Commuters who relocated to the coast or countryside during lockdown are booking up city centre hotels after being recalled to the office. As home working became the norm, many families took the opportunity to move outside the commuter belt to rural beauty spots. To the simmering frustration of those who remained in cities, many of these families took the chance to boast about the joys of living on the beach, in the hills or in an area of outstanding national beauty.
But their new commute into the office is nothing to boast about, with many facing marathon journeys and discovering that travelling regularly from, say, Devon to London is tortuous. Hotels say they are seeing a rise in customers who, living hundreds of miles from their office, are booking a night or two a week — or a month — for the foreseeable future. The bookings are a welcome boost for hotels, many of which are still struggling to fill their rooms in the absence of international tourism, conferences and events.
The Hilton hotels group said it had seen a rise in short mid-week stays in city centres including Manchester and London as guests “look to reduce the frequency of long and tiring commutes”. Julie Baker, vice-president of operations at Hilton in the UK and Ireland, said: “As businesses begin to reopen their offices and welcome employees back, we’re seeing demand across city centre locations for one- and two night stays during the week.”
Julia and Andrei, both 38, lived in Eltham, southeast London, and previously commuted to work by bike. During the pandemic, Andrei’s work became more flexible and Julia switched to working from home full-time so they moved to Salisbury, Wiltshire, to be closer to family. They now plan to stay in hotels when they return to the city for meetings. Julia said: “We both still need to be in the office for face-to-face meetings once a week and so have a two to two-and-a-half hour commute each way to London. We plan to stay overnight in London or Brighton occasionally . . . to reduce the strain on the commute but also to take the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues whilst there.” Several hotel chains are advertising so-called “hybrid working” discounts for midweek stays to attract office workers commuting from their new rural homes for part of the week.
Yotel London is offering half-price rates, mid-week, in a deal dubbed “the hybrid half” rate to appeal to those “upping sticks and moving to the suburbs”. They reported a 59 per cent rise in weekday stays in July compared with June. Accor, which owns chains such as Mercure, Novotel, Ibis and Sofitel, as well as The Savoy in London, launched a “commute and stay” rate last week of up to 15 per cent off mid-week rates. Matt Brett, general manager of Novotel in London Bridge, said: “This is a trend we expect to see grow after the summer holiday period. I’m expecting the busiest nights to be Tuesday and Wednesdays as corporate workers come to the city midweek and make the most of longer weekends working from home.” Karelle Lamouche, chief commercial officer at Accor, said: “Work from anywhere grew as a concept in the second half of 2020, but all eyes have been on this summer as businesses around the country decide the future of work. Now it’s here, it is clear a hybrid model of office work and working remotely is here to stay. “A large proportion of our midweek London bookings are now for single guests and around 30 per cent of our city business is made up of single night midweek stays.”
As well as the extra cost of hotel stays and transport, workers who have moved away from the city could potentially face lower wages. Peninsula, an HR consultancy, said employers could consider cutting or removing the London weighting which is given to workers to cover the additional costs of living in the capital.