In normal times the hospitality sector would be gearing up for its busiest time of the year as Christmas approaches, with Christmas parties at the forefront of their thoughts. But as we know these are far from normal times and there is a great deal of uncertainty as to whether there will be further Covid restrictions imposed in an effort to keep the rate of infections down to a manageable level. This uncertainty has already caused a lot of damage to hotels and restaurants etc who have had cancellations due to the public getting nervy as to what lies ahead.
A Catastrophic Time For The Industry
Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, has spoken out on this issue and has urged the powers that be to avoid making statements that will further inflame the situation an cause more damage to the industry. He is quoted on the Belfast Live website, saying:
“The past week has been catastrophic for the industry as we have seen a severe drop in footfall and thousands of cancellations for the Christmas period. This will do untold damage to the hospitality sector which relies on trade in the festive months to see them through the lean months of the new year.”
There Have Been Quite A Few Cancellations
And in the same article, Paula Keane, General Manager of the Ivanhoe Hotel in Carryduff, is quoted as saying:
“The Christmas parties and party nights are going ahead here, and we’re still sticking with the previous regulations where you’re only allowed so many in the room, as much for customer confidence as anything else.
“But there have been quite a few cancellations, especially after Robin Swann said that there might be another lockdown over Christmas.
“There was cancellations right after that, because people clearly aren’t sure what’s happening. When it comes to things like paying deposits or making big bookings, they’re not going to commit if they’re not sure what the situation will be down the line. So there’s been a lot less bookings over Christmas.”
Customers Booking At The Last Minute
She added: “There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s customers asking what way the restaurant will be laid out, customers booking at the last minute because they’re afraid to book in advance. All you can do is try to assure people that the rules are being followed, but numbers are certainly down big time on previous years. It’s hard enough for the industry, because we were bleeding so much money while we were closed, and now we’re just trying to recuperate some of that.
“Then what’s compounded a lot of this is that, on top of Track & Trace – which is fine – we’re having to do Covid passports. You almost have to employ someone now just to take on that role. And with an industry that’s already stretched, it’s hard going. It feels like the Executive is being harder on the hospitality industry than anywhere else.
“People are phoning wanting to make a booking but they’re asking questions about the weeks ahead and the worst thing for us is that we can’t give them firm answers. All this is being thrown on top of us, and we’re scrambling to find out what the regulations are, what measures are going to be put in place. So we’ll see and we’ll do our best. There’s no more that we can do than that.”
It`s vital that we and the authorities do all we can to prevent further infections but there has to be a balance so that business and social activities can carry on as normally as possible. Let us hope that the right balance is struck this Christmas.