The Tunbridge Wells hospitality sector alone has already seen tens of thousands of pounds in revenue wiped out over the last week as businesses have pulled the plug on festive celebrations despite there being no official guidance telling people to cancel gatherings.
The plea for support comes from Sarah-Jane Adams, Chief Executive of the town’s Business Improvement District [BID] who said yesterday [Tuesday]: “Businesses are relying on the increased footfall that Christmas brings to keep them going.”
Her words come as AXA Health, which employs around 2,000 people in the town, has cancelled its Christmas parties and told staff to hold festive get togethers over Zoom or wait until the New Year.
A spokesman for the health insurer told the Times: “We want to make sure our employees put themselves and their families first as we come into the festive period.
“Therefore, we’ve asked them to hold any team celebrations virtually or move them to the beginning of 2022, when restrictions will hopefully ease and more is known about the new Omicron variant.”
Thomson Snell & Passmore, one of the town’s largest solicitor firms which employs nearly 250 people, has also called off their annual party.
CEO Sarah Henwood said: “Like all employers, we have been keeping a close eye on the impact of the new Omicron Covid variant.
“While we would like to be able to hold an event this year, the safety of everyone at the firm is always our top priority and having carefully considered the situation, we have made the difficult decision to postpone our firm wide Christmas party.
“We do however plan to hold a firm wide event as early as we can next year.”
Following Thursday’s annoucement on increaesed mask wearing and working from guidance, other employers have now cancelled Christmas parties too.
The moves come despite the Prime Minister telling people they do not need to cancel their festive plans.
Hospitality businesses say that this ‘mixed messaging’ means hundreds of people in the town will no longer be celebrating Christmas during the sector’s busiest periods of the year.
At the Tunbridge Wells Hotel in The Pantiles three parties cancelled in just 24 hours.
Owner, Julian Leefe-Griiffiths, said: “What makes us mad is the mixed messaging coming out of government. Many are saying this variant is less dangerous and Sajid Javid the Health Secretary is saying carry on with your Christmas parties, but the general tone from government is safety and cancellation.
“So it’s not exactly the ideal Christmas present for hospitality.”
Gerry Stevens at the Vittle and Swig on Camden Road says she has lost around £15,000 worth of bookings.
She told the Times: “We have had five parties cancel, around £15,000 worth in total. It is difficult because I don’t want to get a bad reputation, so I’ve not been keeping deposits and am just hoping they rebook in January.
“But I blame the government as this has been badly handled with a lot of mixed messages.”
At Salomons Estate, parties there have also been cancelled with others cutting down on numbers and many organisers are demanding their deposits back.
A spokesman said: “We have had two large businesses cancel Christmas parties in the last week, including one with 70 guests. Other firms are scaling back and reducing numbers.
“The government is putting hospitality businesses in a very difficult position with their mixed messages. Some people are requesting their deposits back, but we have to ensure any cancellation fees so that our third-party suppliers are covered.”
Other venues including the Spa Hotel and St John’s Yard are all said to have lost Christmas party bookings since the emergence of Omicron.
Sarah-Jane Adams. Chief Executive of the town’s Business Improvement District says Christmas spend is more vital than ever to many traders and businesses in the town and is urging people not to cancel their Christmas parties.
She said: “This year, your visits, bookings and spend makes more of a difference than ever to the traders of Tunbridge Wells, big and small.
“With many not knowing if they would even make it to this point, businesses are relying on the increased footfall that Christmas brings to keep them going, not just financially, but morally.
“Businesses are still operating with Covid secure measures in place, and following the latest guidelines, and if you can, we would encourage you to move away from another clickmas, keep any existing hospitality bookings or make new ones, and drop by to do your shopping in person.”