How are you and your team and what are you doing during lockdown?
We are all healthy, which is the main thing. As our hotels have been closed by government order since mid-March, almost everyone is at home on furlough. Our management team chose to quarantine at the hotel to make sure everything is well maintained and also to give us the best shot at preparing the business for whatever the future brings. Those who are at home are keeping busy making content for our Virtual Tip Jar. As the Colombian government doesn't provide unemployment benefits or financial support for citizens or businesses, we've had to get creative. So, as well as the Virtual Tip Jar we are also offering our collection of horses, goats and donkeys as entertaining cameos in video conferences, known as Animal Zoo(m). To date we've raised a little over £3,000 which has all gone towards helping staff get by.
How do you envisage travel in the region over the next 3-12 months?
In Colombia we are looking at domestic tourism for the short term, which on the positive side, is a great way to encourage Colombians to get to know their own magical country. Colombians tend to head to the USA or Europe for holidays so it will be lovely to see people here fall in love with Colombia as a destination. We hope to welcome foreign tourists again towards the end of 2020 and we expect the first visitors to be looking for personalised experiences in destinations that feel special. Honestly, we aren't anticipating a huge demand for facemasks and hand sanitiser. Instead, we think travellers will want to visit, stay at and eat in places that are luxurious, clean and comfortable but also ethical, environmentally aware and personal.
What positive outcomes will you take from this crisis?
While these months are incredibly difficult for staff who suddenly find themselves without their tips and salaries, as a business there are so many potential positive outcomes. As we've been living onsite for months, we've come up with myriad new ways for guests to really enjoy the property, adding a new outdoor cinema, gym and yoga studio. Our kitchen garden is blooming and our small farm now produces milk for homemade goats cheese, organic pork and fresh eggs. Our chef has designed a whole new range of organic snacks for the minibars as well as refined recipes for our own bread, pasta and cakes. We've had time to review our supply chain, so we can eliminate purveyors who don't share our values and replace them with small, local businesses which guarantee good quality, environmentally friendly and cruelty-free produce and supplies. We're even experimenting with our own hand sanitiser and eco cleaning products. Without a doubt, this pause has enabled us to take great strides towards being the business we've always wanted to be. We're excited to open again and share all these advances with our guests.
Portia Hart is the co-founder of Blue Apple Beach House, Townhouse, and Fundación Green Apple, a collection of sustainable hospitality brands. More details can be found at Manzana Azul