Following the Government announcement that social gatherings of more than six people are banned for the foreseeable future, planning effectively for the crucial festive season has become more urgent for hospitality bosses to ensure Christmas is not cancelled.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels will be pulling out all the stops to reassure customers that it is safe to celebrate Christmas this year, following the release of research by data consultancy CGA in partnership with sector technology experts Access Hospitality. The research is the latest in a series of support measures from Access Hospitality that have helped the sector through lockdown and subsequent unpredictable trading patterns.
The survey revealed that, with 12 weeks to go, 45% of British consumers do not feel comfortable about planning their festive celebrations and over half (54%) of those with worries or anxieties say that the level of COVID-19 safety precautions in place will be important in deciding where to visit. However, there is optimism across one of the business sectors hit hardest by COVID-19, as 82% of those who have already been to a pub, bar or restaurant since restrictions were lifted agreed that their overall experience reassured them enough to revisit.
Henry Seddon, Managing Director of Access Hospitality says “Going out for Christmas drinks, meals, parties or breaks is incredibly important for the British economy, with 37.5 million consumers visiting the out of home market in December 2019. Our research shows that although consumers expressed some anxiety and nervousness, more than a fifth said that they felt hopeful about the prospect of going out to meet friends and family during this year’s festive period, albeit in smaller groups than we are used to.
“Hospitality has led the way in adhering to Government guidelines by placing restrictions on capacity, setting out appropriately distanced seating, implementing improved cleaning procedures, using protective screens and PPE and adopting tracing processes amongst the safety measures introduced. Many venues are also using booking systems to minimise wait times and have introduced cashless payments. They are well prepared, so the good news is that Christmas is certainly not cancelled, and hospitality business owners will be increasing their efforts to demonstrate how they are looking after guests’ health and wellbeing to reassure the public.”
Almost half (45%) of consumers identified that the most important factor for choosing a venue for festive celebrations was the level of COVID-19 safety precautions in place and a further 41% cited levels of hygiene and cleanliness. Savvy operators are already planning what they can do to reinforce their already robust hygiene and other safety precautions and know that they must communicate this clearly if they are to set the tills ringing this Christmas and New Year.
Figures released by the Government at the end of August revealed that more than 100 million individual meal servings were claimed under the Eat Out to Help Out initiative, so it seems there is a desire to celebrate out of home and help hospitality businesses maximise their crucial seasonal trading potential.
“This latest research shows that although the GB on-trade visits are at a point where over half of its customers have now returned (55%), thanks to the help of Government backed schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out and VAT cuts, consumer confidence remains fragile” adds Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality. “With no clear date for a resumption of functions, events and entertainment, many in the sector face an apprehensive lead up to the festive season – so it is even more critical that we continue to see ongoing initiatives to help support the hospitality sector and critically UK’s third largest private sector employer.”
Christmas parties are expected to be a big casualty of this year’s celebrations due to guidelines around social distancing and mixing with other households, particularly after the announcement that social gatherings of more than six people are to be banned. Over a quarter (28%) of those who attended one last year said that they would not feel comfortable doing so again this year.
Hosts are therefore expected to move away from the traditional large-scale Christmas parties and steer towards smaller, more premium occasions instead, with people saying that they would be prepared to pay more for a limited capacity event (12%) or a pre-booked meal (11%).
“The level of anxiety and uncertainty felt by consumers as we enter autumn is reflected by 57% of respondents who can’t predict what they will doing for the festive season” adds Seddon. “It will therefore be key for venues to lead the way in helping instil confidence in their COVID-19 measures, as well as showing consumers what, when and how to book.”
A fifth of consumers (22%) are more likely to pre-book their festive visits than they did last year although only 15% have started to plan. With just 12 weeks to go to Christmas, it is hoped that showcasing the safety measures in place and encouraging people to book early will help contribute to the recovery of the hospitality industry.