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London operators need support after being hit by 'triple whammy' warns UKHospitality

03 August 2020 by

UKHospitality has described the loss of inbound tourism, leisure and business travel in London as a "triple whammy" for hospitality, with the capital hit "more deeply and for longer" than other parts of the UK.

In an open letter to Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicolls said "the crisis is far from over" and called for more support for hospitality businesses in London, saying revenues are still down by more than 80% despite July's reopening.

Stuart Procter, chief operating officer at five-red-AA-star the Stafford hotel in London's St James's, agreed that more support is needed for London, despite the many successful initiatives already been put in place.

He told The Caterer that the hotel's domestic database of "affluent and well-travelled people" who would normally visit London were choosing to stay in the country; highlighting the contrast between the hotel group's four-red-AA-star Northcote hotel in Langho, Lancashire, which is operating at 91% capacity, compared to just 10% capacity at the Stafford.

"Dreadful is an understatement. The key for London is the aeroplanes, 85% of business is from overseas. We need to sort out the testing and the quarantine.

"We can put as many trains on from around the UK, but the whole economy comes from the US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are certain areas of the UAE that are not as affected as Manchester [by Covid-19], so I don't understand why we're not letting them into the country – we rely upon these destinations."

Nicholls called for "clear, strong messaging" that London is open with visitors "actively encouraged" to come back, explore the city and support the capital's venues. She also called for a campaign encouraging domestic visitors to book short breaks in London, saying the lack of a proactive marketing is a "missed opportunity" that might otherwise generate a much-needed surge in hotel bookings.

As well as a drought of inbound tourism, only around 50% of offices in London are reported to be planning a return to the workplace before the end of the year, a move which will continue to impact negatively on the wider retail sector across restaurants, pubs and bars.

Nicholls' letter explains: "Every week that goes by, the disparity between London and the rest of the UK widens with hospitality venues struggling to get to double digit like-for-like revenues in the capital but reaching 40-50% in outer London and other metropolitan areas and 60-70% in other parts of the UK.

"Put simply, this situation is not sustainable and we would urge you to work with affected sectors on a bold, ambitious and strategic plan of action to secure London's future and a safe return to growth."

Nicholls also called for the suspension of the congestion charge for a further three months, an extension of the business rates holiday for a further year and a VAT cut until at least June 2021.

In May, Khan called on the government to increase support to the capital's businesses and widen access to the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.

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