A hotel boss has revealed he has had 900 cancellations in just 48 hours amid the government’s pleas to delay Christmas parties.
Public Health Scotland last night urged people to postpone their work parties, which was reiterated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during her briefing today.
But with no official support on offer for the beleaguered hospitality industry, and many orders already bought and paid for, bosses are bracing themselves for the worst.
Large-scale Christmas dos could have had thousands of people heading to hotels across north an north-east but instead, cancellations have already started flooding in.
Stephen Gow, manager of Aberdeen’s Chester Hotel, described it as “catastrophic”.
He said: “When I left work last night, one of our Christmas party events was due to have 263 guests. By 10am today that number had dropped to 18. It could drop further.
“We’ve had more than 900 cancellations over a 48-hour period. And we expect more.
“It’s not the fault of the guests that they’ve had to cancel. But equally it’s not the fault of the hotels, bars and restaurants. Yet, customers are asking, and in some cases demanding, that their deposits and payments are refunded.”
Lack of clarity
Many people had planned for this Christmas to be bigger and better than before after last year’s limited celebrations.
With many companies wanting to thank staff for their resilience throughout the pandemic, some hospitality venues had taken more bookings than ever before.
The lack of clarity in the statements made regarding Christmas parties in the past couple of days has made the situation even more difficult.
Mr Gow added: “The mixed messages during the week, the announcement by Public Health Scotland yesterday and today’s First Minister statement are effectively a closure of the hospitality sector – once again – at their busiest time of the year without any financial support.
“Statements like ‘it would be sensible to defer Christmas parties’ essentially mean ‘don’t’ but do not amount to government regulation meaning, there’s no financial support for businesses.”
‘Overwhelming’ cost of cancellations
Predicted shortages earlier in the year have also set businesses back, with many stocking up on turkey and champagne in fear of not having enough.
Mr Gow explained how detrimental this could be to many businesses, adding: “We’ve had 3,000 portions of turkey on order for months; and that order is just for our banqueting events, not for our restaurant bookings. We have a fully stocked bar with kegs of beer which all have sell by dates.
“The costs of these cancellations are considerable and for some businesses they will be overwhelming.”
Many have called for financial help to be provided to affected businesses as soon as possible.
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said we cannot have a repeat of March last year, when hospitality businesses were left in the dark and fending for themselves.
She said: “Financial compensation to mitigate the fallout from this intervention must be made available immediately to businesses.
“We cannot see a repeat of March 2020 where the hospitality sector was essentially closed down without any financial support being put in place until weeks after the lockdown decision. That cannot be allowed to happen again.”
Even before the first minister’s official statement today, hospitality businesses were already preparing for the worst with regard to Christmas parties.
Tony Story, who runs the Inverness-based Kingsmills Hotel Group, said the announcement was “to be expected”, but that the sector couldn’t be expected to adapt easily to last-minute changes.
“The hospitality industry can’t sit and absorb all of the cost of changes in behaviour,” he explained.
“We’re now heading into a very, very grim potentially three months, and I hope not longer than that.
“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.”
Aberdeen City Council is attempting to aid businesses that have had parties cancelled by allowing outdoor areas to play low-level music.
Licensing board convenor Marie Boulton said this aims to help them create a better festive ambiance and draw in customers: “We know the hospitality sector is still finding things tough with Covid-19 so we feel that by creating a festive ambience, people might make more use of open spaces as they may be nervous given the current situation with the new variant.”
‘We’re already on our knees’
Following the announcement, many impacted businesses have plead to those with bookings to consider how negatively cancellations could affect them.
Six Degrees North, in Aberdeen, said on their Twitter page: “Please think again before straight-up cancelling your Christmas party bookings with bars + restaurants. We’re already on our knees in hospitality. Let’s work it out?”
Please think again before straight-up cancelling your Christmas party bookings with bars + restaurants. We're already on our knees in hospitality. Let's work it out?
— Six°North Brewery (@sixdnorth) December 10, 2021
Mr Story mirrored this statement, reminding people that these venues have costs to pay that are not going to disappear with cancellations.
He said: “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.”
When Shell cancelled their booking for 147 just an hour and a half before they were due to arrive this morning, the team at OGV Taproom had already started preparing their food.
Instead of letting it go to waste, manager Kenny Dooley put out an appeal to any charities who might be able to use it.
He managed to arrange for it to be split between SocialBite and Cyrenians, with Shell happy to pay for the food that had been made since it was going to a good cause.
Despite a positive outcome, Mr Dooley described the flood of cancellations the bar has experienced in the last 48 hours as “a disaster”.
He said: “The business is brand new, we only launched a few months ago so we’re running at a loss.
“Christmas was going to be an opportunity to break even and get into a positive so this has been a disaster.”