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Nightmare before Christmas? Businesses hit by cancellations amid mounting fears of Omicron wave

Businesses who have invested in Britain's £12billion Christmas economy are being hit by waves of cancellations as fears continue to grow over the potentially dominant Omicron strain.

The hospitality sector, battered and bruised over the past 18 months, had been set for a boost over the festive period but is facing fresh frustration as punters cancel their planned Christmas events.

More than 100,000 fans looking forward to gigs by the Stereophonics and Tom Jones hosted at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff were left disappointed after the events were rescheduled over lingering 'superspreader' fears. 

Promoters and stadium staff warned that the shows, due to be held in the Welsh capital on December 17 and 18, would likely not have been Covid compliant due to the rapid rise of Omicron. 

Figures from trade body UKHospitality revealed bookings were down almost a third (30 per cent) in recent weeks as pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs prepare for a slump in Christmas jamborees fuelled by Omicron fears.

The BBC, NatWest and Aviva are among the biggest companies who have shelved or postponed their annual staff celebrations as NHS providers advised workers to 'avoid large gatherings'.

Restaurant owners have been hit particularly hard, as the chief of the Brasserie Blanc restaurant chain, Mark Derry, warned more than 1,500 bookings had been cancelled over the past week.

Industry chiefs blamed the Government's muddled messaging as it emerged the PM's decision to keep the economy open despite concerns over Omicron could be worth £1.1billion to markets and £10billion to hospitality.

Thousands of Christmas parties up and down the UK are being cancelled amid conflicting advice from ministers over the new variant - a sector of the economy which is thought to be worth around £1billion.

Business leaders and MPs have urged the Prime Minister to get a grip as they warned public confidence has dropped as a result of mixed messages on whether to press ahead with festive plans. 

Businesses who have invested in Britain's £12billion Christmas economy are being hit by waves of cancellations as fears continue to grow over the potentially dominant Omicron strain. Pictured: Winter Wonderland in London last month

It comes as more than 100,000 fans looking forward to gigs by the Stereophonics and Tom Jones hosted at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff were left disappointed after the event was rescheduled over Covid fears

The incredible aerial shot of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, central London, was taken using a drone as the festival opened last month 

The hospitality sector, battered and bruised over the past 18 months, had been set for a boost over the festive period but are facing fresh frustration as punters cancel their planned Christmas events. Pictured: Newcastle on Saturday

People attend a pop up market at Trafalgar Square in London on December 4 as the country tries to preserve a normal Christmas

The decision to keep the economy open could be worth £1.1billion to the Christmas markets and winter wonderland industry

Hat seller Lewis Gait at his festival stall at Newcastle's Christmas market last week, three weeks before the big day

Britain's top 15 Christmas markets by total spend 

  1. Manchester £306,000,000
  2. Birmingham £187,000,000
  3. London Winter Wonderland £119,000,000
  4. Nottingham £98,600,000
  5. Newcastle £91,800,000
  6. Edinburgh £88,400,000
  7. Sheffield £47,260,000
  8. Belfast £44,200,000
  9. Glasgow £34,000,000
  10. Bournemouth £34,000,000
  11. Exeter £20,400,000
  12. Bath £13,600,000
  13. Winchester £11,900,000
  14. York £11,900,000
  15. Lincoln £8,500,000

Totals compiled by Where the Trade Buys 

This morning it was revealed that Covid fears were at the heart of the decision to postpone the Tom Jones and Stereophonics gigs in Cardiff.

In a joint statement, Principality Stadium and concert promoter Kilimanjaro Live said: 'Principality Stadium and promoters Kilimanjaro Live are regretfully announcing the postponement of the Stereophonics shows scheduled at the stadium for December 17th and 18th.

'We have been working collaboratively throughout to deliver these shows and have sought clarification from Welsh Government following the latest review on current guidelines and legal requirements around face coverings. 

'Unfortunately, as the threat of new variants emerge and the restrictions in place as an 'indoor venue', the shows are impossible to run safely and ensure compliance with government guidelines and Welsh law.

'Our top priority has always been the safety and wellbeing of fans and all staff working at these shows, as well as the ability to deliver an outstanding fan experience. 

'In light of the evolving public health situation, Principality Stadium and Kilimanjaro Live have taken the proactive but difficult decision to postpone the shows to next year on June 17th and 18th.'

Carol services due to be held at the Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin in Reading, Berkshire were axed after Omicron cases were detected in neighbouring counties. 

A Reading Borough Council spokesman said: 'It is with great sadness that we have had to take the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Civic Carol Service following advice received by Public Health in light of concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.

'This has been a particularly difficult judgement as it follows the cancellation of the same event last year due to Covid, but the health of our community remains our absolute priority and we therefore feel this is the most appropriate option at this time.'

And In Wolverhampton, the highly anticipated arrival of the Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour failed to go ahead on Wednesday.

Hundreds of punters hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous red HGV were left disappointed after the first stop on its West Midlands leg was called off over a 'last minute technical hitch', according to the company. 

Smithfield's Christmas Eve auction, held annually in the central London marketplace, has also been cancelled.

It comes as NatWest, Aviva, UCL, Bandai, Age UK, NHS trusts and the BBC have already gazumped the government by scrapping Christmas parties.

They are among 52 per cent of firms to have shelved plans, according to Covid-testing firm Prenetics - which surveyed 2,000 office workers.

Pete Lumber, owner of the Newbury Pub in Berkshire, told ITV he blamed the government's obfuscating messages for his business losing 40 per cent of its bookings.

He explained: 'People tell us because of what the Government are saying, they then are cancelling their parties. No-one seems to know what they can and what they can't do. 

'At one time you had to wear a mask in a pub and not in a shop, and now it seems the other way round. I'm getting confused myself, and I watch the regular updates. The rules are just different all the time.

'We've lost forty percent of our bookings, with people cancelling as soon as the message got out to people. 

'It's a real struggle. I'm not the only one in this predicament, everyone else is in the same situation. It's not looking very good for next year.' 

Pete's arguments were reiterated by Greater Manchester's nighttime economic adviser Sacha Lord, who warned 'inconsistent messaging' from Government sources was crippling the UK's hospitality industry.

In Manchester alone some venues have reported as many as half of their pre-arranged Christmas party bookings were cancelled or postponed this week amid growing concern for the mutant Omicron strain. 

Meanwhile, online bookings platform Design My Night said cancellations had been rocked by 14 per cent since the super-strain emerged. 

Hoteliers are also facing an uncertain start to 2022 with many warning that their Christmas business, often among the busiest few weeks of the year, had been blunted by travellers' concerns over the new mutant variant.

Steve Hesketh, who co-owns and runs the Savvy Hotels Group in the North West, told the i paper: 'Trade has been knocked. It doesn't take a lot for people to enter panic mode. I do understand people are worried. For us it means again worrying if our business will survive.

'Couples and smaller groups are still coming in, and generally we've been doing okay, but it's the bigger numbers who are cancelling. We need those big parties because this month pays for the next three in our industry.

'It's too early to tell what's really going on but I am noticing a few cancellations coming through from abroad. I'm really, really worried about the New Year.'

Megan McCracken, 25, from Sheffield, told the Guardian she was gutted not to meet her colleagues for the first time at the annual Christmas dinner which was cancelled for the second time in as many years.

She said: 'It was a big deal because we've had such a terrible couple of years. It was light at the end of the tunnel.'

But like many companies her occupational health firm called off the party which she said was disappointing.

She added: 'I think a lot of people would feel uncomfortable about a big thing now, but everyone is still very much up for meeting up in smaller groups,' she said. 'Otherwise it's like that light at the end of the tunnel has gone. And you have this feeling: are we in this for ever now?'

Yet Al, 32, who works as an advertising account manager in London, said she was not fussed her party was off.

She said: 'I would say I actually like about one in three of my colleagues, I'm not that up for watching them get off with each other and vomit on themselves.'

But the situation is more desperate for companies that were relying on Christmas parties and a swinging festive period to make up huge sums lost during the pandemic.

Live shows are the latest to reveal how much the fear over Omicron has hit them, with the pantomime season set to be decimated. ADC Theatre in Cambridge has pulled the final run of its Rapunzel show after members of the crew and cast were forced to self-isolate after an outbreak of Covid

Earlier this week, Sacha Lord (above), Greater Manchester's night time economic advisor, warned 'inconsistent messaging' from Government sources was crippling the UK's hospitality industry

Smithfield Market has cancelled its annual Christmas Eve auction over Covid fears. Pictured: Greg Lawrence, chairman of the tenants association of Smithfield, holds up a joint of pork at the annual meat auction at Harts the Butchers in Smithfield Market

Ministers and Boris Johnson's top scientists all gave different advice last week about whether to hold a Christmas party

Eminent epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector claimed infections of the highly evolved variant were doubling every two days. The above graph, based on MailOnline analysis, shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year's Day, if that pace continues

How festive fun is now on hold across the country

Amid conflicting advice, employers have lost confidence and there is now a flood of Christmas party cancellations.


University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust  All staff parties have been postponed until next year.

Newham Clinical Commissioning Group  GP practices have called off their celebrations.

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust  Small department parties can go ahead but some, including paediatrics, have cancelled.

Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust  No trust-wide guidance but some providers reporting cancelled parties.

Hampshire GP practices  No Trust guidance but some surgeries are cancelling.

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  Scaled back. No large parties – but individual teams can decide whether to go ahead.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust  No change. Parties on departmental basis, as normal.

Public sector

The BBC  Many departments, including news, have cancelled office parties, claim staff.

The Government's departments  Scaled back. There will be no department-wide parties and it is down to individual teams to decide how to celebrate.

The Metropolitan Police  Scaled back. There are no plans for an office-wide Christmas party this year. Down to individual departments.

National Highways  Scaled back. No party was planned but smaller gatherings are expected, with lateral flow tests encouraged.

Tech sector

Google  Cancelled. All gatherings have been moved to next year and limited to 15 people.

Microsoft  Cancelled and replaced with a 'virtual party'

Universities and charities

University College London  All parties have been cancelled or postponed.

Age UK  Face-to-face Christmas parties have been called off.


Lloyds  Christmas parties are being organised by individual teams locally.

HSBC  Scaled back. Staff have not been asked to cancel their team Christmas parties but some have opted for virtual events instead.

NatWest  Additional measures. Individual teams organising parties as usual with lateral flow tests recommended.

Finance and insurance

Deloitte  Scaled back. Smaller teams can hold parties.

EY  Scaled back. Smaller group celebrations and face coverings must be worn.

PwC  Scaled back. Plans for smaller parties subject to consent of department heads.

KPMG  Scaled back. Parties will be on a group by group basis.

Law firms

Slaughter and May  Scaled back. Smaller team parties only, which was decided before Omicron.

Ashurst  Scaled back. Lateral flow tests before smaller, team-based parties. 

Live shows are the latest to reveal how punters fears over Omicron has hit them, with the upcoming pantomime season set to be decimated.

Weekend performances of Moulin Rouge! at London's Piccadilly Theatre were cancelled when company members announced they had tested positive for the virus. 

ADC Theatre in Cambridge has pulled the final run of its Rapunzel show after members of the crew and cast were forced to self-isolate after an outbreak of Covid.

And a handful of schools in Scotland pulled the plug on planned panto trips last month, costing the venues behind the annual tradition tens of thousands in lost revenue.  

Already by later October ticket sales were plummeting by a third when compared to before the coronavirus struck, the Audience Agency said. 

Punters bought 473,807 seats in the week beginning October 25, which was almost half the 715,210 in the same week in 2019 - a 34 per cent drop.

Trade union Equity has now urged venues and producers to enforce mask-wearing among all audience members who attend theatre shows this Christmas. 

Audience Agency chief executive Anne Torreggiani told the BBC: 'The festive season - panto and other traditional festive offerings - may be down by 30 per cent or 40 per cent in the worst case.

'That obviously has a very serious effect on lots of organisations who spend lots of money on those Christmas productions, expecting big sales.

'The effects could be quite dramatic. Lots of venues are in a fairly healthy situation with the recovery money that they've had from the government, but this could be a terrible blow.'

The city that generates the most revenue from the festive markets is Manchester at £306million across six city centre squares, followed by Birmingham where the Frankfurt Christmas Market brings in £187million.

London's Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park is estimated to be worth £119million, followed by Nottingham's Winter Wonderland at £99million and the markets in Newcastle at £92million and Edinburgh at £88million.

Other major UK markets include Sheffield at £47million, Belfast at £44million, Glasgow and Bournemouth both at £34million, Exeter at £20million, Bath at £14million, and York and Winchester both at £12million.

The data was previously collected by Where the Trade Buys, a printing firm supplying small businesses who attend markets, to examine the impact of cancellations due the second national lockdown and tiered system.

The research was based on visitor numbers multiplied by £34 per head - which included one sweet snack such as waffles at £5, one savoury snack such as a burger at £7, two alcoholic drinks at £10 and ice skating for £12.

Meanwhile the value of the UK hospitality industry at Christmas is thought to be more than £10billion, including £5.1billion on food and £5.1billion on drinks, according to a prior survey last year by jobs site Caterer.com.

And the most recent estimate on Christmas parties from Eventbrite found in a 2015 survey of 500 business decision makers in the UK that organisations were set to spend £955million on entertaining staff.

Insurance expert Danny Roberts, a partner at DFA Law in Northampton, told MailOnline without a change in Covid rules it would be 'extremely unlikely' hospitality businesses could claim for cancelled parties on their insurance.

He said: 'While disruptions caused by the Omicron variant will likely be extremely damaging for those in the hospitality sector, it is extremely unlikely that they will have any recourse against their insurers.

'The widespread concern amongst customers and businesses may see many large functions and other bookings cancelled, with the affected restaurants, bars, hotels and other venues having to rely on their terms and conditions as to what they are entitled to recover from the customer.'

He added Christmas markets are likely to be the same in the same situation as hospitality businesses - although if cancelled by the local council, the terms and conditions of the booking might cover them for some fees, but probably not for the loss of trade.

Tory Party chairman Oliver Dowden insisted last week people should 'keep calm and carry on' with their Christmas plans and parties despite Omicron.

Mr Dowden said the Government had been clear in its guidelines - despite a plethora of ministers offering contradictory and confusing advice - and said: 'There's a Conservative Party Christmas party still planned'. 

He also said providing Britons abide by mask rules on public transport and in shops, they can kiss anyone they like under the mistletoe.

Mr Dowden told Sky News: 'The message to people, I think, is fairly straightforward - which is keep calm, carry on with your Christmas plans. We've put the necessary restrictions in place, but beyond that keep calm and carry on.

'I understand that people have concerns around the new variant. That's why the Government has taken the sort of measures that we've already outlined... we think those are sufficient at this stage and, beyond that, people should continue with their plans as intended.'

Last week, Sajid Javid waded into the controversy on Christmas parties for the second time in as many days – but rather than clarifying the matter, he muddied the waters further.

The Health Secretary contradicted earlier advice from Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who had warned against 'snogging' under the mistletoe. 

Mr Javid said: 'People can snog who they wish. I'll certainly be kissing my wife under the mistletoe. It's a Javid family tradition and it's got nothing to do with the Government who you kiss.'

He revealed the Business Department, where he works, had cancelled its party just days after the Prime Minister urged organisations to go ahead with their plans.

Meanwhile, Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, suggested people should cut back on unnecessary socialising over the festive period.

The differing advice from leading figures has sparked renewed anger from the beleaguered hospitality industry.

Trade body UK Hospitality said that firms are reporting that at least one in ten Christmas parties has been cancelled in recent days.

A survey by the Daily Mail last week found a string of major employers have cancelled plans for Christmas parties or switched to virtual events. The NHS, Google and Lloyds Bank are among those that have called off their festive gatherings.

Mr Johnson tried to calm the situation, issuing a second public appeal to people to not cancel Christmas events.

But industry figures warned the damage was already being felt.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of pub group Young's which runs more than 270 sites, said: 'The messaging has been terribly confusing and inconsistent.

'From Friday we had seen some cancellations. We are hoping this all starts to calm down again and that government can properly get the message across that it is safe to go out and celebrate.'

Tim Rumney, head of hotel chain Best Western, said the Omicron variant had been like the 'ghost of Christmas past', as he criticised ministers over their differing advice. He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: 'Three-quarters of our members have seen cancellations for festive bookings.

'The concern that we have is we have got some mixed messaging from government and from the scientific advisers.

'The longer the uncertainty goes on, the more cancellations we'll have and the more acute the problem will become.'

Meanwhile, Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said: 'In the last 48 hours it's been catastrophic for the industry. It's been a huge domino effect. This isn't just restaurants, this is the whole ecology around it – it's the supply chain, it's the taxis, it's hotel rooms, it's everything that goes with it.

'December is a time when people can have a good time – they can take up to 25 per cent of their annual turnover in December. Sadly, at the eleventh hour, it's been snatched away from them.'

And former minister Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, last night said the contrasting advice was already causing damage.

He said: 'How can businesses, families and individuals possibly plan with so much uncertainty?

'Government really needs to get a grip and make its mind up on what it wants people to do. It seems like there are too many people in government who quietly want everything to be cancelled.'

The Prime Minister tried to impose order, saying people should 'continue as they are'. Speaking after receiving his booster jab, he told reporters: 'I want to repeat the guidance is there and I'm very, very keen that people understand this. We don't want people to feel that they need to start cancelling things.'

The PM also called on schools not to call off nativity plays and other Christmas events.

No 10 stressed it does not want Christmas parties to be cancelled, despite Government departments opting to do so.

When asked why departments were doing this, the PM's official spokesman said: 'The Prime Minister has been very clear on this.

'On Christmas parties, we don't want people to cancel such events. There is no Government guidance to that end.'