The measure under article 1, §5 of the Ministerial Decree determines that all establishments belonging to the cultural, festive, recreational, sports and horeca sector are obliged to close down their businesses. Yet, hotels are still allowed to remain operational as they are considered an essential service.
Abovementioned measures mean for the hospitality industry that:
- The following areas in or linked to a hotel are obliged to close :
- Recreational spaces ;
- Gyms, swimming pools and other sports areas ;
- Meeting rooms and most other common areas of;
- Terrace furniture of hotels must be placed inside;
- Home delivery of meals, takeaway, breakfast in a room and room service in hotels are still allowed;
- The rules on teleworking and social distancing are to be applied as much or as far as possible in hotels given that hotels are qualified as ‘essential companies’ (art. 3 and the annex to the Ministerial Decree);
- Alternative accommodation services, such as holiday parks, bed and breakfasts, camping’s, vacation rental stays and Airbnb’s are obliged to close.
It is clear that the governmental measures for hotels are slightly less rigid than the ones applicable on restaurants, bars, bed & breakfasts, holiday parks, camping’s, etc.; Hotels can to a certain extent continue to carry out their activities.
There is however no doubt that COVID-19 has created a financial burden on the hotel industry, particularly given the following facts:
- Hotels are not obliged to close down, therefore not eligible to apply for certain governmental aid measures such as the Corona hardship premium (4,000 EUR) which is only granted to companies that are by regulation forced to close down (e.g art. 4 Decree of the Flemish Government 20 March 2020 to grant aid to enterprises which are obliged to close down as a consequence of the measures taken by the National Security Council as from 12 March 2020 regarding the coronavirus);
- Non-essential travels to and from Belgium are forbidden (art. 7 Ministerial Decree). People are obliged to stay at home. It is forbidden to be on public roads and in public places, unless necessary and for urgent reasons (art. 8 Ministerial Decree). Consequently, hotel occupancy rates have tremendously fallen down as tourists and businessmen (making up the majority of the client base) are nearly not able to fly into or to travel within Belgium anymore. Especially places such as the Ardennes, the seaside, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges suffer from a majorityof reservations being cancelled or postponed;
- Hotel employees can still travel for work and if they need to travel to other nearby countries, it is advisable to provide such employees with a certificate to account for the transfer to and from work. Although this is not compulsory in Belgium, it may be useful in the event of an inspection. However, for employees needing to cross the border to work, the Belgian government has drawn up a standard certificate for the employer to complete, which will then serve as proof of the need to cross the border for professional purposes. This standard form can be downloaded here.
- Underoccupancy combined with severely restricted usage of hotel facilities have led to tremendous low turn-overs and have made the hotel sector even more vulnerable to bankruptcy;
Hotel associations have appealed the government on the need for governmental aid measures.
We also highly recommend hotel owners and hotel operators to check their lease agreement or management agreement on clauses with regard to force majeure, hardship, turnover targets, exploitation obligations, etc. in order to comply with all required steps and procedures contractually provided for.
The full text of the Ministerial Decree dated 8 May 2020 including the list of the essential businesses can be found here.