Pubs, hotels, cafés and salons hit by Covid Christmas cancellation crisis
Frankie Lister-Fell and Dan Mountney
- Credit: Archant
Christmas might not be cancelled (yet), but for many local businesses, it certainly seems that way.
With the rapidly spreading Omicron variant - there have been three confirmed cases in Welwyn Hatfield so far - the Prime Minister's plea to get jabbed now and employees told to work from home, the hospitality industry is once again feeling the financial burn of coronavirus.
Data from Google Mobility revealed that on December 10, 2021, activity in Welwyn Hatfield's retail and recreation venues was down by nine per cent compared to pre-COVID levels. The number of people at public transport stations was down 13 per cent. What will this mean for our local boozers, eateries and hairdressers? We spoke to businesses to find out.
For many companies, booking a Christmas party in a hotel is an annual tradition. But fears over spreading COVID-19 have meant large groups of people are pulling out last minute, leaving a gaping hole in venues' finances.
James Bainbridge, co-owner of The White Hart hotel and restaurant in Welwyn, has felt the sting of party cancellations, including a reluctance to book them in the first place.
James explained: "We were generally down on what a normal December would be in the sense of office parties and speaking with some of our regular bookings, they were already avoiding Christmas parties which has only been made worse with last weeks announcements."
Smaller tables have cancelled due to customers' fear of contracting coronavirus. With fewer bookings, fewer team members are required to work, affecting part-time staff's income. James is more concerned for the industry as a whole.
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Many hospitality venues rely on December income, said James, and the industry is already facing a staffing crisis.
"I have already had some very dedicated team members who love this industry say they don’t think they can face another lockdown and would likely look to change careers for more stability."
With all the uncertainty, James thinks the government should reintroduce furlough and support the hospitality industry more, as they did at the start of the pandemic.
When asked whether rising COVID-19 infections has impacted another hotel in the borough, a staff member said "So much so that I don't have time to speak to you about it right now, unfortunately". With staff off sick with COVID, cancelled parties and "hundreds of emails", the team is feeling "inundated".
A similar fate has struck local pubs such as The Rose and Crown in Welwyn. General Manager Christine Baker has had a few Christmas party cancellations and five work Christmas meal bookings cancelled in the past week.
One of those parties would have seen 60 revellers dancing the night away in their private bar. As the cancellations have been COVID-related, Christine hasn't kept booking deposits.
"Bar bookings can make up to £1,000 for us and Christmas meals a couple of £100 per booking. So it's not ideal," she said.
While none of her staff has coronavirus at the moment, the fear always lingers. Back in September, there was a mini outbreak and the pub was closed for ten days as a result.
Hair and beauty salons
Why would you need to get your hair done if your Christmas party has been cancelled? Sadly, that, people coming into contact with those who have tested positive and customers with vaccine side-effects, has led many people to cancel bookings at Academy Hair and Beauty in Welwyn Garden City.
"Cancelling bookings is a daily occurrence," said receptionist and beauty therapist Gina. Last week, before Boris Johnson announced further restrictions, Gina took calls from three people who were cancelling because someone they lived with had come down with COVID.
"We could have calls with no notice. We could have calls with a couple of hours notice. It's still a daily impact for us," Gina said. Today, someone cancelled their appointment because they were feeling unwell after having their booster jab.
"That cancellation was a double appointment of two treatments so it has had a big financial impact on us."
On top of this, one of their employees is off work waiting for PCR test results and, Gina said, they're still playing catch-up from the previous lockdown. The salon hasn't been able to reintroduce their 20 per cent off discount for 'Senior Days', for example. Government support was the "only way we were able to remain coming back to work really".
Bebo in Hatfield has seen far fewer customers coming in over the past few weeks, with manager Katrina explaining: "We have definitely seen fewer people coming in and around town. This is obviously having a big impact.
"If your customers aren’t coming in then your revenue is down and we were just discussing this morning how it’s very difficult for staff. If you’re going to be busy you need to have a certain number of staff on, but with reduced business, you’re trying to keep staffing hours down.
"I realise a lot of our elderly customers are being very cautious. We normally have a lot of regulars, but we have noticed they are not coming like they previously would."
Katrina is also concerned that another lockdown is on the way, adding: "I’ve been reading about the chancellor offering help to hospitality businesses with some kind of grant or furlough, which is really worrying because I’m thinking this might be a precursor to something after Christmas. It is worrying."
Hasan Yonucu, owner of Erols Café in Hatfield, has also seen less business, while most of his staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We have definitely had less business," he said.
"I have noticed that people who are passing through town that usually come in are not doing that anymore, and I think that’s because of the worries with COVID.
"I think cases will go up, but I don’t think we’ll see another lockdown because of what it will do to the economy and businesses.
"We do everything we can to keep COVID out, but we have all had it before so keeping it under control has been very difficult."
For Muffin Break in Welwyn Garden City's Howard Centre, the café has already seen fewer older customers in their coffee shop, after the government encouraged those aged 50 and over to stay at home if they can.
Sonal, the café's owner, said: "We normally make £1,300 a day. But after the announcement on Monday, it's now gone down to £1,000, sometimes £900 a day."
So what can you do to help, from the safety of your sofa? Nick Brown, chair of Welwyn Hatfield Chamber of Commerce, recommends putting pressure on your elected representatives to cancel all business rates and compensate the owners with some tax break on capital expenditure or compensation.
He added: "With each new variant the owners of these businesses, have lost revenue and incurred more costs, re social distancing and staff wellness monitoring, some purchasing marquees and heaters etc.
"We need our pubs and restaurants. They need to be independent, not some part of a venture capital chain. Have a great Christmas. Here’s to seeing you in the pub in 2022!"