Retail

‘Couldn’t come at a worse time’: business owners bemoan transport chaos


“People have written the week off,” says Stuart Proctor, the boss of the Stafford hotel in Mayfair, where he says this week’s transport strikes have meant tens and thousands of pounds in lost restaurant bookings.

“Numerous large parties have cancelled for dinners and lunches,” says Proctor, who also oversees the Norma restaurant in Fitzrovia. Hotel bookings are holding up as most are from international visitors who are largely unaffected by the train strikes, but he says walk-in after-work trade is likely to be down. “People are working from home [during the strikes] now they have got used to it,” he said.

While London is expected to be the most affected by the fall in visitor numbers resulting from the three days of industrial action, industry bodies said there would be some effect across the country.

The strikes could deliver a “fatal financial blow” to some businesses struggling to survive, with restaurants, pubs and holiday accommodation expected to lose £540m in trade this week.

From central London shops and theatres to regional festivals and holiday cottages, businesses around the country are expecting cancellations and disruption as as result of the strike.

Industry insiders have raised fears of gridlocked roads in Somerset as Glastonbury festival revellers joined those travelling to the West Country by car.

The regional tourism body for Cornwall said: “It has been a far tougher year and the rail strike is not helping. The bulk of our visitors do come by car, but any loss of business at this time of year does impact on the bottom line.”

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, called for “urgent and productive talks” to avoid the disruption as she said businesses could lose a fifth of their trade this week.

“For a devastated hospitality industry beginning its tentative post-pandemic recovery, the planned strike action couldn’t come at a worse time, and might deliver a fatal financial blow to those businesses already struggling to survive,” she said.

“Fragile consumer confidence will take a further hit, thousands of people able and willing to spend money in hospitality venues across the country will be prevented from doing so, while staff will undoubtedly struggle to even get to work, missing out on wages.”

Dee Corsi, the chief operating officer of the New West End Company trade body, which represents central London retailers and leisure venues, said: “This week’s proposed rail strikes are expected to bring London’s West End, and the wider country, to a grinding halt. This will be a particular blow for commuters reliant on these services to get into the capital – and other city centres for work – and retail and hospitality businesses that are already struggling with rising costs and staffing shortages.

“With international visitor numbers still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, it is frustrating to see fresh disruptions that will deter much needed domestic visitors. These strikes will hit our retail and leisure destinations at a time when they should be making the most of our first restriction-free summer since 2019.”

However, some industry insiders said suburban and regional pubs, restaurants, bars and shops could see a boost from the train disruption. Sacha Lord, nighttime economy adviser to Greater Manchester, said: “I know many operators who rely on business lunches and after-work drinks who will be drastically impacted by this week’s events. However, for others it could be beneficial.”

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He suggested that those working from home might be able to visit a local pub, bar or restaurant instead of heading into the city centre.

Claire Flower of Beverley Holidays, which runs three holiday parks in south Devon, said last-minute bookings were strong and guests were still “really keen to get away and have been taking advantage of the wonderful weather we’ve been having”.

She said most guests had been able to find alternative travel arrangements and the businesses arrival dates were mostly Mondays and Fridays so the business had been less affected than some others.



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