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Severe staff shortages hit UK hospitality venues amid huge rise in bookings

Hopes of a post-Covid “explosion in revelry” this summer are at risk from staff shortages, uncertainty about the variant first discovered in India and the ongoing closure of many venues, hospitality industry figures have warned.

The number of events being listed is up to double that of pre-Covid levels, while bookings have surged by as much as 1,000%, ticket companies have said, with the remaining restrictions on gatherings to be lifted in England from 21 June.

Under Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown, all legal limits on mixing, including caps on the numbers allowed at large events, will be lifted. But optimism spurred by demand has been tempered by uncertainty amid concerns that the 21 June date could be delayed to curb the spread of the India variant.

The British Beer and Pub Association said businesses should be given notice and financial compensation if they could not reopen fully as planned.

Emma McClarkin, the BBPA’s chief executive, said the government should “stick to its roadmap”, adding: “Twenty-first June is absolutely critical to the recovery of the sector. Recovery day only starts when the restrictions are removed.”

The hospitality sector remains under pressure despite reopening, with a quarter of licensed premises – about 25,000 venues – still closed, according to the market recovery monitor from the industry statistics firm CGA and AlixPartners.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), warned that those venues that do open could struggle to cope with the “overwhelming” demands of large-scale reopening.

The length of time of the shutdown of businesses has led to as many as half saying that up to 50% of staff will not return to their old jobs, instead sticking with new opportunities they had been forced to take up during the pandemic.

“There are severe staffing shortages,” said Kill. “A lot of workers are from Europe, so Brexit has had an impact, and there is the ‘furlough hangover’ where a lot of people have now got other jobs to keep themselves going and are not coming back.”

He gave the example of security staff where as many as 60% of positions are at risk of being unfilled for pubs, nightclubs, bars and festivals.

“We are at about 50% of the resource we had pre-Covid,” he said. “And with the increase in demand we need to be at more than 100% and we are challenged to find that resource.”

Concern about staff shortages comes amid a boom in demand for events.

Events platform Fixr said ticket sales for events in England have surged by 560% and more than 1,000% in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, in the month following the end of pandemic-related curbs, compared to the same period in 2019.

The number of events being listed is almost double that of pre-Covid levels. Most new events relate to nightclubbing, boat parties and sport, according to Fixr, which has a partnership with Rekom, which runs 42 bars and nightclubs across the UK.

Event website Feast It is listing 4,000 events, from private parties and corporate events to weddings, between 21 June and the end of September. This is more than double the 1,800 that took place in the same period in 2019.

“It seems as though we are on the cusp of a huge explosion in revelry in the UK,” said Hugo Campbell, co-founder of Feast It. “When the cork comes out of the bottle on 21 June, we’ll see more parties than we’ve most likely ever seen before.”

Hospitality businesses remain under pressure despite the expected resurgence.

As well as the ongoing closure of venues, many are facing huge rent bills that stacked up while they were closed.

Kill said the government needs to address the issue of rent arrears. The government’s forfeiture moratorium, which protects commercial leaseholders from action by landlords, runs until the end of June.

“If there isn’t an extension, or another solution isn’t found, there are businesses that may face closure 10 days after reopening,” he said.

The number of events being listed is almost double that of pre-Covid levels.

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