The First Minister’s appeal for people in Wales to curb their non-essential travel will be the death knell for many in the hospitality industry across Wales.
Restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels both in city centres and tourist destinations that rely on people coming from outside their immediate areas hope that extra measures are taken by the Welsh Government to support what they say is a “sector in crisis”.
The Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective, which represents more than 300 independent businesses across Wales, says Mark Drakeford’s statement urging people to avoid non-essential travel “will be the final nail in the coffin for many pubs, restaurants and cafes in Wales if it is effectively tells the public not to visit hospitality venues outside of their immediate area – there is simply no way the industry can survive if that advice is widely followed”.
Mr Drakeford stated: “The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.”
Watch First Minister Mark Drakeford announce the latest rules
However, other than in the areas already locked down in Wales, which are subject to specific restrictions on travel, this is not currently a set rule that applies across Wales and is more guidance.
Kasim Ali, who runs the Waterloo Tea group in Cardiff and Penarth, said that city centres and local high streets could lose their independents forever if the footfall to city centres drops even more and chains look to more residential high streets.
Kasim said: “What does essential travel mean? Does it mean you can drive to a restaurant? And use your common sense.
“Common sense is a very subjective thing and it’s of no help to us whatsoever. If we have no long term support it’s going to be decimated.”
One of Waterloo Tea’s locations is in Cardiff city centre and is popular with shoppers and office workers – of which there are fewer and fewer.
Kasim – a member of WIRC – added: “The death of the city centre means that the likes of Pret (a Manger) are looking at local high streets now. We’re all going to get muscled out of those kind of locations for sure.
“Once something like Pret gets a let on [somewhere like] Wellfield Road, you’re not going to get rid of them.
“We all know the Tesco analogy. Once there’s a Tesco on the street, there’s no butchers, no bakers, newsagent – it takes out five shops. A chain coffee shop will take out two indies.”
Kasim and his fellow WIRC members are pleading with the Welsh Government to help secure the future of the industry and ask for a longer term plan rather than a “boom bust” approach like Eat Out to Help Out, which saw the government subsidising meals at participating restaurants on Mondays to Wednesdays during August.
“We’re going to have to make decisions soon,” said the cafe owner, who was one the spearheads of the Feed the Heath initiative that sent meals to the University of Wales Hospital at the height of the pandemic.
“It hasn’t been helped by the stop-start, boom-bust policies that have been rolled out on a whim it seems, with no planning. Public health is obviously number one and what we’ve seen in the past six months has given us a good idea of what we’re going to see for the next six months.
“The policies, like Eat Out to Help Out, our till drawers opening for a month, was lovely but it really put a spanner in the works for us because we were developing a system to get through this current environment, putting in apps, takeaway systems etc, then all of a sudden it was, ‘ok, go indoors.’
“And that really changed our focus for a month – buy more furniture, crockery – and now September it’s just falling off a cliff.
“Long term thinking is really important – instability and uncertainty is the worst thing you can have as a business – and if the government can match that up with support for our sector…
“We’re not here for your sympathy, we’re just stating the facts. Local businesses do rely on us and when we talk about the circular economy we’re really key cog in that.”
At the other end of south Wales, and as far from Cardiff’s office-block populated city centre as you can get, is Top Joe’s Pizza in the heart of Tenby – which stays open all year round, closing on Christmas day only.
Owner Dan Warder wants further, clearer answers from the First Minister on how the ‘non-essential travel’ impacts businesses like his in the popular tourist destination in Pembrokeshire.
Of course, the autumn/winter season in comparison to summer is quieter, but holidaymakers still venture west in low season – but will 2020 see a lower winter season than normal?
Dan said: “Is it guidance or not, policy or not? We don’t know.
“It’s very vague and what we’re all worried about during this period is that vagueness isn’t helping anyone.
“The season’s been short and strong. We didn’t get going since the last week of July
“With all that’s in the media and vagueness from the government, it’s not encouraging people to come to a destination place like Pembrokeshire.”
Dan added that the long-term effects are terrifying if independent businesses aren’t helped.
“We need engagement and we need a long-term strategy, we need to be here next March.
“You could argue that compared to anywhere else, we’re used to the trade going down this time of year. However, not to the extent it’s going to [this winter].”
Dan pointed out that the visitor experience of Tenby could be harmed, causing a knock-on effect in seasons to come.
“If we go to a second lockdown and no one gets any help, we’ll come to next March and we’ll have lost a lot of independent eateries,” he said. “That, from a tourist point of view, really lessens the visitor experience.”
Again, Dan hits home the point that the hospitality industry is a vital cog in the wider Welsh economy.
“The amount of people employed in hospitality, not to mention the supply chain – I regularly call a plumber or an electrician to the shop – all that goes. It’s huge, it’s really really huge and we’re only just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
Coming back to the question of ‘essential travel’ Dan added: “Legally they can come here, but it’s all about negative feedback and negative signs people are being given. Until a month ago people were being paid to come and eat with us,” he said.
“Now it’s ‘don’t go unless you absolutely have to.’ Seems like we’ve been hung out to dry a little bit.”