The most recent Hotel fires in both Scotland and England are a tragic reminder of why safety must remain a paramount concern within the industry.
As more international hotel brands establish their presence in Scotland, guest safety is becoming an increasingly key focus for operators and investors keen to protect reputations and safeguard revenues in a competitive marketplace.
Scotland’s capital continues to attract major global brands names, including the likes of Virgin Hotels, who are planning to open their first European premises here in 2020, and W Hotel, who are due to open at the £1bn Edinburgh St James redevelopment in 2021. InterContinental Hotels Group are also reported to be bringing their luxury boutique brand Kimpton to Edinburgh. Meanwhile, the UK’s first Radisson Red hotel opened in Glasgow earlier this year, German hotel brand Meininger are due to open opposite Queen Street railway station in 2020, and a new AC Hotels by Marriott in Dundee will help cement that city’s waterfront regeneration.
Global brands invest significant capital in safeguarding their reputation – and are very conscious of the potential international damage that can follow a serious fire. Images of the extensive fire at the Address Downtown hotel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve in 2015 were beamed live around the world. While there were fortunately no fatalities in the incident, several people were injured and the hotel remained closed for two years. Cameron House is not due to re-open until autumn next year, nearly two years after its devastating blaze.
In addition to loss of income during closures and reconstruction costs (not all of which may be covered by insurance), health and safety breaches can also have other financial implications.
The Scottish courts will take into account the extent to which an incident is attributable to suitable health and safety precautions not having been adopted. They are starting to mirror the approach taken by the courts in England and Wales where, for example, a serious breach by a business with a turnover of more than £50m that has led to significant harm can result in a fine of between £2m and £20m.
Individual company directors and senior hotel managers can also find themselves facing fines and jail sentences of up to two years for the most serious breaches of health and safety requirements.
In addition, the Health & Safety Executive has the power to issue prohibition notices in serious cases, meaning that all or part of a hotel may have to be shut down until it is satisfied that adequate precautions and safeguards are in place.
This can all affect investor confidence and, in some cases, the share values of large groups.
Fire standards differ from country to country – for example, new buildings or conversions that might be allowed in developing countries might not pass muster under Scottish building regulations. Even across the EU, fire safety laws differ substantially.
The clientele of international hotel brands, however, expect consistent standards wherever in the world they are staying. Many of the international hotel brands and operators are US-based, where fire and safety standards are very high. US travellers are also particularly concerned about safety – a recent CWT survey found that 35 per cent of American business travellers expressed concerns about safety at hotels, much higher than Canadian (25%) or Mexican travellers (23%).
This all means that global brands are increasingly requiring that the construction, refurbishment and operation of any of their hotels throughout the world is compliant with their own exacting international safety standards in addition to local fire safety laws.
Modern, purpose-built hotels are of course best placed to integrate the highest safety standards at design stage. Hotels in existing premises, however, do not have this luxury and while they may benefit from the character of a historic building or the allure of a prestigious name, when it comes to safety standards they are forced to adapt and work with what is already there. Restrictive and time-consuming planning and building control regimes are often designed to protect historic buildings and features, and may not align fully with the commercial interests of hotel owners and operators.
Property owners and developers converting historic buildings into hotels, or upgrading historic hotel buildings, will obviously want to drive up revenue by maximising room numbers and communal space without disrupting the aesthetics that make the property so attractive to guests in the first place. They will, however, need to balance that ambition with the requirement to accommodate modern, fit-for-purpose emergency escape routes, staircases and ramps, retrofit fire detection and sprinkler systems, where required, and other fire-fighting equipment. It may also be necessary to identify additional routes to ensure items of historic value can be retrieved while hotel staff and guests are also being safely evacuated in an emergency. On all this, taking into account the hotel brand’s own fire and safety requirements, as well as Scottish planning, listed building and building control legislation, is crucial.
Hotel developers and their fire safety advisers must therefore engage with brands’ fire safety compliance teams openly and proactively, and at a sufficiently early stage in the development process to enable safe, workable and economically viable solutions to be found
Lindsay Dougall, Associate and hotel
CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP
1 W. Regent Street, Glasgow, G2 1AP
T +44 (0)141 222 2200
F +44 (0)141 222 2201
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