Hotels in several countries have been called upon – and are stepping up – to provide refuge for women escaping violence. Lockdown measures confining vulnerable women and children in their homes with violent partners have led to a dramatic rise in reports of domestic violence across the world. In Hubei Province, where the virus first emerged, cases tripled in the space of one month. In France, there has been a 36% increases in cases reported to the police. Similar trends have been reported all over Europe, India and elsewhere. The French government was among the first to react. At the end of March, it announced plans to put up victims of domestic violence in hotel rooms and finance pop-up counselling in grocery stores.
However, in the UK, where there is alarming evidence of a severe surge in domestic abuse cases, the Government has been slow to react. In the face of growing pressure from women’s groups and charities, letters from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims Commissioner, and calls from a cross-party group of 60 MP, the Home Secretary Priti Patel did eventually announce some measures in response to the crisis on the 11th April. However, these have not addressed the lack of safe places of refuge for women and children, and the Government has recently been accused by hostels and two hotels chains, who asked not to be named, of ‘snubbing’ offers of free rooms. Jennifer Nadel, co-director of Compassion in Politics, described the government’s response as “foot-dragging at its most unnecessary, irresponsible and lethal”.
By contrast, the use of hotel beds for the homeless in the UK is another positive way in which the hospitality industry has been responded in the wake of the pandemic. About 2000 homeless people in London and other English cities have been housed in Travelodge and other budget hotels. “It’s a silver lining in a very grey sky” commented Howard Sinclair, CEO of St. Mungo’s charity for the homeless. It is hoped that the lockdown period will be used to find alternative accommodation and address mental health problems and addictions amongst the homeless population to avoid their return to the streets.
In the US, the hospitality industry has also responded generously to the need for beds for front line workers. Hilton and American Express have offered millions of hotels rooms free of charge to doctors, nurses and other health workers who need to isolate and have a decent place to sleep and recharge their batteries. This “compassionate and caring offer” from these hotels has been warmly welcomed by William Jaquis, President of the American College of Emergency Physicians, who remarked that “Knowing that there is a safe, clean and comfortable hotel room waiting for you at the end of a long shift can make all the difference in the world right now”.
In the face of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the hotel industry across the globe, examples such as these are truly commendable.