Omicron declared as ‘mild’ offers ‘crumb of comfort for sector’

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

Slew of cancellations: Bookings for the festive period down 12.4% based on expectations from 2019 (Credit: Getty/ SolStock)
Slew of cancellations: Bookings for the festive period down 12.4% based on expectations from 2019 (Credit: Getty/ SolStock)

Related tags Coronavirus ukhospitality Bii Bbpa Health and safety

Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) having declared the latest Coronavirus variant, Omicron, as mild, this offered a 'crumb of comfort' to the sector as Christmas bookings were still down 12.4% based on expectations from 2019.

Anecdotal evidence gathered by the hospitality industry since the variant emerged a week ago, showed more than half (56%) of those surveyed said bookings were below what they had hoped.

For 22% of those who took part in the poll, festive bookings were more than 30% below expectations even before the emergence of Omicron, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging people and businesses to go ahead with Christmas and New Year parties.

In a joint statement, UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA​) said: “The full range of hospitality venues across 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. 

Enjoy the festive season 

“We urge those with bookings not to cancel them, but to carry on and enjoy their festive season parties, safe in the knowledge hospitality venues are doing everything they can to ensure people have a safe and fun Christmas and New Year.”

Pubs, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs have invested heavily to ensure the safety of staff and customers through better ventilation, hygiene, and sanitation (measures which SAGE recommend were the most effective measures of infection control), meaning hospitality venues could be safer places to socialise with family and friends this Christmas.

Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) CEO Michael Kill said​"Following the announcement today from the World Health Organisation that the Covid 19 Variant Omicron appears to be 'Mild', has left hospitality and night time economy businesses with a sense of relief, following a challenging week of mixed communication from Government and officials."

"With the clear change in narrative from the Government on socialising and the announcement from WHO, we hope this will allow customers to continue with their Christmas bookings and social activities in these settings through December with confidence."

"Businesses across the Hospitality and Night Time Economy have invested heavily to ensure the safety of customers and staff, focusing on training, ventilation, hygiene and sanitation in line with Government recommendations."

One survey showed confidence levels for business leaders in the sector, which employed 3.2m people pre-Covid, had fallen seven percentage points to 51% in this quarter versus Q3 and were down by 16 percentage points to 54% when it came to their own businesses.

Slowing the slew of cancellations 

While the latest feedback from operators points to a slowing of cancellations, with many people determined to go ahead with parties, the slowdown is of small comfort for hospitality after latest figures revealed the sector has been hit by a 30% slump in Christmas bookings over the past few weeks.

The statement from UKHospitality, BII and BBPA added: “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.”

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