THE founder of Winchester's iconic Hotel du Vin in the 1990s has spoken of his fears for the hospitality industry due to Covid-19.

Robin Hutson founded the Pig chain and LimeWood and currently has more than 750 staff on furlough with his hotels currently closed.

Mr Hutson has written to the Prime Minister highlighting the importance of tourism and hospitality in rural areas and their crucial role in supporting local food and drink producers, contractors, tradesman and shopkeepers.

He has called for more support from the Government in the medium term otherwise the whole sector could collapse, especially as it appears forms of social distancing will stay in place for months, if not longer.

His ideas include extending furlough to spring 2021 and the business rate holiday to mid 2021 and a continuation of rent assistance and reduction in VAT.

The worst case would be furlough ending, hospitality opening up but with social distancing rules. That would cause a swathe of business collapses across the UK.

Mr Hutson told BBC Radio 4: "A lot depends on what happens with the pandemic. If we can see some sense of normality returning then we can look towards starting up the hospitality business slowly through the rest of the year. But there is such a range of businesses from large city centre hotels to six-table cafes that each one needs to be considered in a different light.

"If we have some relaxation of social distancing we can think about opening possibly towards the end of the summer. However if social distancing remains at two metres spacing that is pretty near impossible to operate in country house hotels such as ours.

"It feels very difficult for us to open to maintain the kind of environment and kind of atmosphere we create in our hotels. They are places people won't want to come if they can't move about in a free and easy way."

Asked what was need to support the hospitality sector Mr Hutson replied: "First it is about understanding the different type of hospitality business. A 200-bed limited service budget city centre hotels might be able to life with social distancing. In small restaurants where tables are tight it would be pretty near impossible. Frankly I feel really concerned for the very small establishments in the country where whole communities depend on them."

Mr Hutson opened the first Hotel du Vin in Southgate Street in Winchester in 1994 with sommelier, the late Gerard Basset. The first Pig Hotel was in Brockenhurst and the second in Southampton at Western Esplanade, opening in 2012.