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Christmas parties cancelled in ‘catastrophic’ blow to hospitality

·3 min read

Companies are cancelling office Christmas parties in their droves due to fears over the Omicron variant amid warnings of a “catastrophic” blow to hospitality during the peak festive season.

Pleas are mounting for financial support for the sector as pubs, restaurants and venues see parties scrapped and big events scaled back given the rise in cases of the new variant across the UK.

Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, has joined a growing chorus of calls from the hospitality and tourism industry for the Government to offer support by freezing VAT at the lowered rate of 12.5% for two years.

He told Sky News the advice from UK Health Security Agency head Dr Jenny Harries earlier this week that people should not socialise unnecessarily has been “catastrophic for the industry”.

“We’ve seen office parties cancelled, flights are cancelling, it’s been a huge domino effect.

“December is a time when people can have a good time – they can take up to 25% of annual turnover in December.

“Sadly, at the eleventh hour, it’s been snatched away from them.”

He added that if the planned rise in VAT from 12.5% to the original 20% rate from April was postponed it would “save many jobs and many businesses”.

It comes as a raft of major firms have reportedly scrapped large festive parties, including investment banks and accountancy giants.

Google and broadcaster BBC are said to be among those holding off from staff Christmas get-togethers while a number of Government departments are also following suit despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move on Tuesday to insist there was no need to cancel festive events.

Advertising supremo Sir Martin Sorrell said there had been a “sharp series of cancellations” in Christmas parties since the emergence of the Omicron variant, but that there was not enough Government guidance.

The executive chairman of ad agency S4Capital told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “The uncertainty is extreme and Government policy, understandably, I mean to be a little bit sympathetic to the Government, it is an extremely difficult situation.

Coronavirus
Ad supremo Sir Martin Sorrell said the Government has not given enough guidance as Omicron cases rise (Aaron Chown/PA)

“But we have been through this before with Delta and the previous variants, so you would have thought the Government would be a little bit more prepared for what may or may not happen in terms of scenario planning.”

Business minister George Freeman told LBC radio he had cancelled his in-person Christmas party with staff this year, but added he did not want to be telling businesses what “they should or shouldn’t be doing” in terms of festive celebrations.

It sends out a confusing message after ministers have been scrambling to offer reassurance following the warnings from health officials at the start of the week.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, said on Tuesday the “chilling talk” from Dr Harries could hammer the sector ahead of its busiest period.

The boss of Marston’s, which runs 1,500 pubs and hotels across the UK, said the company had already been seeing bookings on a smaller scale this Christmas before the Omicron fears.

Andrew Andrea, chief executive of Marston’s, said: “We have seen a lot more bookings for 15 to 30 people, instead of the 60-plus bookings we saw more of before Covid.”

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