Hotels in the UK have been hit by a wave of Christmas cancellations as business customers call off parties and events amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The Best Western Hotel Group, a franchise operator, said mixed messaging from ministers had already damaged trade, with concerns Christmas 2021 would have to be “written off”, while one independent hotelier in Devon pleaded with government not to “hang hospitality out to dry”.
Of the 290 independently owned Best Western in the UK, three-quarters have had an increase in Christmas cancellations and 89% have expressed concern about the festive trading period, the group said. About 70% have seen a decline in bookings since the Omicron variant emerged. More than two-thirds are worried businesses and individuals will still be wary about booking in the early part of next year.
The Dartmoor Lodge in Devon said diners had been pulling out of bookings at its restaurant. In a plea to the prime minister posted on Twitter, the family-owned hotel said: “Please don’t hang hospitality out to dry – we’ve had many cancellations of Xmas dining – don’t restrict and advise not to socialise without financial support.”
Several restaurant bookings for larger groups had been cancelled, a manager at the hotel said, including a conference with 40 people planned for Monday, although room bookings had not been affected.
Tim Rumney, the chief executive of Best Western GB, criticised confusing signals from government. “We have had a week of mixed messages about whether people should socialise or cancel parties or not and small, independent businesses like our hotels are on the frontline feeling the effects of that indecision.
“My fear is the damage is already done, and this festive period will need to be written off like last Christmas, which will be devastating for many small businesses who were hoping for a strong end to 2021, after the last two years of Covid interrupted trading.”
The advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell said on Thursday that clients of his marketing group, S4C, were cancelling Christmas events in response to Omicron.
Boris Johnson has urged people not to cancel festive parties or nativity plays, contradicting advice from leading scientists and one of his most senior health officials who have advised people to cut back on unnecessary socialising in response to Omicron.
The government has tightened travel restrictions and reintroduced PCR tests for travellers arriving in the UK, who have to quarantine until they receive a negative result.
Jonathan Fletcher, who manages a Best Western hotel in Dorset called The Grange, said he had numerous calls from customers this week cancelling meals and parties.
“This Saturday night, we were supposed to have 100 people eating in our restaurant. Now there’ll only be 12,” he told the BBC.
UKHospitality, which represents hotels, bars and night clubs, said there had been a rise in cancellations since Omicron’s emergence, with some venues reporting cancellation rates of 10%, but expressed hope that this would slow after the World Health Organization said early indications were that most Omicron cases are mild.
Rumney added: “We need clarity from the top – not confusion between what the government is saying and what health chiefs are saying – because these figures show the impact Omicron is already having on consumer confidence. Businesses can’t plan properly, customers can’t plan properly.”
He said next year hospitality needed to be top of the priority list for the government, with an extension of the reduction in VAT to support small, independent businesses.