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Hospitality industry in lockdown in Bavaria

Felicitas Wilke Munich
November 3, 2020

Coronavirus restrictions mean that German hotels have had to close again to tourists just as the Bavarian autumn vacations were starting. They feel they have been transported back to spring — and treated unfairly.

Empty outdoor seats at a Munich restaurant t
Image: Andreas Gebert/Getty Images

At the reception of the Hotel München Palace, four rows of small golden hooks are a fitting symbol for what is currently going on there: Most of those hooks still have a room key hanging on them.

Only 18 guests are staying at the five-star hotel in Munich's elegant Bogenhausen district, and that in a hotel of 89 rooms. It is Monday morning, shortly after 10 a.m., and it is day one of a new set of stricter coronavirus rules. For hotels and restaurateurs, it really does not feel like a "lockdown light," as the weeks of restrictions have been labelled in Germany.

Last Wednesday, the federal and state governments agreed that far-reaching measures would again apply in the country as of this week to try to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these measures, restaurants may only deliver food or offer it for pick-up, and hotels may no longer offer overnight stays for tourists.

These are similar regulations to those that already applied in the spring at the beginning of the crisis. In Bavaria, this means that with the start of the autumn vacations, the last tourists had to vacate their rooms on Monday morning, as was also the case at the Hotel München Palace.

Kay Oliver Heller
Lots of empty rooms: Hotel manager Kay Oliver Heller at the Hotel München Palace Image: Felicitas Wilke/DW

Hotel manager Kay Oliver Heller clearly remembers last Wednesday's press conference, which was so ominous for him and which he followed together with colleagues on the TV in the hotel bar. "Mrs. Merkel was still on the screen when the first guests began calling to ask if they could still come to us," he reports.

Since then, either the hotel guests themselves cancelled their stay or Heller and his colleagues phoned them one after the other to cancel all those who wanted to spend their vacations in Munich. "It's a really bad feeling to have to disappoint guests and ruin your own business," says Heller. The Bavarian Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA) finds the new measures "not suitable or reasonable."

Read more: Coronavirus: Is Germany's €10 billion enough for second lockdown?

Guests staying away, especially from cities

In large cities like Munich, hotels have already had a particularly difficult time in recent months: the metropolises, otherwise so popular for short trips, with their busy shopping streets and sometimes crowded public transport systems tend to deter many people during the pandemic.

"The crisis has hit us brutally," says Heller. Almost a third of the rooms were occupied on average during the summer. "This actually put us in a pretty good position compared to other hotels in the city."

Exterior view at dusk of the Hotel Lindner in Bad Aibling, Bavaria
Tourists can no longer stay at the Hotel Lindner in Bad AiblingImage: Hotel Lindner/Jost Deitmar

About 50 kilometers south of Munich, in the rather rural Bad Aibling in the foothills of the Alps, Jost Deitmar can look back on a decent summer there despite COVID-19. "We were not at the same level as last year, but business was clearly on the upswing," says the hotelier, who has been running the romantic hotel Das Lindner for two years.

But since the German Chancellor warned against traveling two weeks ago, and the state began to discuss accommodation bans, "the next wave of cancellations hit us," reports Deitmar. He describes the renewed partial lockdown as déjà-vu — "and not a nice one."

Read more: Coronavirus: Germany to impose one-month partial lockdown

Restaurants also affected by 'lockdown light'

Jost Deitmar   - Hotel Lindner
Is hoping for better times: Hotelier Jost Deitmar in front of his hotel in Bad AiblingImage: Hotel Lindner/Jost Deitmar

The new lockdown doubly affects the hoteliers who also run a restaurant. The Kuffler Group, to which the Hotel München Palace belongs, also runs several restaurants and catering businesses at airports. What has not been closed continuously since March must now close again or switch to take-away service. Club sandwiches are now available as takeaway.

Jost Deitmar is also a hotelier and restaurateur. Now that he has to close the restaurants, his employees at reception are selling some take-away dishes. What annoys him and other hoteliers, is that "at the beginning of the pandemic, we developed a sophisticated and very expensive hygiene concept and paid meticulous attention to its implementation." He and his staff had disinfected surfaces, created clearances, and set up windows. "And now we are still being punished."

The Bavarian State Premier defended his strategy last Friday in his government statement, saying it was "a bitter pill," but "appropriate and reasonable" to have to reduce all contacts in general in the coming weeks — especially in the leisure sector. The priority, he said, was not to have to close schools and daycare centers again.

Germany, empty outdoor hospitality seating during the partial coronavirus lockdow
Restaurants closed, Christmas markets cancelled: tourism in Munich is paralyzedImage: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

A few hotel guests remain

Despite the new measures against the spread of the virus, neither Kay Oliver Heller in Munich nor Jost Deitmar in Bad Aibling are completely closing their doors. Because those who can present "credibly necessary" reasons may continue to stay overnight in the hotel, according to current Bavarian regulations. One such reason can be a business trip, but also an upcoming hospital stay.

Nevertheless, the changed legal situation means that hotel manager Heller will have to return most of his employees to reduced working hours. He also was unable to extend contracts that were about to run out. "I hope that we will be able to restart operations in four weeks," he says, "but I wonder how many tourists will come to Munich after all the Christmas markets have been cancelled."

DEHOGA Bayern now hopes that the compensation payments of up to 75% of the previous year's turnover announced by the federal and state governments will be paid "quickly and without red tape." Until then, it is the support of the remaining customers that will provide the hoteliers with hope. "Last weekend the restaurants were full once more," says Jost Deitmar.

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