Stormont urged to help businesses survive as vaccine passports impact Christmas bookings
A businessman in Derry has called on the Executive to urgently deliver financial assistance to the hospitality sector as a growing number of cancellations puts restaurants at risk of closure in the new year.
Sáne Stewart, owner of the Catalan-themed El Tapas Gra, said it had 60 cancellations this week, which is “a lot for a small independent to take”.
A major factor is the pulling of Christmas parties and staff events as “fear and uncertainty” grows and businesses and people decide not to take the risk of going out due to Covid.
“It is the safer business decision with the current government advice to avoid social settings,” he said.
“Also, concerns around some members being vaccinated and some not — the hassle and ambiguity of the restrictions are forcing people to cancel as well.”
Providing proof of vaccination is another issue, and not every customer wants the “hassle”.
He believes it is imperative that financial support is provided, otherwise there is a huge risk many hospitality businesses will not reopen after Christmas.
Mr Stewart added: “It is no secret that Christmas is one of the busiest periods for hospitality across the year and is needed to survive quieter months in January and February.
“With the likelihood that bookings could be down 40-50%, then this suggests possible financial disaster.
“These regulations are being enforced on specific sections of hospitality, therefore immediate targeted support is needed for the affected business.
“The current climate of increased costs in food, energy, wages has created a perfect storm whereby reducing customer turnover will lead to disastrous consequences for many.
“The undue stress of trying to plan, order stock and arrange staff rotas is having an effect on people who work within the industry.
“This should be addressed as a matter of urgency, and Stormont needs to show some strategic leadership and not a piecemeal approach to this matter.
“Support needs to be approved and distributed to businesses suffering at the coal face.
“Comparative measures introduced in the south of Ireland were met with financial support and the same needs to be provided in the north.
“A government cannot introduce measures which directly impact customer turnover to a section of a hospitality sector without targeted support.
“The hospitality sector has implemented measures for the past year-and-a-half to help ease the pressures as a result of the pandemic, and if they believe fragmented Covid passports are a viable solution to the current problem, then this needs to be met with support for the businesses who are legally bound to implement these measures.”
Hospitality Ulster echoed this, saying the work from home message coupled with comments against festive socialising had created a drop in footfall and a spike in cancelled reservations.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “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.
“Comments like ‘Covid passes are because hospitality is high risk’, rather than a measure to make us ‘even safer’, have dealt a real blow to the already struggling sector.”
Language being used by ministers is causing customers to cancel reservations, he claimed.
He added: “The Executive must intervene and provide a coherent message and support for the industry where needed.
“It is imperative that all ministers realise the damage their words are causing and prioritise our sector in the months ahead.”
Mr Neill pointed to the Republic where ministers had acknowledged the sector “deserves help”, while Stormont ministers “remain silent on any assistance”.
The Executive Office was contacted for a comment.