Call to reduce socialising will harm hospitality sector, warn bosses

Hospitality sector bosses have warned that messaging from health officials for people to limit socialising amid the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will have a “damaging effect on businesses”.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, said this “chilling talk” could hammer the sector ahead of its busiest period.

She said bookings have already been “cancelled and plans changed” by some customers.

Meanwhile, Andrew Andrea, boss of pub group Marston’s, said the messaging has been “unhelpful”, but said the group had not yet seen customers cancel reservations and Christmas parties.

Earlier on Tuesday, the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency urged people not to socialise if they do not need to.

Dr Jenny Harries said people could do their bit to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant by reducing the number of social contacts they have as she urged people to have their booster jabs.

The Government has also re-imposed rules requiring face coverings in shops and public transport but did not extend any restrictions to the hospitality sector.

However, industry bosses have raised concerns about the message for customers to limit their socialising, ahead of a key Christmas period for an industry which suffered a particularly heavy impact from Covid-19 over the past 19 months.

Ms Nicholls said hospitality operators have invested significantly in improving ventilation and hygiene, claiming that “hospitality venues will be far safer places to socialise with family and friends this Christmas than at home” as a result.

She added: “However, despite this, the chilling talk of Plan B is already being felt across hospitality as bookings are cancelled and plans changed.

“There is no doubt that this will have a damaging effect on businesses, just as they head into their key trading period.

“This all comes at a critical time for the sector, as costs are rising across the board, supply chain issues continue, chronic labour shortages show no sign of easing and next year will see a return of 20% VAT rate.”

Mr Andrea, who became chief executive officer of 1,500-venue pub group Marston’s last month, also had concerns.

“In this case, the messaging will be unhelpful in the minds of our customers,” he said.

“Health and safety of customers and staff is obviously a priority – we have done everything possible to ensure we have clean, well-ventilated pubs.

“I did find some comfort that the Government highlighted that this would not effect hospitality and that the Prime Minister was pretty bullish about Christmas.”