Owners of hotels, nightclubs, bars and restaurants are calling on the government for emergency assistance as wave of customers cancel bookings as a precaution against contracting coronavirus.
Sales in restaurants and bars in London were down 7% in the past week according to trade body UK Hospitality. It said declines had been registered in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. Some nightclub owners said they had seen as many as 30% of those who had already bought tickets for events last weekend decide to stay away. Usually such events would have less than10% no shows.
“There has been a significant drop in casual trade and footfall in city centres,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality. She, said bookings for hotels and big events were down by 50% which was likely to affect the normally busy Easter holiday period.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs, bars, live music venues and pubs, said advanced bookings for members were down by between 20% and 30% on average, with London particularly affected by a drop in tourist visitors.
Tom Sutton-Roberts, general manager of the Troxy events space in east London, said it had been contacted by a number of events organisers about potential cancellations in the past week and had seen a drop-off of more than 30% in attendance at two club nights last weekend.
He said: “This is a pivotal moment for the music and events industry … The current approach of the government and the media coverage of the virus in the UK is having a disproportionate influence on the behaviour of consumers,” he said.Alex Proud of Proud Cabaret, which has venues in London and Brighton, said: “If we don’t look after the entertainment business, it is going to be dead in two months.”
However, owners of other attractions, including superclub Fabric in London’s Farringdon, and the Dinerama and Hawker House streetfood venues, said they had yet to see an impact and believed that cold wet weather had been just as influential on people’s plans.
Nicholls said the government needed to act quickly to support businesses that were likely to face cash flow problems next month if the drop-off in trade persisted as many would be facing quarterly rent and VAT bills.
said the government had anticipated that emergency support for business would not be required until the UK had moved out of the “containment” phase of the disease, when it is keeping a lid on the rate of infections. Moving into the next phase – delay – could see the introduction of “social distancing” measures, such as closing schools and halting mass gatherings.
“This is life and death for businesses if they have a downturn in bookings. Government thought that emergency business support would wait,” she said. “But we need it immediately, and it has to be in the budget next week.” She suggested government introduce measures such as a three- to six-month business rate holiday and cut VAT to prompt demand.