Hospitality’s Christmas bookings hope, as Omicron declared ‘mild’

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The hard-pressed hospitality sector received a much-needed boost today, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcement that cases of the Covid-19 variant Omicron appear to be ‘mild’. That, coupled with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging people and businesses to go ahead with Christmas and New Year parties, could slow the number of those cancelling bookings.

Anecdotal evidence gathered by the hospitality industry since the variant emerged a week ago suggests there were cancellations in direct response to Omicron’s emergence. However, latest feedback from operators points to a slowing of cancellations, with many people determined to go ahead with parties.

Venues such as pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs have invested heavily to ensure the safety of staff and customers, focusing on better ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, measures which SAGE recommend are the most effective measures of infection control. This means hospitality venues will be safer places at which to socialise with family and friends this Christmas than at home.

But the slow-down in cancellations is small comfort for hospitality, after latest figures revealed that the sector has been hit by a 30% slump in Christmas bookings even before the emergence of Omicron. A recent survey of hundreds of hospitality operators, representing tens of thousands of venues, reveals bookings for the festive period were down 12.4% on average based on expectations from 2019, while 56% of respondents said bookings were below what they had hoped. Alarmingly, 22% of those polled in the survey said that, even prior to Omicron, festive bookings were more than 30% below expectations.

Reflecting this, operators in the sector are losing confidence. A new survey of business leaders in the sector shows confidence levels in the market have fallen 7 percentage points to 51% in this quarter versus Q3 and are down by 16 percentage points to 54% when it comes to their own businesses.

In a joint statement, UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping, and the British Beer & Pub Association said: “The full range of hospitality venues across the UK would usually be experiencing their annual bookings bonanza at this time of year, but it hadn’t materialised even before Omicron was first detected. 

“The WHO announcement that Omicron infections are generally mild, plus government promptings for festive gatherings to go ahead as planned, offer a crumb of comfort, and could at least slow the slew of cancellations the sector has experienced in the week since Omicron was discovered.

“We’d therefore urge those with bookings not to cancel them, but to carry on and enjoy their festive season parties, safe in the knowledge that hospitality venues are doing everything they can to ensure people have a safe and fun Christmas and New Year.”

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