Thousands may go bust amid UK Omicron ‘fear campaign’, says pubs boss | Hospitality industry

Thousands of hospitality firms across the UK could go bust by January because of a “fear campaign” and a lack of financial support following the surge in the Omicron variant, the boss of a leading pub chain has warned.

Young’s chief executive, Patrick Dardis, said a surge in cancellations for Christmas bookings would be dire for the hospitality sector, which relies heavily on the holiday season for its earnings.

He said the mixed messaging from government about risks and restrictions was leaving patrons “terribly confused” about whether to keep their bookings at a time when restaurants and pubs were already “hanging on by their fingernails”.

While the prime minister, Boris Johnson, struck an upbeat note about the rollout of the booster programme, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, sent a clear message on Wednesday that people should cut back on socialising in the runup to Christmas, despite a lack of formal restrictions on group gatherings.

“Unfortunately, with the latest fear campaign that’s being run, it’s damaging so many businesses that could have possibly survived, and as a consequence, thousands and thousands of businesses will now collapse in January”, Dardis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“There are a lot of individual owner-operators who’ve been running their businesses for years and have thrown the kitchen sink – people have lost their marriages, they’re losing their livelihoods, and this is the last straw. This is the bit that they were desperately clinging on to and it’s been taken away from them without any support from government,” he added.

The boss of the Young’s chain, which owns more than 200 pubs, 80% of which are in London, is calling for business rates to be scrapped and a permanent reduction in VAT. Dardis said there should also be a campaign to encourage more people to come to the UK once travel reopens.

On the high street, footfall has also fallen by nearly 20% in recent weeks, as shoppers become more cautious as a result of the variant, according to The Entertainer toys chain founder Gary Grant. However, he said customers were actually spending more money as they pulled back from online shopping due to concerns over shipping delays.

“A lot of focus is now on managing our queues in our shops to exit people as quickly as we can, with the right level of customer service. We have to keep our shops safe. We have to keep our staff safe”, he said. The Entertainer accounts for one in every 10 toy sales in the UK.

“This is the second highly disruptive Christmas that we’ve had. But at least we’re not in lockdown, so we’re open and we’re trading and people are in generally good spirits,” Grant said.