Welsh hospitality 'losing bookings to England' without reopening roadmap

01 March 2021 by
Welsh hospitality 'losing bookings to England' without reopening roadmap

Welsh hospitality business owners are frustrated at the lack of a reopening roadmap for the sector and face losing valuable spring bookings to competitors in England.

First minister Mark Drakeford has suggested that non-essential retail and some self-catering accommodation can begin to reopen from 15 March, but has given no indicative dates for the reopening of hospitality.

However, Boris Johnson has announced indoor hospitality in England could begin to reopen from 17 May, leading to a surge in bookings for hotels, pubs and restaurants.

Angela Harper, owner of Palé Hall hotel in Llandderfel, Bala Gwynedd (pictured), told The Caterer: "It's really hard seeing our competitors and colleagues in England reopening.

"The same thing happened last year when Wales couldn't open until August. We lost a lot of bookings to people who were desperate to get away earlier.

"I don't mind [Drakeford's] cautiousness or that he's putting the health of the Welsh people first, but I would just like to know [when we could reopen]."

She added that the financial cost of closure was becoming more difficult.

"We wouldn't be standing without government support, but we have continued to support Palé out of our personal money and there isn't much left.

"The first lockdown we were able to top up salaries of furloughed staff to 100%, the second lockdown we ensured they were on a flexible furlough so could earn a bit more, but this last lockdown we haven't been able to top them up.

"We've basically been open two months of the past year and that's really tough. We've taken out loans, and there are lots of other businesses in worse situations than us."

Jo Nugent, marketing manager at the Angel hotel in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, said the business was already seeing interest in bookings after Johnson's roadmap announcement.

Nugent said: "It's frustrating to still have no idea of when we may expect to reopen. Although we are having a few enquiries from English guests since Boris announced his roadmap, I'm sure most are booking in England, where there is more clarity."

Though Drakeford indicated self-contained accommodation in Wales may be able to open earlier, running a room service-only model is not feasible for all hotels.

Harper said: "It doesn't work for us. We're a five-red-AA-star hotel, people don't pay good money to come and sit and eat meals in their bedrooms."

UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman said the industry needed a "strong commitment" on reopening from the Welsh government.

"Make no mistake, hospitality businesses in Wales are now really struggling for survival. Reserves are gone, loans are used and we're fully leveraged," he said.

A Welsh government spokesperson said easing restrictions on self-contained accommodation in time for Easter would be considered at the next three-week review on 12 March.

They added: "Our approach will be to ease restrictions in gradual steps, listening to the medical and scientific advice and assessing the impact of the changes we make as we go along.

"We will give as much notice to people and businesses as we can. When we believe that it's safe to ease restrictions, we will do so. What we don't want to do is raise people's hopes and expectations too early, and then disappoint them.

"We will align with the other UK nations when it is appropriate and makes sense for Wales."

In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has said hospitality may be able to open from the last week of April, though the industry has called for more clarity on the plans.

Northern Ireland's lockdown has been extended until 1 April, with a review due on 18 March.

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