in advertising avenues have all created the perception that an inspectorate is a tax on businesses, and not a veritable mine of information to protect businesses and guests. It has, inadvertently, diminished the incidental self-regulatory framework that used to span the industry and it is this which needs to be urgently addressed before fires and other catastrophes become the commercial norms.  

Interestingly, it is the perception of guests that all accommodation available to book is at the very least safe to stay in when in reality there is nothing to determine that this is the case. In a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted for Quality in Tourism by OnePoll, the majority of guests believe that the traditional hospitality sector is regulated, with almost 73% asserting that hotels and B&Bs are regulated.   

In my opinion, the only way that the industry can change and avoid more accidents and fires is for providers to be proactive and utilise independent third-party assessors. Annual assessments give B&Bs, guesthouses and hotel owners confidence that the accommodation they are providing is Safe, Clean and LegalTM; and advise, support and guide owners to get their property to the required standard if necessary. To this end, we have established a Primary Authority Partnership with Cornwall Council, helping to provide  tailored advice to businesses to help them meet environmental health, trading standards and fire safety regulations. We are the only company fully qualified and trained under Primary Authority and therefore able to offer this fully cohesive framework.

Deborah Heather is Director at Quality in Tourism, who assesses hundreds of accommodation providers globally. To find out more about their assessments, gradings and mystery shopping services, visit www.qualityintourism.com.

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