A Highland hotel boss has said the hospitality sector faces an “extraordinarily tough” time with Christmas party cancellations, as a health official urged Scots to reconsider their festive plans.
Tony Story, who runs the Inverness-based Kingsmills Hotel Group, has called for more to be done to help the industry cope with the costs of dealing with last-minute changes.
He said his businesses were “taking cancellations at an absolute bloody rate”, and that the situation approaching winter was “truly horrible”.
Earlier, Public Health Scotland urged people to postpone their Christmas parties until after the threat of coronavirus – and the recently identified Omicron variant in particular – poses less of a threat.
The organisation’s medical director Dr Nick Phin said: “I appreciate that everyone is keen to celebrate this festive season, particularly after the pressures of the last twenty months, but by postponing some plans we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
The announcement was met with criticism from the Scottish Hospitality Group, which said it was a “grim dark day” for the sector in a tweet.
Its a grim dark day for hospitality today.
Don’t think anything else needs to be said.
— The Scottish Hospitality Group (@ScottishGroup) December 9, 2021
Mr Story said he was facing an avalanche of cancellations even before Public Health Scotland set out its position on the issue.
He said: “I think it was always to be expected.
“Personally, I would ask all clients to understand that the venues that they’re making the cancellations with are in an extremely, extremely tight position.
“Without rehearsing all the arguments about the difficulties hospitality has had over the past two years, there are commitments in terms of employees – employees have to be paid, we have booked bands, we’ve booked entertainers, we’ve booked discos. They will still have to be paid.
He added: “The hospitality industry can’t sit and absorb all of the cost of changes in behaviour.”
‘Very, very grim’
Last year, Mr Story chose to close both his flagship Kingsmills Hotel and the Ness Walk Hotel over winter, saying it “doesn’t make any sense” to have them open just for key workers.
This December, he said his businesses were going through a “tough, tough time”, with the outlook bleak.
He said: “Overall in the Highlands we’ve done pretty well, over the past year or so – perhaps better than I ever had even expected to do.
“But we’re now heading into a very, very grim potentially three months, and I hope not longer than that.
“Because the season of hospitality closes pretty much around October and doesn’t open again until March, April time.
“To lose the December is a massive blow for my business and many other businesses throughout the Highlands and wherever else in the UK. It is extraordinarily tough.”