The UK’s largest hospitality body has written directly to Boris Johnson seeking wide-ranging business support to deal with the threat of coronavirus.
UKHospitality, which represents more than 700 businesses, has urged the prime minister to implement special actions due to the “acute” economic impact on the sector.
The letter, signed by CEO Kate Nicholls, said the industry was being hit hardest by pragmatic measures to contain and minimise the spread of the disease.
First quarter hotel occupancy has fallen 15% while eating and drinking out has declined by 7%.
The trade body has also warned that forward bookings across hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars have fallen by up to 50%.
With businesses likely to be hit further as self-isolation becomes more widespread, the letter calls on the government to implement urgent measures.
These include a moratorium on business rates for a minimum of three months, extendable dependent on the extent of virus spread and any quarantined area to have business rates annulled for the period of non-trading.
It also calls for a VAT cut for hospitality and tourism, to incentivise bookings, so that trade can resume as quickly as possible when the virus threat subsides, and the introduction of low- or interest-free loans to cover trade disruption for hospitality and tourism businesses.
Ms Nicholls said: “Hospitality businesses are on the front line, so to speak. There has been a significant impact on the sector. Bookings are down, footfall is down, and all signs point to it getting worse before it gets better.
“This is now an emergency for our sector. If government doesn’t act to mitigate the impact and give us support, businesses are in danger. This means cash flow becomes a problem, venues are under threat and jobs at risk.
“By the time the immediate threat of the virus has subsided it may be too late for some businesses. Support is needed and it is needed now.”