Businesses from across the hospitality sector – from pubs and restaurants to nightclubs and museums – have sounded the alarm over the government’s timetable for easing Covid restrictions.
Leading industry figures say delaying opening many indoor venues well into the spring will lead to closures and job losses.
Under the plan to ease lockdown restrictions unveiled by the prime minister on Monday, outdoor attractions such as zoos and theme parks will have to wait until 12 April at the earliest before they can reopen while indoor entertainment will remain shuttered until at least the middle of May, along with any prospect of international travel.
Nightclubs face an even longer wait, with 21 June pencilled in as the earliest possible date for reopening.
Bernard Donoghue, the mayor of London’s culture ambassador, criticised the distinction between non-essential retail, which can open in April, and indoor attractions, which must wait a further five weeks.
He said: “I shall be expressing my disappointment at the arbitrary distinctions between non-essential retail and indoor attractions with DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] ministers. There have been no proven transmissions of Covid at any visitor attractions.”
Sacha Lord, Manchester’s night time economy adviser, said forcing pubs, cafes and restaurants to wait until 17 May to seat customers inside was “odd” given hairdressers and non-essential retail will open a month earlier.
“I don’t know how businesses are going to make it,” he said. “We now have 10 days of fear and anxiety among operators and among employees, because it is 10 days until the chancellor comes out and says how he is going to support them.
“There is a huge mountain of debt here that people have incurred over the last 12 months.”
Danny Pecorelli, whose hospitality group includes hotels and a golf club, said he was “baffled that all the work and investment we have done to be Covid secure counts for nothing”.
Henal Chotai, who runs the Red Cup Cafe in northwest London, responded on Twitter: “Baffled is putting it mildly.” He said Mr Johnson had “added more weight to heavy heads up and down the country”.
Paul Whitfield, director of the Wildwood Trust wildlife park in Herne Bay, Kent, called the roadmap an “incompetent and inconsistent shambles”.
“So Zoos and Animal Parks like Wildwood Trust will have to remain closed until 12 April despite being safe outdoor spaces,” he said. “But botanical gardens and historic houses are open now?! What idiots have come up with this utter incompetent and inconsistent shambles?”
Iain Standen, CEO at the museum to Second World War codebreakers at Bletchley Park, said there was “no logic” to the government’s plan to allow shops to open but keep museums and other attractions closed.
Helen Averley, art director for the Let’s Circus performance group, said visitor attractions were “places which can be managed in a very controlled way, certainly safer than supermarkets”.
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Tourism sector has ‘used all its reserves’
The travel industry also expressed concern and called for extra money for the sector.
Mr Johnson said a government taskforce would produce a report by 12 April recommending how international trips can resume for people in England.
Initial signs suggest the sector may rebound quickly, with EasyJet revealing that holiday bookings surged by more than 600 per cent week on week after the government laid out its plans.
Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive, told The Independent it was “vital that we get our tourism sector back up and running”.
She said: “Hospitality and tourism are closely linked and many businesses rely to a large extent on tourism.
“The number of international visitors has, understandably, dwindled to almost nothing in the past year. As we come out of the crisis, and as the vaccine roll-out continues apace globally, we need to be sending the message that the country is open for business.
“We need to show visitors that we are friendly, welcoming and ready to greet them again. The government’s review, plus international agreements, will be key to making this happen.”
Holidaymakers will know more on 12 April when the government publishes its travel review.
Meanwhile it looks increasingly likely that some form of vaccine passport may play a role in allowing international tourism to resume.
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But Kurt Jansen, director of the tourism lobby group Tourism Alliance, told The Independent businesses were currently “running on the smell of an oily rag” and warned they had “used all their reserves and taken on considerable debt just to stay afloat”.
He said: “Since last April they have been closed for around seven months – and over the four months that they were able to operate, restrictions such as social distancing meant that many were losing money even when they were open.
“As such we were desperate for the tourism industry to be open for Easter. However, now large parts of the industry will have to wait another three months and will need significant support from the government in the Budget next week or businesses will collapse with the finishing line in site.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the travel association ABTA, renewed a call for tailored financial support to travel agents and tour operators and Carl Castledine, the CEO of UK holiday parks company Away Resorts, said there remained a “critical need” for government help.
“Balance sheets are weakening as every day goes by these measures will provide the means to rebuild our financial resilience, retain jobs across our entire supply chain and, importantly, the economic viability of a devastated UK holiday park sector,” he said.
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions said: “There is no public health or epidemiological justification for indoor attractions – which Public Health England state have no proven evidence of being sites of Covid – not opening at the same time as non-essential retail. If you can open H&M you can open the V&A.”
The British Educational Travel Association, which represents the UK’s youth, student & educational travel sector, added that the timeline set out by Mr Johnson “means that we will need further economic support and a tailored financial package for youth travel and tourism”.