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25 Mar 2021

Why you shouldn't trust some Covid-safe badge schemes

VisitBritain Covid badge scheme endorses 12,640 accommodation providers, but just 3% have been inspected and none removed following complaints

Some badge schemes that claim a hotel is taking extra measures against Covid-19 are little more than a box-ticking exercise, Which? Travel has found.

VisitBritain's We're Good to Go mark is awarded to show a tourist accommodation or attraction is following enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures. But to be accepted, managers only need to tick a few boxes on a self-assessment form and have a Covid-19 risk assessment in place.

Only a fraction of properties are visited by VisitBritain to ensure measures are being followed. So far VisitBritain has inspected just 354 of the 12,640 accommodation businesses it has endorsed. That's less than 3%.

A spokesperson for VisitBritain told us that lockdown and severe restrictions had meant they were physically unable to conduct assessments. 'Spot checks are carried out after a business has joined the scheme, not before. The purpose of these checks is to audit compliance or respond to any specific complaint received,' it added. But visits are not required to join the scheme.

Britannia hotels: Good to Go?

Of those spot checks, 18 were conducted following a complaint - with no businesses removed from the scheme as a result.

That includes Britannia's Grand Burstin hotel in Folkestone. We found evidence of poor cleaning last summer after conducting tests with germ simulation powder. Britannia has also been ranked the worst hotel chain for eight years running, with a one-star rating for cleanliness.

VisitBritain visited the hotel following our complaint. It later told us that it saw no reason to drop it from the scheme after receiving 'confirmation of cleanliness processes' from Britannia and the onsite management team.

A spokesperson for Britannia told us at the time: 'We are totally committed to providing a safe environment for visitors. We have so far spent around £2m on Covid-19 precautions, but we accept there is more to do.'

See which brands rated best for cleanliness with the full results of our UK hotel chains survey.

WTTC Safe Travels: 'Not an official certification'

UK tourism businesses registered with 'Good to Go' can also be automatically issued with the World Travel & Tourism Council's (WTTC) international Safe Travels stamp.

The global mark can endorse anything from a single holiday rental to an entire nation, with more than 100 countries already approved.

This includes parts of Brazil, linked to the more infectious variant. The WTTC told us the stamp 'does not indicate the level of Covid-19 in a destination'.

It also 'does not provide an official certification or accreditation system', according to its T&Cs. Instead it relies on companies to give an 'accurate and honest' self-assessment.

A spokesperson for the WTTC told us the stamp was never positioned as being approved or accredited by any governmental or regulatory body, but is instead a set of 'best practices'.

AA claims it's Covid confident

Hotels, B&Bs and campsites can apply for the AA Covid confident mark to reassure guests that Covid-safe measures are in place. Like Good to Go, it involves an online self-assessment form - with successful applicants given a logo and digital certificate to display.

But the AA tells us evidence of a completed risk assessment and relevant staff training must also be submitted. To date it has spot-checked 10% of properties, with more planned once restrictions are lifted.

A spokesperson claimed the scheme is 'rigorous and robust', with only 53% of its 6,000 applicants approved so far. Many were rejected because of incomplete applications or lack of evidence, it said.

Quality in Tourism: inspecting every property

Quality in Tourism's Safe, Clean & Legal goes one step further and inspects every property as part of its audit. This pass or fail scheme was originally launched in 2018 to ensure hotels and holiday rentals had appropriate fire safety and hygiene standards in place. Now Covid-19 safety precautions also form part of the criteria.

An independent third party inspects each property, on an undercover basis where possible. They review high touch areas, like handles and remote controls, and even swab for bacteria if concerned.

Afterwards the property is issued with a full report and staff training to help embed any suggested improvements.

Director of Quality in Tourism, Deborah Heather believes the number of inspections carried out by rival schemes is 'a drop in the ocean'.

She told Which? Travel: 'It's very confusing and misleading for consumers. There may be a set of rules in place, but nobody checks if these are being followed. That's what we do. We check the life and limb stuff. Consumers have no idea they could be putting their relatives at risk.'

How to check your stay is Covid safe

Given VisitBritain is doing so few inspections, look instead for the Safe, Clean & Legal badge - although it covers far fewer properties. You can call ahead to ask smaller B&Bs and cottage stays about enhanced cleaning measures. Check specifically if they are using an EPA-registered disinfectant.

Under the Consumer Rights Act, your hotel must provide 'reasonable care': so even a cheap room must meet basic cleanliness levels. If you're unhappy, insist on a different room or ask for your money back. Find out more about how to complain about your holiday accommodation.