The Government has been warned that the latest Covid restrictions could reduce bookings by 50pc at some entertainment and hospitality venues.
As a result of the Government’s new Covid restrictions, theatres face a peak Christmas season with bookings down by as much as 50pc, while restaurants, pubs, theatres and other attractions could suffer mass cancellations.
During a period when they generate around a third of their income, The Society of Independent Theatres (SIT) said smaller and regional theatres would be especially hard hit by Plan B government restrictions and concerns over the Omicron variant.
High street retailers are preparing for the worst, expecting customers to avoid the spread of the virus by shopping online for Christmas presents, thereby hitting revenues and pushing many into losses.
Official figures on Friday showed economic growth all but stalled in November, as several forecasters warned the UK was heading into 2022 in a weakened condition.
Chancellor adopts ‘wait and see’ policy
Suren Thiru, Head of Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), likens the situation to Groundhog Day for many businesses with downward pressure on consumer confidence hitting sales. This means the economy is not expected to grow at all in the last three months of the year with consequent weakness in the first half of next year.
Business leaders have urged the Government to extend VAT relief and reductions in business rates, while the TUC said the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, should reintroduce the furlough scheme and increase sick pay to prevent businesses from going under.
Sunak is known to be observing how businesses are coping with restrictions before committing himself to increased spending, although a move to more severe measures over the next couple of weeks could force his hand.
Many business owners have seen revenues hit by rising inflation, a lack of trained staff and falling consumer confidence. Indeed, some hospitality firms, especially in London, have opted to pay signing-on fees for staff, only to be hit later by large numbers of cancellations.
Nerve-racking time for entertainment sector
Theatres now have to ask visitors to wear masks but do not have to check for Covid-19 tests or vaccine passports, although some large venues are doing so already. Jon Gilchist, executive director of events company Home in Manchester, says successive venues will adopt a Covid pass system and are able to do that to reassure audiences that theatres are safe environments.
John Plews, chair of SIT, says even some small theatres are considering asking customers for proof of vaccine or a test, despite being too expensive for many. He says the society’s members have seen bookings for Christmas shows fall by between 20pc and 50pc already, due to concern over Omicron and because larger venues are heavily discounting tickets in order to fill seats. Vaccine passports, he adds, would mean employing additional front-of-house staff.
Gilchrist says the Government’s advice to work from home could impact venues, especially those in central London. Over time, working from home means there will be reluctance to go into town to see a show. Although this is a nerve-racking time for the industry, he says currently bookings remain ‘encouraging’ and there are grounds for optimism that the sector can enjoy a good Christmas.
Philip Miller, CEO of Adventure Island on Southend seafront, says bookings to see Santa are down by 50pc and he is talking to staff about sending them home. The chancellor, he believes, will have to do something. Hospitality was just getting back on its feet, but if the current situation continues, many firms will go bust.
Flair Gougoulia, owner of a Greek restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon, feels these are ‘scary times’. Stratford survives on 5-6 million visitors annually from China, the USA and the rest of Europe, and the town was floored after Covid hit.
Christmas party bookings, she says, are down by up to a half on some days and the situation does not look as though it will improve. Businesses have been banking on a profitable December, but she believes what’s happening now is a kick in the teeth.