Consumers urged not to cancel Christmas bookings

UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association have issued joint statement urging customers not to cancel Christmas bookings following the World Health Organisation's (WHO) announcement that the Covid-19 Omicron variant appears to be 'mild'. 

The statement from WHO provided a much-needed boost for the hospitality sector, elevated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's encouragement for people and businesses to go ahead with Christmas and New Year parties – a move the industry hopes will quell the number of booking cancellations. 

Anecdotal eveidence gathered by the hospitality industry suggests there were cancellations made in direct response to the emergence of the variant. However, more recent feedback from operators points to a slowing of these, with many people keen for festivities to go ahead. 

Venues have invested heavily to ensure the safety of staff and customers, focusing on better ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, measures that SAGE reccommend as the most effective measures of control. 

The slow-down of cancellations is a small comfort for the industry, after latest figures revealed that the sector has suffered a 30% slump in Christmas bookings, even before the emergence of Omicron. 

A survey of hundreds of hospitality operators, representing tens of thousands of venues, reveals that bookings for the festive period were down 12.3% on average based on expectations from 2019, while 56% of respondents said bookings were below what they had hoped. Alarmingly, 22% of those polled said that, eve prior to Omicron, festive bookings were more than 30% below expectations. 

Consequently, operators are losing confidence, with another survey showing that confidence levels have dropped 7% to 51% in this quarter versus Q3 and are down 16% to 54% when business leaders were asked about their own venues.

In a joint statement, the three industry bodies say: "The full range of hospitality venues actoss 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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