Urgent action is now needed from both the UK Government and Welsh Government to help the tourism and hospitality sector endure the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
With the support of many tourism leaders in Wales, I have written to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking for immediate measures to be taken to support an industry already feeling the sharp end of an economic downturn caused by Coronavirus.
While we understand that Public Health concerns must be the top priority at this unprecedented time, we have to be very mindful that economic intervention is needed now to prevent catastrophic consequences in Wales.
The whole economy will, of course, feel the effects of the Coronavirus crisis but the tourism and hospitality industry is very much in the front line and has already suffered a sharp downturn in business owing to a widespread reluctance to travel and mix socially during the recent uncertainty.
This is going to be felt much more acutely as last week’s medical advice on isolation procedures and Monday’s advice on avoiding social gatherings take effect.
Decisions to postpone almost all elite sport across the UK for a sustained period have also had a huge impact and it is not just the sports stadiums that suffer. We saw a prominent example of the local impact over the weekend with the postponement of the Wales v Scotland, Six Nations rugby match.
Although the postponement came so late that many fans had already travelled, hotel bookings, restaurant and bar takings, taxi and travel fares still took a huge hit on a weekend which is identified, and long planned for, as one of the most important in our calendar. Hotels suffered many late cancellations over the weekend and hotel occupancy generally has plummeted for all the hoteliers I have spoken to.
We are approaching another key season for the industry with the Easter holidays starting in two weeks’ time and the bookings for family leisure breaks that we would normally be seeing now have simply disappeared.
Event bookings have also been cancelled across the region as large corporate companies and associations have taken their own decisions to reduce business travel, leading to the cancellation or postponement of many large conferences and meetings.
This has huge ramifications not just on conference venues and hotels, but on restaurants, bars, taxis and travel companies in the wider community, which all benefit from the influx of delegates and visitors to large exhibitions and conventions.
These devastating effects are being felt across the tourism and hospitality sector in hotels, venues, pubs, restaurants and entertainment attractions throughout Wales and the rest of the UK.
As an industry, we are all making contingency plans to make our businesses as resilient as possible to the current threat but without support from UK Government and Welsh Government, companies will go under and jobs will be lost in an industry which has shown itself to be a key driver to the Welsh economy.
Measures we need to see taken include:
- Temporary moratorium of business rates for businesses of all sizes for at least three months
- Temporary VAT cut for hospitality and tourism
- Business payment delay on VAT, PAYE and NICs to ease cashflow
- Interest-free loans to companies suffering adverse effects
Current projections show that the Coronavirus is going to continue to impact our industry for months, rather than weeks, so it is imperative that action is taken now to give businesses some reassurance that support is available. Without it, many will not be able to survive.
This is already an emergency for our sector and we look forward to both the UK Government Welsh Government showing the leadership and direction required to help us all plan ahead to combat this unprecedented threat.