Region's hospitality bosses on alert as Omicron fears threaten festive season

Nick Attfield, Director of Properties, Events, Tours and Experiences at Adnams

Nick Attfield, Director of Properties, Events, Tours and Experiences at Adnams, is hoping that the pub group will be shielded from the worst effects of the downturn in national hospitality bookings - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Like many in the industry, hospitality boss Nick Attfield has spent the last fortnight glued to the coronavirus news bulletins.

Last-minute changes in the rules could have devastating consequences – and many hospitality businesses are hanging by a thread as bookings are cancelled due to the rising threat of the Omicron variant.

Luckily for him, Southwold-based brewery, hotels and pubs business Adnams has so far been shielded from many of the worst effects – and private bookings have held up well as customers seek to escape the cares and worries of the coronavirus pandemic and find some winter solace with a festive break on the East Anglian coast. A few company bookings have been cancelled though.

And as director responsible for events, tours and experiences at the group he is aware that many hard-hit city and large town-based hospitality businesses have fared far worse with corporate Christmas celebrations cancelled and other events postponed.

UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls has called for business rates relief and VAT discounts to be extended, warning hospitality sales have already plunged by more than a third over the last 10 days with £2bn worth of trade already lost in December.

Mr Attfield said he had seen a “very small” drop -off in table and event bookings – but no room cancellations across Adnams’ 10 managed pubs.

“Of course I’m worried – absolutely. I feel like I have gone back a year when you watch the news,” he said.

“We are as a business on alert and seeing what’s going on and following news stories. I suppose the thing I feel more confident about is we have reinvented ourselves over the last couple of years.”

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With last year’s dire Christmas and successive new rules and lockdowns, the group – like all hospitality businesses – has ramped up its processes to ensure that customers are kept as safe as possible.

Last festive period was “horrific”, he said. He certainly wants no return to the regionalised tiered system last year and a night curfew of 10pm which he said had been “ridiculous”. “That was truly dreadful in business terms because hospitality is about being nice and welcoming to people, so I jolly well hope we won’t go back to anything like that.” 

But as long as no further restrictions are declared, Mr Attfield hopes that businesses like Adnams with its rural locations will escape the worst effects of this latest crisis for the sector.

Adnams – like many tourism-based businesses across East Anglia – saw business boom over the summer months this year as staycations became the norm, and the venues have remained busy since. “Autumn really hasn’t dipped. It’s really helped us to recover the big losses that we made in 2020,” he said.

The Adnams hotels are fully booked over Christmas and New Year. “People want to go and escape this nonsense. The wonderful thing about lots of parts of the Suffolk coast is we have got space. Looking at the sea is good for the soul,” he said. “We are on the coast, and much more geared up for the private travellers.”

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