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Hospitality trade hit by Christmas cancellations, Visit Moray Speyside business impact survey shows

By Lorna Thompson

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MORAY'S tourism chief has described the impact of Covid-19 guidance in the run-up to Christmas as "catastrophic" for the local business community.

Visit Moray Speyside says 11 per cent of mainly local tourism and hospitality businesses who responded to a snapshot survey this week have already seen more than 75 per cent of their bookings cancelled. Some 13 per cent have had between 51-75 per cent of bookings wiped out.

The organisation's business impact survey ran between December 11-13 to ascertain the scale and extent of cancellations locally following advice issued by Public Health Scotland (PHS) and backed by the Scottish Government last week to defer Christmas parties.

Hospitality businesses, as well as services such as hairdressers, beauticians and taxi firms, have been banking on a much-needed festive lift after nearly 21 months of pandemic disruption.

Official safety guidance following the emergence of the Omicron variant, however, has prompted a slew of cancellations for hotel stays, meals out and parties and sees many businesses facing a bleak Christmas once again.

The survey closed before First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's latest update on Tuesday, December 14, during which she asked Scots to limit mixing to three households and re-tightened rules for shops and pubs to minimise transmission risks.

The survey also found 44 per cent of respondents have seen up to half their bookings postponed to a later date.

Laurie Piper, Visit Moray Speyside chief executive, said: "This is a snapshot of 129 businesses. Visit Moray Speyside alone represents 400 registered tourism operators. Add this to Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses membership, for example, and the impact across Moray Speyside's business community at this crucial time in the year is catastrophic.

"It's not just the impact on business going forward; it's the damage already done with businesses having invested in stock, rota'd staff on shift and prepared food.

"Then there are the ancillary services – hair-dos not done, taxis not booked. That money won't be recovered."

Laurie Piper, Visit Moray Speyside chief executive.
Laurie Piper, Visit Moray Speyside chief executive.

The average loss suffered by individual Moray businesses so far is £5,895, according to the survey.

The survey results are being shared with the Scottish Government, and with elected representatives and public sector agencies on the Moray Business Resilience Forum.

Lauren Murray, co-owner of Aberlour's Dowans Hotel, said: "Our business has been severely impacted by the recent governmental announcements, with many room cancellations by our corporate guests following the work-from-home guideline, whilst we have lost over 200 restaurant bookings due to the guidance to minimise social contact.

"Whilst the impacts on the business are severe, we are also focused on and concerned about protecting our staff welfare through these difficult times."

Mr Piper urged people to do what they could to support local firms while sticking to public health guidelines.

He said: "We want everyone to adhere to the new guidance announced, making sure we all check in, wear facemasks and distancing – but we can do this at the same time as supporting the hotels, restaurants, pubs, cafés and shops that are the lifeblood of local communities throughout Moray Speyside."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), while noting an announcement by Ms Sturgeon of £100 million to help the licensed hospitality sector, warned yesterday that the damage has already been done. It called for additional support from Westminster.

SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: "The shutdown of the licensed hospitality industry, effectively by stealth, puts most businesses in an even worse scenario than last Christmas when there was some finance available via government grants and the furlough scheme was in place.

"Last week's call from PHS not to have festive parties, endorsed the next day by the first minister, killed Christmas and, I fear, will kill some businesses who will not survive without financial support."

Calling for the return of the furlough scheme, Scottish Greens MSP Ariane Burgess said: "The festive period is already disrupted, with many people cancelling plans for gatherings, and hospitality businesses in Moray are struggling.

"It's time for the UK Government to act responsibly and reintroduce furlough where it is needed."

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