Businesses face Covid hesitancy - column by Michele Coe-Baxter, head of leisure and tourism at Duncan & Toplis

While we might hope for a proper Christmas at last, there is still plenty of uncertainty among business leaders this winter, particularly in the leisure, hospitality and tourism sector.

Mask SUS-211129-123339001
Mask SUS-211129-123339001

Although the sector was one of the worst affected by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, the summer saw a huge surge in the industry as demand for holidaying in the UK, including Lincolnshire, soared. It’s now feared that, with the discovery of the omicron strain and the return of compulsory mask wearing in shops, more restrictions may be round the corner. Either way, a rise of Covid-hesitancy could spell another uncertain winter ahead.

As of Tuesday, November 30, face coverings are once again mandatory in shops and on public transport, while everyone entering the UK from abroad will need a PCR test. Meanwhile, all contacts of new variant cases will have to self-isolate, even if they’re fully jabbed.

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Just a few weeks ago, the director of public health for North East Lincolnshire warned of a 50-50 chance that Northern Lincolnshire could face additional Covid restrictions. More than this, the government could also fully implement its Plan B restrictions with a requirement to work from home if possible, and more steps could also be taken.

In the leisure and tourism sector, businesses had been hoping for a good winter. According to VisitEngland, more than 11-and-a-half million Brits were planning a holiday in the UK over the festive period, but now this could be in doubt. Although another lockdown looks unlikely, measures such as mandatory mask wearing may prompt people to swap holidays for staycations or simply staying at home.

Even if things don’t escalate, there are still other risks which businesses should be aware of. For example, Christmas markets often pull in the crowds, with 250,000+ people attending Lincoln Christmas market each year, but they aren’t always a sure bet at the best of times.

At the time of writing, Lincoln City Council intends for the Lincoln Christmas Market to go ahead from December 2-5. However, they are recommending face coverings be worn by all in attendance.

So what is the best advice for businesses which may be affected by an increasingly cautious public, the reintroduction of measures to prevent the spread of the virus and the usual uncertainties of winter?

In my role, I advise hundreds of businesses across Lincolnshire and the East Midlands which depend on the holiday market as a vital source of income. I’m also part of a wider team supporting a total of 4,500 businesses across the local economy.

My advice to businesses is this: Prepare for all possibilities and anticipate unpredictability.

As Covid cases around the county and the nation continue to fluctuate and experts warn of increased hospitalisations, businesses can’t make themselves immune to the evolving threat. What they can do is to make changes to become more resilient and accessible.

If you can, extend your offering online and diversify your income streams as much as possible. To reassure potential visitors, you should demonstrate the precautions you have in place and consider introducing more to reduce the risk of the virus transmitting at your business. You should remind yourself of your cancellation policies and make sure these are clear to visitors, and prepare for the associated costs that cancellations may bring about. Of course, this isn’t happening in isolation with other events outside of the pandemic: We’re also seeing a huge strain on the jobs market at the moment, with the leisure, hospitality and tourism sector among the most affected. So, if you need to take on additional staff for the festive period, ensure that there is robust PPE in place.