I may have been a little over optimistic last week when I ventured to suggest that I wasn’t aware of any catastrophic consequences for tourism businesses arising from the forthcoming introduction of the “rule of six”. Fortunately, I did include the caveat “not yet” and suggested that I suspected there may well be some issues yet to emerge and referenced larger self-catering units as a possible example of one of these. Days in to the policy and it turns out that are a range of issues, some which could already be viewed as catastrophic and other that have more than the potential to become catastrophic for those effected.
Self-catering. For self-catering units designed to accommodate more than 6 there is a significant immediate problem, especially in England where there is no dispensation for under 11 or 12-year-old children. Last Friday’s announcement has resulted in immediate cancellation of booking made throughout September, October (including the half term) and on into the New Year, more are almost certain to follow. Owners and agents face a moral and legal maze when considering existing bookings already made where they know or suspect the party size to be greater than 6 and a similar dilemma going forward when considering whether or not to accept future bookings, assuming it is both financially viable for the owner or renter to rent and under occupy a larger property. If a larger property is rented for 6 but then occupied by more than 6 where does the liable lie? The larger the property the more difficult those calculation and moral/legal maze becomes. Looking forward the rule of 6 has effectively killed off the one bright spot in an otherwise long, cold winter, the pre-Christmas, Christmas and New Year family and friends’ gatherings which are, as often as not, conducted on a scale greater than six.
Obviously, properties accommodating 6 or fewer and groups of up to 6 are unaffected by all of this. However, if you are the owner of one or more large letting property or an agent for larger properties, boats or other larger self-catering units then this new ruling is almost certainly already catastrophic, particularly when viewed in the light of having already lost businesses to both the lockdown and/or the subsequent two household rules.
Serviced Accommodation. There are also reports of cancellations of existing group bookings in serviced accommodation, as individual abide not just by the spirt but also to the letter of the new rules. Hotel and guest house owners also face a similar dilemma regarding existing group bookings and one which is significantly more difficult for them to police going forward due to the typical configuration of accommodation units. In most but not all cases, serviced accommodation is configured in smaller, typical two person units and can at least be readily resold to other parties of six or under, assuming the total demand for accommodation in the UK is not significantly reduced by the implementation of rule of six. The serviced accommodation sector is equally concerned about the almost certain loss of the pre-Christmas, Christmas and New Year family and friends gathering trade and in addition the loss of multiple, single night bookings normally associated with the Christmas work’s parties and other similar festive, larger group associated trade.
Hospitality. Hospitality and, in particular, restaurants have also reported immediate cancellation of bookings, principally for the coming week or two but also some longer-term festive season related bookings. Restricting group size may not kill current trade but it will reduce reasons and occasions to indulge. Hospitality’s major concerns going forward are for both the Christmas and New Year close friends and family trade and the lucrative business associated with works and other festive parties. These combined again would normally make up a major high point in what can otherwise be a long slow winter period, with January and February normally being notably more difficult.
Meeting and Events. Comments from the meeting and events industry and from sport and from the theatre and arts suggest that the rule of six has not had a marked impact (yet?). It is essential yet another limitation to be considered in an already very heavily restricted area of activity. If this is correct and planned activities can continue as seems is often the case, it still does not bode at all well for hoped for or, in some cases, proposed future relaxation, particularly around the size of audiences allowed, which in turn directly impacts on economic viability of meetings and events and sporting, theatre and the arts industries.
Conclusion. There may well be other problematic areas I am still not aware of. We do of course have to acknowledge that if group gatherings for essentially social purposes have been identified as a potential source of a second spike then the rule of six does needs to be fully supported. Suggesting sensible mitigation, or very minor change remains our best course of action. Thus far the only immediate suggestion that falls into that category would be the inclusion within England of a dispensation for younger children. While it may make policing the rule of six marginally more difficult, it would assist to some degree, most business in many but not all of the areas outlined above. It would helpfully remove a very confusing variation between the Home Nation’s policies and ultimately it might limit the potential for Westminster Government to become known for ever more as the “Government that stole Christmas”. I don’t hold out too much hope but nonetheless it is still worth pursuing. A further round of Eat Out to Help Out, would help address the loss of traditional festive trade in the hospitality industries? Views on other pragmatic solutions are still being sought from colleagues in the relevant trade bodies and through Tourism Alliance.
I would welcome further updates from members and, in particular, any corrections or differing views on the emerging situation as it is presenting itself to you in a range of differing destinations.