Wales' Premier Independent Travel Magazine

Lockdown Life: Jemima-Mann Baha

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Jemima and her husband run Palais Amani (www.palaisamani.com) and the Fez Cooking School (www.fezcookingschool.com) in Morocco’s second largest city.


In 2006 Jemima and Abdelali bought the former home of one of Fez’s most prominent families, which had laid abandoned and deteriorating in the heart of the medina for over a quarter of a century. Four years of extensive renovation restored the property to its old splendour and revealed many stories about family, heritage and legacy.

The renovation included the maintenance of art déco features dating back to the 1930s. Prior to Fez, the couple had lived in London where they ran a restaurant and raised their three children. This year the hotel celebrates its tenth anniversary and then Covid-19 struck.

Travel Life wanted to find out more about how this awful situation is impacting their business.


Can you work? Are you having to work right now?
On 17th March 2020 Palais Amani, our boutique hotel in the medina in Fez, closed its doors – shortly after the last guest found a flight out of Casablanca. Flights had already stopped out of Fez and, technically, the borders were already shut, so these guests were naturally stressed. As soon as our team had helped them find a final connection to Europe they left, and we have been closed ever since.

The hotel, spa, restaurants and cookery school are not working for the moment. How long for we have no idea, but as our building can never be left completely closed, a small team of technicians are doing repairs and ensuring the upkeep during lockdown. Here at head office we are working more than ever; first dealing with cancellations but then with all those jobs that one doesn’t get ‘round to do when open and working on strategies for once we are back on track.


Please tell us about launching the online cookery classes showcasing Moroccan cuisine during lockdown? 
Like so many businesses at the start of lockdown, we received a huge number of emails about Covid19 underlining the uncertainty of our futures. By week three I had almost developed a rash from the number of CEO messages telling us that if we pulled together all would be ok. Until I received one from a US travel agency that told me the story of a wishing tree in Botswana. The pictures were beautiful and the story, evocative and touching. I read right down to the end and felt inspired enough to send a reply to say thank you! I was travelling, admittedly from my desktop, but living the dream, exploring the world and as for Botswana, that destination was firmly put on my bucket list for when we can travel again.

Out of all this uncertainty, we knew we needed to find ways of letting people know we are still here, so that when this situation resolves, and we can re-open, our audience, old and new, will think of coming to stay and visit. But in a fun way, a way that would allow people to travel and take their minds off the stress of the pandemic for a while.

The authenticity of the Moroccan way of life is in our DNA at Palais Amani, so the idea of being able to continue one of our most popular activities, our hands on cooking workshops by broadcasting online was born. It seemed a natural choice to allow people to keep travelling whilst staying at home. The technical side was a bit challenging at first, but after becoming familiar with Zoom, and doing a number of test runs with the team, our first online class was launched.

Over fifty people signed up for the first class – from the States, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, Germany, even one keen enthusiast from Japan! They were all there, aprons on, ingredients ready and we cooked together.


What are your overall thoughts about the pandemic and how it has affected the hospitality industry?
The pandemic has made a lot of people question the ways in which we live. In all this time of introspection, many have been focusing on what is essential for us. It has also generated a lot of talk about changes that are necessary in the world. There has been much thought about preserving the environment and about trying to change social inequalities that have been only too apparent during this time. Only time will tell as to whether these changes will take place or whether we will slip back to old the ways. But, for the time being, what is certain is that the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry extremely badly.

For now, we are simply closed with little scope for generating revenue. And whilst some business have been more inventive than others, with vouchers to buy now for holidays later, or home deliveries, and online experiences, the revenue that these activities have generated is a drop in the ocean in terms of keeping our businesses alive in the long term.


How do you think this pandemic will change us when things calm down?
Once the go ahead is given to re-open, the effects of the pandemic will take time to erase. People may want to live more mindfully, but Covid19 is making people more wary of others. Fear of the unknown is at its highest which will continue to affect the hospitality trade long after the borders open and people start moving further afield. What is reassuring is that we are essentially social beings and if we are focusing on the essentials, spending leisure time with family and friends will be something that people will certainly want to do.


Your hotel celebrates ten years this year; please tell us how challenging this pandemic has been compared to other issues. 
We opened in April 2010; so our year of events and celebrations was due to start right in the middle of lockdown. Naturally everyone who had worked so hard to get the celebrations in place were disappointed that they didn’t go ahead as planned, but not all the work that went into preparing the series of events to mark our first ten years will go to waste as we are rescheduling many of them for later in the year.

The number of good wishes and communications of support that came in from past clients from all over the world, as we celebrated virtually on the official birthday, definitely boosted team morale.

The challenge now is to keep ourselves financially afloat for long enough until we can start welcoming guests once more. It certainly is not a small challenge with so much uncertainty ahead, but we have been extremely lucky in our success for a number of years now and, fortunately, have enough cash flow to tide us over the next six months or so.


Post lockdown, and once borders open, what are you most looking forward to do? 
To walk through our great cedar doors and step into our garden, that I know is being looked after so well by the team members who are working to look after the hotel and grounds. To hear the bird’s chatter, and the inevitable welcome cries from the team that will accompany us coming home. We may have to avoid close hugs for a while, but there will be socially distanced dancing once our doors de re-open and we can welcome friends old and new to our haven in the medina.


To find out more, please visit:
Palais Amani
www.palaisamani.com

Fez Cooking School
www.fezcookingschool.com


Imges are copyright of the Palais Amani and should not be reproduced without their express written permission.

If you would like to contribute to Travel Life, please get in touch…
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