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Omicron Causing Office Christmas Party Cancellations

Calls to end ‘mixed messages’ on Omicron as hospitality hit with cancellations

Hospitality business owners are calling on the government to end “mixed messages” around the Omicron variant of coronavirus after seeing a rise in office Christmas party cancellations and bookings.

One restaurant boss described the situation as “exhausting” and said it was impossible to plan around the government’s “erratic behaviour”.

The prime minister has urged people not to cancel Office Christmas parties, but on Tuesday UK Health Security Agency head Dr Jenny Harries said people should not socialise “when they don’t particularly need to”.

Marcos Fernandez Pardo, chief executive of Arros QD and Iberica Restaurants in London, said 10% of covers had been cancelled since new restrictions were announced at the weekend.

Pardo said: “A company of our size cannot plan for a government with an erratic behaviour or lack of information even on the next two months, so our planning is not as fine-tuned as we would like, causing strain with our landlords and financial partners, who are trying to manage their own exposure.”

Earlier this week the World Health Organisation (WHO) said early indications suggest most Omicron cases are “mild”, an announcement welcomed by hospitality trade bodies.

In a joint statement, UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said bookings were already 30% below expectations before Omicron was announced.

The trade bodies said: “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.”

But Tim Rumney, chief executive of BWH Hotel Group, which includes Best Western Hotels GB, said he feared the “damage was already done”.

A survey of 300 BWH hotels found that 70% have seen a drop in bookings since the announcement about the new variant and 72% have seen an increase in Christmas cancellations.

Over two-thirds said they were worried about the impact the new variant could have on business and guest confidence in Q1 of 2022.

Runmney said: “We have had a week of mixed messages about whether people should socialise or not, cancel parties or not and small, independent businesses like our hotels are on the front line, feeling the effects of that indecision.

“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. The curse of Covid Christmas past has returned to haunt us unfortunately.”

The Stafford London hotel has lost around 10% of its business for December, including office Christmas party bookings since Saturday (27 November), with many overseas guests cancelling trips.

Stacey French, co-owner of Jöro in Sheffield, said the restaurant had seen a rise in last-minute cancellations in recent weeks due to people testing positive for coronavirus. “We are seeing an increase in reservations email us in advance to ask what Covid-safe measures we are taking,” she said.

UKHospitality, the BII and the BBPA encouraged customers not to cancel their Christmas reservations, adding: “We’d 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.”

The original version of this article was first published on The Caterer

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