Fears for Welsh hospitality industry as mass cancellations take hold in run up to Christmas

  • Business owners told our National Correspondent, Rob Osborne, that they're facing the "disastrous consequences" of covid uncertainty. 

Businesses in Wales’ hospitality sector are reporting mass cancellations for parties and bookings in the run up to Christmas, following hising fears of the Omicron coronavirus variant. 

It leaves pubs, restaurants and hotels up and down Wales on a knife-edge in the shadow of uncertainty for a second Christmas in a row.

On Saturday (December 11), one Welsh health board urged people to cancel their Christmas parties as pressures are predicted to mount on hospitals.

It is a message that appears to have been listened to by many people previously planning to let their hair down in the lead up to Christmas.

The Bar 44 chain that has restaurants in Cardiff, Penarth and Cowbridge has experienced 3,200 cancellations for December alone.

The situation is similar in North Wales, with many businesses reporting their phones ringing constantly for cancellations.

The hospitality sector has experienced a bumpy ride since first reopening last summer Credit: PA

Gethin Whiteley, who owns The White House in Rhuallt in Denbighshire told ITV Wales: “We have had two busy weekends with Christmas parties, but we have had some cancellations and our numbers are now down for party bookings because people don’t want to risk having to isolate on Christmas Day."

Another hotelier said: “We have had many cancellations for group Christmas parties in particular and many individual table bookings as well as accommodation reservations.

"The phone has stopped ringing for bookings as well. Have turned the radio off now as the Happy Christmas songs are depressing.”

Jim Jones, the chief executive of North Wales Tourism, has called on the Welsh Government to compensate businesses' losses.

“Businesses are now feeling the disastrous consequences of all the uncertainty being reported by both the Welsh and UK Governments and the media," he said.

“The Welsh Government need to ramp up financial support to compensate for the losses which are now inevitable.  

"Positive interventions like ramping up the booster vaccines and messages like ‘flow before you go out’ are far better than threats to turn off the tap for some businesses, at what is normally an extremely busy time in the calendar. 

“If the cancellations continue, it will have a detrimental effect on all businesses financially.”

The knock-on impact

With the furlough scheme no more, further restrictions present great uncertainty for businesses and employees alike Credit: PA

There is also concern about the knock on impact consumer hesitancy could have on employees working in the sector.

Research by Cardiff University’s Wales Fiscal Analysis team found that an estimated 228,000 people worked in 'shutdown sectors' like hospitality and non-essential retail in Wales during previous lockdowns.

Low earners were ten times more likely to work in a 'shutdown sector' than high earners.

Women, younger people and workers of Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Pakistani ethnicity were significantly more likely to be working in shutdown sectors in Wales.

The Wales TUC has warned that workers will bear the brunt of cancelled Christmas parties and concerts due to the widespread use of zero hours contracts in sectors like hospitality.

It has urged the Welsh Government to demand the UK Government to reboot the furlough scheme.

Ms Taj continued: “While organisers are doing the right thing if they’ve assessed that these events can’t go ahead safely, it has a huge knock-on effect on workers in sectors like hospitality.

"Many simply won’t be paid for the missed shifts because of the way in which they’re employed.

“These workers need urgent help – many of them will not be Universal Credit claimants and will have to wait weeks before their benefits come if they are laid off and forced to claim now. 

“These are also typically low paid roles, so these workers are far less likely to have savings to fall back on. 

“It’s absolutely essential that the chancellor listens to the trade union movement and reboots the furlough scheme so that workers’ Christmas pay packets aren’t empty.”

The Welsh Government is due to make its next coronavirus review announcement on Friday, December 17.

In response to fears, the First Minister told the Senedd on Tuesday: "I've had a series of discussions with UK Government colleagues over the weekend about what the Treasury might be prepared to do to support businesses affected in this way, because, as I know she will understand, this is an impact across the United Kingdom.

"Hospitality and tourism businesses everywhere are seeing this. 'Will we consider' is what the Member asked, and the answer to that is 'yes', of course we will consider what we might be able to do from our own resources.

"Then, we would definitely hope that the UK Government would be prepared to recognise the impact that the new variant is having more widely on those parts of the economy most directly affected."

Carole Green, ITV Cymru Wales work and economy correspondent

Pubs, restaurants and hotels up and down Wales are on a knife edge once again as we approach a second Christmas in the shadow of the pandemic.

This is the time of year when hospitality - a key sector for the Welsh economy - earns its living to see it through the quieter month of January and beyond.

There is widespread uncertainty right now with last year’s last minute lockdown still etched in the memories of customers and venues.

They lost vital trade at the 11th hour when they were closed down overnight and they don’t want a repeat this year. 

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, some customers it seems are already voting with their feet and cancelling or postponing their business, group of family celebrations.

With no UK or Welsh Government financial support in place, Hospitality business owners are feeling exposed. 

When demand has been strong, hospitality’s growth has been hampered by a lack of staff.

Many restaurants and hotels have already had to cut their services due to staff shortages.

Now they wait with bated breath for the next weekly review on Friday from the Welsh Government and how it might impact on this critical trading period - the last week before Christmas. 

The hospitality industry are waiting with bated breath for the next Welsh Government coronavirus update

The Welsh Conservatives have called on the Welsh Government to create a ‘cancellation compensation fund’ for hospitality businesses.

The party's shadow minister for the economy, Paul Davies, said: “The run-up to Christmas is usually a very busy time for our hospitality sector and this year would’ve been a perfect opportunity for them to recoup some of their losses.

“But with so much concern and uncertainty surrounding Omicron, it is clear some people are cancelling their plans, leaving businesses open and still shelling out on costs, but without any trade.

“Pubs, cafes and restaurants have been hit unbelievably hard throughout the course of the pandemic and we cannot afford to see them carry on losing money hand over fist because at the end of the day they will be forced to close with jobs hanging in the balance.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are also concerned about the impact a drop in footfall will have on the sector. 

The party’s leader Jane Dodds said: “We would also like to see more financial support offered to hospitality firms being hit by reduced footfall due to concerns over Omicron. 

“Despite no lockdown being in place pubs and restaurants are concerned about a drop off in trade during what is usually their busiest time of year, following fresh work-from-home guidance.

“Firms have already paid for stock for the Christmas period in the wake of supply chain disruptions. Much of this can’t be stored for the future, and even the small proportion that can will cause immediate cash flow disruption in already struggling businesses.”

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