After two hard months of empty rooms and staff pay cuts, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular hotel groups is gearing up to relaunch on June 1 – but it could be some time before Brits are welcomed back.
Teardrop Hotels – a collection of eight boutique hotels spread between some of Sri Lanka’s top tourist hotspots – will be among the first on the island to reopen to guests.
With Sri Lanka’s airports still all but closed to travellers, however, the group is not expecting guests from the UK for several months at least.
Teardrop has established itself as a perennial favourite among British travellers thanks to its converted Hill Country tea bungalows, boutique townhouse hotels in Galle Fort and Colombo, and one modern beach lodge on the scenic southwest coast.
As has been the case for hoteliers around the world, business for the Teardrop team has been badly bruised by the coronavirus pandemic, with the near total halt in travel forcing its seven hotels to close for the duration.
With no furlough scheme in Sri Lanka, all staff, from top to bottom of the business, agreed to six months of pay cuts to in an effort to guarantee their jobs for the foreseeable future.
But lockdown hasn’t been entirely disastrous according to Henry Fitch, Teardrop’s managing director, who has spent lockdown at his home in Colombo.
“We never officially closed, so our hotels are looking better than they ever have in a way,” he says. “At the three tea bungalows we’ve been developing the gardens, and we’ve also been working on our sustainability.
“We’re probably a third of the way down the line of getting our Travelife accreditation – it’s about becoming a bit more eco-friendly, a bit more community-focused, and having more staff available means hopefully we’ll be able to achieve it sooner than we would have done.”
Despite the unusual times, Teardrop is also preparing to unveil the latest addition to its portfolio: Lunuganga Estate, the former country retreat of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated architect, Geoffrey Bawa.
The hotel was originally meant to welcome its first guests in April, but its understandable delay means it must now open to a muted fanfare, not least as a result of strict new safety and hygiene measures put in place across all Teardrop hotels.
All guests will have their temperatures checked on arrival, with doctors on call to examine those with Covid-19 symptoms. Anyone found to have the virus will required to make their way to a government quarantine facility.
Staff will also be issued with facemasks, guests will be asked to maintain two-metre distances from one another, and hand sanitiser will be made readily available to all.
“We’re discussing whether we want books in the bedroom, or tea and coffee facilities, whether we should remove potted plants, and ask people if they’d like those facilities before putting them in the room sanitised and ready to go,” says Fitch.
“It’s not desirable, but I’d rather we get up and running and take that fairly minor risk.”
Covid-19’s impact on Sri Lanka has been mercifully light, with a little over 1,500 confirmed cases and 10 fatalities.
Until international flights resume at Sri Lankan airports, with August 1 looking a likely date for that to happen, Fitch is confident that Teardrop’s precautions, while necessary, will not be put to the test.
A more immediate concern for the group’s directors is keeping their business afloat while the overwhelming majority of their customers are stuck overseas.
In more normal times, just five per cent of Teardrop’s clientele hailed from Sri Lanka, but it is domestic tourists to whom it must turn until the first international guests return.
Provided there are no significant spikes in infection rates, Fitch is hopeful that business will start to return to normal in the next few months.
“In September and October we might start to see a trickle of overseas tourists, probably from countries other than Europe. The first will likely be from India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and maybe the Middle East as well.
“I’m hopeful that mid-December, which is our traditional peak season, is when we’ll start to see arrivals from the UK and Western Europe.”
This article originally appeared in The Telegraph and can be accessed on https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/articles/teardrop-hotels-reopen-sri-lanka-coronavirus-lockdown/