The winter that wasn’t
It feels strange having not seen any of our usual guests for over a year now. We just went through a winter, a whole season, without opening, strange doesn’t begin to explain it. We have obviously been sending out the occasional newsletter as to what has been going on, or our best guess at what we thought was going to happen, but as is the nature of the newsletter, we try to keep it to useful news and to the point. This is more personal and a continuation of my story relating to running a travel business through a time when travel was not allowed.
It’s November 2020, I’m in Morzine, Emma and the kids are in Loughborough. In France we are talking about the end of the second lockdown, though the message is that bars, hotels and even ski resorts will have to remain closed at least until January. Might as well head back to the UK and try out this quarantine thing.
As much as we had been trying to keep ourselves busy there were limitations on what we could actually get on with. One of the biggest was financial. After a the abrupt end to the previous winter and a very week summer season, we were essentially still in business by virtue of not paying our bills, which is not something I would recommend for your sanity. By now we had lost the Kinkerne as they were not understanding of this situation and not long after me returning to the UK we lost Le Prele. We had secured a tenant to take the chalet for the whole winter season, but when it came time to commit with actual money they wanted to include a covid clause that would have left us incredibly exposed. Fortunately the owners were understanding of factors that were outside our control and they have decided to live in the chalet year round.
Coming into the holidays it was coming apparent that there was a chance that resorts might not open at all for the winter and we would also have to remain closed. Around this time the French government started to realise properly that businesses needed supporting inorder to survive this time. I had been trying relentlessly to get support (hadn’t had much else to do), but had been denied on a number of reasons, one being that we were still actually allowed to open and there for could get business. This was technically true. We could open the hotel, but guests were not allowed to use the public spaces and had to stay in their room even be served food in their room. Yes we didn’t bother trying to open.
It was great to be back with the family for the Christmas holidays, but there was nothing to do. We weren’t meant to mix with anyone else, visit family even and everything was closed. The news was changing constantly and we had no idea what was going to happen for the winter as everyone was having a good old worry about the new strains emerging, especially the English variety. Thus the next big development was the EU closing it’s borders. That coupled with Brexit effectively wrote off our season, even before they announced that there was little chance of resorts opening for the winter.
Things were now getting pretty serious. Despite numerous efforts we were still getting denied any assistance from the government. That’s the French Government. I have to say that by now Myself and Emma were furloughed from the UK Business and it is by virtue of this that we were still able to feed ourselves. IN France however we were being consistently denied under the issue that we had tax debt without a payment plan. Yes we do, but we have payment plan. We got in touch with the lady we agreed our payment plan with, but she said it’s not up to her get in touch with the office in Thonon. Thonon said speak to Annecy, Annecy said no we need to talk to Thonon and so it had been going for more than a month. As such it was decided I needed to return to France and literally go to Thonon tax office and knock on the door until I could actually get to speak to someone. Otherwise we would have no option but to close down. I had already written my cv.
Three days after being back in France I managed to get a contact at the Thonon office, who rather matter of factly explained it was an automated response, not to worry, just reapply in a few days’ time and all would be good. As a result some 10 months after this all began we go some money form the government, the sense of relief was incredible. As it has turned out we have actually got what anyone would consider a lot of money. But it’s surprising how quick it goes when you’ve been collecting debts for 10 months and although I don’t want to seem in anyway ungrateful for the support and I am fully respectful of the fact that without it we would no longer have the French business, but we are not coming out of this without a lot of scars. At the time though we can at least start to make a plan on how to start trying to move forward. We are able to go back to landlords and suppliers with some solutions.
Whilst all this was going on winter had started as it was going to do whether there was going to be anyone there to enjoy it or not. Rather ironically there was more snow than we have seen for a good number of years. I genuinely feel guilty about this, but I found myself in Morzine, there is epic snow conditions, my work schedule is as flexible as its ever been and Emma and the kids are in the UK. I should mention at this point that Emma is having to home school the kids (all 4 of them) on her own whilst I’m in Morzine. That’s where the guilty bit comes in, but not wanting to waste an opportunity I dusted off my splitboard and went riding and had some of the best runs I’ve had since living here. Great snow and often lines all to ourselves. I wouldn’t say though that, that was all I did. There was a lot of painting and fixing and other things going on, but that’s not what I’m going to remember about that couple of months.
As a business we were shut down. We didn’t know when we would next be able open up and there was no real point in trying to guess, just shut down and wait it out. We kept pretty busy, but it’s mainly been painting and decorating. Skipping past this winter we started looking towards summer as out next goal and have done a lot of work on the outside of the Aubergade. Repainted a lot of bedrooms and are still in the process of redoing the kitchen at Chambertin.
Now we are still waiting, but there seems to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Partly helped by vaccines being rolled out, I think party fueled by a collective will to get back to normality, that’s seems to be getting stronger than the urge to play safe. I don’t know, but we will continue to follow the rules and hope that the powers that be will get us through it. Not that we have a lot of choice, but to sit tight and trust that we will get back to normal and not some new normal, but proper normal like we used to be.