Three-month wait to reopen is ‘huge blow to hospitality and travel businesses’

Hospitality and travel leaders called for urgent financial backing as they expressed their dismay that they face months before they can fully reopen to the public.

While travel and aviation leaders were encouraged by the prospect of summer holidays going ahead, they urged Rishi Sunak to provide ‘sector-tailored financial support’ in next month’s Budget so they can get ‘through the weeks ahead’.

Boris Johnson set out his four-step plan for easing England’s Covid-19 restrictions on Monday, which begins with schools welcoming all pupils back from March 8 and the easing of some social rules.

Under the plans, beer gardens and outdoor dining at restaurants are set to return from April 12 at the earliest, along with self-catered staycations. Diners must stick to the rule of six, or the two household rule, and will need to remain seated when ordering.

But only 40% of businesses have an outdoor area, say hospitality leaders and for some this is little more than a couple of tables – meaning many won’t open until at least May 17 when indoor dining is expected to return.

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‘If Boris wants to reflect his actions against the data instead of dates, show us what data highlights hospitality as a high risk of transmission.

‘Once again, hospitality is thrown aside but we’re used to it, we’re just happy we have a clear road map to welcome our guests back in a safely manner.’

Echoing Mr John’s comments, UKHospitality’s CEO Kate Nicholls said ‘all the data points to hospitality being relatively safe and linked to only a tiny number of cases’.

She added: ‘According to the latest Government data nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open.’

Ms Nicholls said a major support package is ‘imperative if hospitality is to survive’ and called for a series of measures, including delays to loan repayments and confirmation of an extension of the VAT cut and business rates holiday.

Publican Neil Way described the scrapping of the ‘ludicrous substantial meal rule and curfews’ as ‘small mercies’ – but was ‘profoundly disappointed’ that pubs and bars can’t sell takeaway pints even on a click and collect basis.

Mr Way, steward of The Cheltenham Motor Club, Gloucestershire, said: ‘My heart goes out to pubs and social clubs without outside areas.

‘There has to be a question on the viability of only allowing outside trade especially as, yet again, we have to provide table service, which of course means more staff. More staff, less business area to make money.’

Deano Moncrieffe and Emma Murphy, owners of Hacha bar in Dalston, east London, said another three months of closure is a ‘huge blow’ to their business.

‘Furlough schemes and rates reductions only go so far – with London rent, utilities and various equipment leases on a venue that will have spent 11 out of 14 months closed to customers it’s going to be a very painful road to recovery,’ they said.

‘For some it may not even be possible.’

Under the final stage of the Government’s plan, the prime minister hopes to ‘remove all legal limits on social contact’ and reopen nightclubs by June 21, after more than a year of closures.

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The Night Time Industries Association was pleased there was a timeline for hard-hit businesses but warned its evidence shows 85% of workers are considering leaving.

CEO Michael Kill said: ‘The sector urgently needs additional clarity on reopening and critical financial support from the chancellor if we are to avoid economic and social damage that will last a generation.’

Meanwhile, the road map states that foreign travel should be permitted from May 17, with the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce set to issue a report by April 12 recommending how international trips can safely go ahead.

The Government’s Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme, a financial lifeline for airports, opened last month and will offer grants of up to £8 million per applicant – but travel leaders say tour operators and travel agents need further help.

Chairman Dr Steven Freudmann said: ‘Whilst we understand the prime minister’s caution, given the mistakes of the past, we are extremely disappointed that specific reference to international travel and foreign holidays was conspicuous by its absence from his statement.’

‘Can the British public book their overseas summer holidays today with confidence? Will holidaymakers require Covid-status certification?’ he questioned.

‘The travel industry needs answers now, Prime Minister, not the promise of yet another report sometime in April.’

The Department for Transport previously said it is supporting the travel industry with an extension to the furlough scheme until the end of April, along with business rates relief and tax deferrals.

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