The UK’s hospitality sector has been hit by a wave of cancellations for festive events in response to worries about the potential impact of the newly discovered Omicron Covid-19 variant.
As of early November, the sector was still working towards pre-pandemic activity levels and hospitality businesses across the country were hoping for a bumper Christmas trading period to bolster that recovery.
However, with the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 having prompted renewed uncertainty in recent days, reports of cancelled or scaled back Christmas parties are now widespread.
For restaurants, bars, hotels and nightclubs, fears about Omicron could have a huge impact on how much business they’re now able to do over the festive period.
Indeed, there have been some suggestions that news of the new variant could be disastrous for hospitality operators across the country.
There have not yet been any new restrictions placed on businesses since news of the Omicron variant broke but early evidence suggests that consumers have quickly become more cautious when it comes to dinning out.
According to the reservations website OpenTable, bookings to eat out cooled over the weekend after early assessments were made on the Omicron variant and it became clear it could soon become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the UK and worldwide.
Among those from within the hospitality sector to voice their concerns about the potential impact of the variant in December and over the New Year was Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord.
Mr Lord wrote on Twitter: “Every restaurant I’ve spoken to today is now experiencing Xmas party cancellations.
“Most of these businesses desperately needed a good December. The knock on effect will be catastrophic. Businesses, jobs, supply chain. A blow to a devastating year.”
The government has said that news of the Omicron variant does not mean Christmas plans should be cancelled and has stressed instead the need for people to get their vaccine booster jabs as soon as they become eligible for them.
However, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the trade body UKHospitality, has said: “The chilling talk of Plan B is already being felt across hospitality as bookings are cancelled and plans are changed.
“There is no doubt that this will have a damaging effect on businesses, just as they head into their key trading period.”