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A return to online Christmas parties? Restaurants in Manchester hit by ‘significant’ Christmas cancellations

City centre business chiefs say the latest Covid moves will heavily dent the bounce back local hospitality firms were enjoying in the autumn.

New Covid restrictions have been a ‘big blow’ to businesses in Manchester – particularly for those now dealing with cancellations of Christmas bookings.

A ‘significant’ number of Christmas bookings were cancelled in the 48 hours after the new Covid variant was announced, according to Manchester city council.

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The food and beverage sector enjoyed a boost to business in the early part of autumn when trade was 20% higher than it was at the same point in 2019.

The opening weekend of the Christmas Markets in Manchester in November saw a 16% increase in footfall across the city centre compared to the previous week.

Staff on Clowbecks Farmhouse Kitchen stall

This came weeks after Halloween – the busiest weekend in the city centre since the pandemic started with the highest footfall since same week in 2019.

But the announcement of the Omicron variant, and the reintroduction of Covid restriction, has put pressure on the retail and leisure sectors in Manchester.

How is this affecting businesses?

Pat Bartoli, who is the director of city centre growth and infrastructure at Manchester council, said the new restrictions will be a ‘big blow’ to businesses.

She said: “Retailers and our leisure sector heavily rely on the Christmas market trade. So that is going to be a big blow to them and clearly now there’s no opportunity to recover from that so that will have a massive impact.

“We won’t know quite how bad that will be until next year, but yes, it will.”

Speaking to the economy scrutiny committee last week, the council director told councillors of businesses reporting a ‘significant’ number of cancellations.

A business sounding board meeting last week revealed a ‘significant’ number of Christmas booking cancellations in the 48 hours after the news of Omicron.

Bartoli also raised concerns about rising costs and a slowdown in growth.

She said: “Although unemployment levels are falling, we’ve still got a record number of vacancies and growth is beginning to slow so we’ve still got genuine concerns with that.

“There’s also rising inflation and energy costs and the potential impact on household incomes which is bringing further challenges for some of our communities.”

Labour councillor Mandie Shilton Godwin said the announcement of additional restrictions was a ‘huge blow’ to businesses – particularly in the city centre.

She asked whether the local authority will be making representations to the government to reintroduce the furlough scheme and support for businesses.

She said: “There’s not been any suggestion or sniff of any furlough in order to support any businesses or any other arrangements.”

There were 10,800 Manchester residents on furlough when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ended on 30 September, the committee was informed.