Ian Edwards, Chief Executive of the Celtic Manor Resort and the new International Convention Centre Wales, has written to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking for immediate measures to be taken to support an industry already feeling the sharp end of an economic downturn caused by Coronavirus.
In common with all tourism and hospitality businesses, Celtic Manor and ICC Wales have already incurred major losses as many events have cancelled their bookings and leisure travellers have been reluctant to plan trips.
Both venues have lost more than £1m in conference bookings over the last 10 days, with the cancelled ICC Wales bookings estimated to have been worth more than £5m to the local economy in terms of the additional spend they bring to event suppliers, neighbouring hotels, restaurants and bars, and taxi and travel fares.
In line with calls made by the UK Hospitality trade association to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Mr Edwards is urging Welsh Government to support far-reaching financial aid measures. These include a moratorium on business rates; business payment delay on VAT, PAYE and NICs to ease cashflow; a VAT cut for hospitality and tourism; and interest-free loans to companies suffering adverse effects.
Mr Edwards said:
“The whole economy will, of course, feel the effects of the Coronavirus crisis but the tourism and hospitality industry is very much in the front line and has already felt a sharp downturn in business owing to a widespread reluctance to travel and mix socially during the recent uncertainty.
“This is going to be felt much more sharply as last week’s medical advice on isolation procedures takes effect and anticipated new measures such as the preclusion of large gatherings will exacerbate this still further.
“We saw a prominent example of the local impact over the weekend with the postponement of the Wales v Scotland Six Nations rugby match. Although the decision came so late that many fans had already travelled, there was still a huge hit on hotel bookings, restaurant and bar takings, taxi and travel fares on a weekend which is identified, and long planned for, as one of the most important in our calendar.
“Here at Celtic Manor we suffered many late cancellations over the weekend and our hotel occupancy generally has plummeted from an average 92% to around 30% in the coming weeks. We are approaching another key season for the industry with the Easter holidays starting in two weeks’ time and the bookings for family leisure breaks that we would normally be seeing at this time have simply disappeared.”
These devastating effects are being felt at hotels, venues and entertainment attractions throughout the tourism and hospitality sector in Wales, including the new ICC Wales which only opened in joint venture partnership with Welsh Government in September.
Mr Edwards added:
“ICC Wales has also been severely affected as large corporate companies and associations have taken their own decisions to reduce business travel, leading to the cancellation or postponement of many large events.
“The spring is a very busy season in the conference calendar for many large corporate companies as well as national and international associations, so this has taken away a lot of key revenue at a time when ICC Wales was establishing itself as a new venue on the world stage. We are expecting many more events to cancel in the coming days and weeks, and efforts to reschedule are extremely difficult with the ongoing uncertainty.
“The effects of the Coronavirus are already being felt deeply across the tourism industry in Wales. This situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better. We are all making contingency plans to make our businesses as resilient as possible to the current threat but without support from Welsh Government, companies will go under and jobs will be lost in an industry which has shown itself to be a key driver to the Welsh economy.”
Mr Edwards’s letter to the First Minister, calling for urgent action, was supported by tourism partners including the Wales Tourism Alliance, Cardiff Hoteliers Association, Newport Hoteliers Association, Welsh Rarebits Collection and the Culinary Association of Wales.