'London is open' message desperately needed, CEOs urge

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Commuter exodus: A stronger message is needed to encourage people back into London, chief executives have urged in a letter to the Prime Minister and Mayor of London
Commuter exodus: A stronger message is needed to encourage people back into London, chief executives have urged in a letter to the Prime Minister and Mayor of London

Related tags: Health and safety, Legislation, London, Greene king

Commuters, tourists and residents need to be encouraged to get back to drinking and dining in the capital to secure the recovery of hospitality there, chief executives have said in a letter to the Prime Minister and Mayor of London.

More than 90 chief executives from pub and bar companies including Greene King, Fuller’s and Beds & Bars have signed a letter to Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan, urging “clear, consistent messaging to give assurance and diminish fear”.

London has not fared as well as other areas in rebuilding trade amid the coronavirus crisis and faces an estimated drop in international tourism spend of £12bn according to Visit Britain’s latest forecast for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020

What’s more, just one in three (34%) of UK white-collar workers have gone back to work, according to analysis from US bank Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise, with London commuters particularly hesitant.

The Government has targeted these workers in a new publicity campaign, which will make “the emotional case” for encouraging office work above working from home and reassure workers on safety concerns.

Downward spiral

The 90 hospitality leaders have asked for a round table discussion between operators, the Government and City Hall. 

Their letter said: “Only a coordinated approach that puts politics to one side and focuses on building confidence will deliver the strong and desperately needed message that London is open for Londoners, commuters and leisure visitors. The current speed of progress in conveying that message will see businesses fail and the triggering of an economic downward spiral. 

“We urge you to work with us on an ambitious and strategic plan of action to secure London’s future and a safe return to growth.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls described the capital as at a “very real risk” of lagging behind the rest of the country and even international equivalents in its economic recovery. 

Bleak case

Nicholls explained: “Around the country, life is beginning to return to some degree of normality. People are returning to work and hospitality businesses are slowly starting to bounce back from a disastrous few months.

“The case is much bleaker in London. Some businesses are struggling to hit double figures and the reality is that businesses are going to fail, with the associated job losses, if nothing is done.”

Mass job losses could be on the horizon according to Nicholls, with hospitality and tourism businesses, retail, leisure and supply chain businesses together making up 20% of all employment in London. 

An exodus of commuters from London has been a concern of operators for a while.

Fuller’s boss Simon Emeny shared his concerns about the pandemic's impact on the capital's "eco-system" with The Morning Advertiser's (MA)​ editor Ed Bedington earlier this summer, saying his business had relied heavily on commuters​.

"We need to create an environment where we are giving people permission to go back out again and enjoy the delights that London as a capital city has," Emeny said. "Until that happens, whether it is in pubs, restaurants or cafes, it is going to be very difficult for people to contemplate opening in central London."

The disparity between the capital and other parts of the nation was made clear in statistics released last month that showed the Government’s discount meals initiative had one of the lowest impacts on footfall in London compared to other areas.

Here is the letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister and Mayor of London,

We are extremely grateful for the action you and your colleagues have taken to date to support our sector through this pandemic. We share your concern and ambition to get our economy going again on a safe and sustainable basis. Now we must work together to ensure that London is equipped to drive that recovery, for the sake of the capital and as a catalyst for the rest of the UK.

While the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has helped some central London businesses and brought welcome relief to many more businesses in outer London and beyond, there is a growing disparity between central London and the rest of the UK. Hospitality businesses in other parts of the UK are now taking above 70% of their pre coronavirus revenue, while in London business has been decimated – with some struggling to hit double figures in comparable trading levels. Our sector’s fortunes in the capital are inextricably linked with two income streams – office footfall and tourism.

Pre-Covid, half a million workers came to central London every day but many businesses have no immediate plans for staff to return to offices; only around 15% of them expect the majority of staff to return by the end of September. This has existential risks for businesses in hospitality and its supply chain, as well as retail, leisure and entertainments, which combined employ around 20% of Londoners.

The rate at which action to build public trust to levels that will trigger a return of safe travel into central London has become a social and economic emergency. London’s residents and workers need to be persuaded that: existing public health measures deliver a low and managed risk; public transport is safe and; their workplaces are safe. This will require a significant upturn in the delivery of clear, consistent messaging to give assurance and diminish fear.

Pre-Covid, more than 40 million overseas visitors spent close to £30bn in Britain last year, with 55% of those visitors coming to London, the world’s third most visited city. Visit Britain’s latest forecast for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020 is for a decline of 73% in visits to 11.0 million and a decline of 79% in spending from nearly £30bn to £6bn. With 55% of inbound expenditure accruing in London, there would be a drop in revenue for London of at least £12bn in international tourism. This does not take into account the further lost revenues for aviation and ferry operators and terminals. A programme of promotions, initiatives and campaigns is desperately needed to convey to potential visitors that London is open for business, safe and welcoming.

We are keen to work collaboratively with the Government and City Hall. Only a coordinated approach that puts politics to one side and focuses on building confidence will deliver the strong and desperately needed message that London is open for Londoners, commuters and leisure visitors. The current speed of progress in conveying that message will see businesses fail and the triggering of an economic downward spiral. We urge you to work with us on an ambitious and strategic plan of action to secure London’s future and a safe return to growth. To that end, we request that you grant us the opportunity for a round table discussion with leading operators from across our diverse sector, which UKHospitality is more than willing to facilitate.

Related topics: Legislation

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