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Decreased occupancy levels are the nightmare of every hotelier. It’s inevitable that occupancy fluctuates between peak and off-peak seasons in tourist destinations across the globe, but with the added pressures of the post-Covid market, empty rooms are an increasing threat.

Hoteliers concerned about un-booked rooms now need look no further than charity Room to Reward.

Founder Nicolas Roach sums up the charity’s mission: “Up and down the country, there are so many people helping, caring and loving others. A lot of those people really need a break. We can give those people a break, use some empty rooms, and really make a difference.”

Working in partnership with hotels, Room to Reward works to make use of the approximately 140,000 hotel rooms sitting empty and unused every night in the UK. According to the charity, this amounts to £5bn worth of wasted assets every year.

“Hidden heroes” are nominated to have well-deserved hotel breaks for their inspiring work in communities and with charities as volunteers.

Room to Reward now partners with more than 500 hotels throughout the UK, including Hyatt, Park Plaza and Leonardo Hotels. Over 1000 Hidden Heroes have been nominated, drawn from more than 500 charities and community groups.

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Hotel Management Network spoke with Room to Reward’s operations and marketing director Joe Langtree, and put some questions to him about the hotel industry and the charity’s work.

What are the differences in working with independent hotels versus bigger chains?

“Bigger chains can take a little longer to sign up,” Joe Langtree confirmed. “With independent hotels, once you have the approval of the general manager, you’re pretty much good to go. Bigger chains often require a wider range of approvals to sign up so inevitably takes a little more time.

“Each hotel also has the opportunity to outline their peak times to ensure they only get Room to Reward booking requests for quieter times of lower occupancy. With a large chain, it can obviously take some time to get the details for each individual hotel. And independent hotels are likely to receive the request directly, while larger chains will take them through head office.

“However, both methods work well. Leonardo Hotels, for example, are one of our biggest group partners. All requests go to their central reservations team and they handle it fantastically. We are immensely grateful for the wonderful support of each and every one of our 800 plus hotel partners”.

What are the key factors that cause un-booked rooms?

“Location is a big one. For example, coastal properties in Devon and Cornwall are always going to have quiet periods during winter months, particularly in January and February.

“Property type is another factor. Hotels that are more aimed at corporate and business guests, for example, may find Monday to Thursday is peak trading and weekends are quieter. The increase in remote working has also had an impact on business travel. Then things like the current cost of living crisis obviously make room costs a factor as well.

“Whatever the occupancy, until Room to Reward the occasional empty room was just seen as a consequence of running a hotel. Now hotels have the opportunity to put a handful of these wasted assets a year to memorable, impactful use”.

What makes the hotel industry well-positioned to give back to communities?

“Firstly, inventory. With historical booking records, forecasts and so on, hotels can anticipate when they are likely to have an empty room and therefore the best time for them to be in a position to give back, at virtually no cost. It’s a simple donation that has a huge impact.

“Secondly, the nature of the business. We are in hospitality and those friendly welcomes live long in the memories of the volunteers and turn an enjoyable experience into an unforgettable one. We constantly receive wonderful feedback from volunteers about their break, how they were made to feel and the impact that had.

“Finally, location. Every hotel is in a community where there are inspiring Hidden Heroes doing amazing unseen work to help people and places in need. Room to Reward is about recognising those who give up their time to help others and give them a little bit of that time back to take for themselves”.