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Caterers report nearly 6,000 cancellations as Covid hurts Christmas trade

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

• GSD says Govt’s response shows ‘astounding lack of empathy’

Bars and restaurants in Gibraltar reported nearly 6,000 cancellations this Christmas period, the Gibraltar Catering Association said on Tuesday, as it questioned the Gibraltar Government’s view that the hospitality sector “is busy” despite Covid-19 uncertainty.

Earlier this week, the GCA said members had suffered a 50% downturn in Christmas trade and that many bars and restaurants were “in trouble”.

Business Minister Vijay Daryanani acknowledged the statement but said that the sector was in fact quite busy.

For the GCA, that was a suggestion that its members were “somehow being disingenuous” about the difficulties they were facing, adding the minister’s statement “could not be further from the truth”.

The GSD also ploughed into the row, insisting the minister’s displayed “an astounding lack of empathy and understanding” of what it described as the significant impact that the Government’s recent messaging on Covid had on the catering sector.

The GSD said the Government had urged people to reduce social contact and had sought to lead by example by cancelling its own functions in light of the global concern in connection with the Omicron variant.

“This has had an expected knock-on effect in terms of peoples’ plans during the Christmas festivities and the lead up to them,” the GSD said.

“For a minister of the Government to unsympathetically dismiss the real concerns expressed by the Gibraltar Catering Association by saying that ‘the hospitality sector is busy’ is quite frankly shocking although unfortunately not surprising.”

The GCA contacted 23 bars and restaurants, which collectively reported 5,915 cancellations to date this Christmas period, “with more expected”.

The association added that the number does not reflect the many 1000's of walk-ins that had been lost due to cancelled public events and a drop in footfall generally against the backdrop of concern about the Omicron variant.

“The Catering Association will present Mr Daryanani with complete figures including a breakdown business by business in the meeting in early January,” the GCA said in a statement.

“We hope that these numbers will help clarify the gravity of the situation for the Business Minister.”

“If the minister still does not believe the association, turning on any news TV station will show him what a difficult situation the catering industry is in at this moment in time.”

“The GCA is currently waiting for a meeting date with the minister so we may discuss the urgent assistance needed for the sector.”

Earlier this week, Mr Daryanani said the Gibraltar Government had worked hard to support businesses since the start of the pandemic.

“We have a track record of protecting our businesses,” he said at the time.

“We did so during both lockdowns and during periods in between that we thought assistance was required.”

“We hope that everything remains as safe as possible but the Government is constantly reassessing the situation depending on the ever changing circumstances related to the pandemic.”

The GSD said the GCA’s revelation of the “huge number, and growing” of cancellations demonstrated the effect of concern about Covid on a sector that was already reeling from months of poor trading conditions.

It said that for the minister not to recognise the “brutal reality” faced by the sector was “nothing short of scandalous”.

The GSD highlighted the fact that the UK Government had come forward with additional help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England following days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.

Channcellor Rishi Sunak has offered a £1 billion support package to businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the “eye-wateringly high” transmission of the Omicron variant.

“It is a further reflection of how increasingly out of touch the government is with the plight of ordinary people and businesses,” said Damon Bossino, the shadow minister for Tourism and Hospitality.

“The British government’s response today to the industry-wide collapse in bookings in the UK could not have been more starkly different to this minister who has adopted a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude famously attributed to Marie Antionette in pre-revolutionary France.”

“Once again, this minister ends up with egg on his face.”

“In Government, we would be immediately recognising the difficulties that the sector is facing and meeting them on an urgent basis to see how we could assist them in navigating these trying times and not fobbing them off until January.”

“We urge the Government to give this matter urgent attention.”

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