East Lancashire businesses say they have been hit with mass cancellations since news emerged about the omicron variant.

Local hotels, restaurants and bars say they are once again facing an uncertain few months in what should be their busiest time of year.

Some have faced hundreds of last-minute cancellations in the last two weeks and others are hoping for some more support if the UK goes into another lockdown.

Neil Bullows, owner of the Whitehall Hotel and Distillery on Ross Street in Darwen, said the business has been “massively” impacted by cancellations since the rise in omicron variant cases.

Mr Bullows said they have seen between 300-400 restaurant cancellations in the last 10 days, including small functions and Christmas parties.

Lancashire Telegraph: Neil and Tracey BullowsNeil and Tracey Bullows

The cancellations have come from people who have both caught Covid and those who are just uncertain about attending an event due to government advice.

He said: “The last 10 days have pretty much decimated our business and there is no clarity or certainty about how long this will go on for.”

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, bookings are down 50-60 per cent in what should be their busiest time of year.

He said: “Going into Christmas we were optimistic and excited – we had a good few bookings.

“The bookings have all gone to the wayside in view of the media coverage and what is happening with omicron.”

New Year’s Eve is usually one of their busiest nights but now there is a “distinct possibility” that they are going to have to cancel.

He said: “You need a certain amount of people for the New Year’s Eve to go ahead but unfortunately, it looks like I am going to have to cancel.

“It will be the first time having to do something like this in our history of being here, which is like 20 years.

“It’s an absolute nightmare and a really challenging time.

“There’s so much uncertainty… it’s horrid.”

Mr Bullows added that government’s response to local businesses has been “farcical” but said there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the business.

He said: “Fortunately for ourselves, we have been distilling our own gin over lockdown and there has been a considerable amount of support for this side of our business.

“We’re asking everybody to support local business this Christmas with their last minute gifts and have some empathy towards local businesses.”

Simon Tauber, general manager at the Stanley House Hotel and Spa in Mellor, has also noticed an increase in cancellations in recent weeks.

According to Mr Tauber, there have been over 150 individual cancellations in the last week.

Lancashire Telegraph: Simon Tauber, general manager at the Stanley House Hotel and Spa in MellorSimon Tauber, general manager at the Stanley House Hotel and Spa in Mellor

He said: “It started with the corporate businesses cancelling but now the leisure businesses are starting to cancel.

“Our last Christmas party was the Saturday just gone and that went to 150 people to less than 90 people.

“Our restaurant bookings have also dropped right off unfortunately. It’s looking like Christmas is going to be a lot quieter than we were expecting.”

He added that it puts the business in a “type of limbo” as there isn’t any type of financial support and they still need to give their contracted staff some work.

Mr Tauber said: “Obviously there isn’t enough work for staff so we are having to find other work for them in other areas.

“They should be looking after guests – we shouldn’t be having to find other work for them in other areas.”

“It’s upsetting – we were geared up for a really busy time of year and all of a sudden the work just dropped off.”

“It’s demotivating for staff and we are trying to pick them back up.”

Mr Tauber said if cancellations continue, they will need to have a “serious look” at the business and how they manage staffing levels.

He said: “We would probably have to enforce holidays on some of our staff in the new year.

“For us another lockdown would be difficult as we have a lot of weddings and corporate events in the new year. We would overcome it but it would be difficult.”

Kaye Mathew, sales and marketing director at Northcote Hotel and Restaurant in Langho, said they have also suffered a “small percentage” of cancellations in recent weeks.

Lancashire Telegraph: Northcote Hotel and Restaurant Northcote Hotel and Restaurant

She said: “We have had a small percentage of cancellations and covers dropping  – but we were pretty full already. we are still running full steam ahead without too many problems

“The business has been buoyant but these are uncertain times, so we are not sure what is coming. We have got to watch the news and hope that things will turn out okay.

“But you have got to wait and see what happens and have a plan in place if anything does happen.

“We are keeping a close eye on government advice because the safety of our guests is most important.”

Hakan Sabat, the owner of Mangiamao Tapas Cocktail and Wine Bar in Darwen, said there have been many cancellations at his business – especially for Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties.

Lancashire Telegraph: Mangiamao Tapas Cocktail and Wine BarMangiamao Tapas Cocktail and Wine Bar

So far, 80 people have cancelled their plans with them

He said: “There have been many cancellations for Christmas and new year. 70- 80 people.

“It’s massively impacted our income for the Christmas period.

“We have employed extra part-time staff and suffered many cancellations.

“I hope the government can do something to help us out. If we lockdown again the government will have to support small businesses.”

What are the current covid rules about visiting businesses?

There are no rules in place in England or Wales to limit social interaction with friends and family, but in the run-up to Christmas we have been encouraged to meet outdoors if possible as this reduces the risk of catching or spreading Covid.

While chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty urged people in England to prioritise social events “that really matter to them”, there are no laws in place prohibiting Christmas parties in England, Boris Johnson confirmed.

“We’re not cancelling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix,” the Prime Minister said.

What is the government doing to support businesses?   

At the end of last week, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak held talks with hospitality bosses but has stopped short of offering renewed funding support to companies who have witnessed mass cancellations and weak footfall.

David Page, chairman of Franco Manca owner Fulham Shore, told BBC Radio 4 that support is needed as firms are already facing a “lockdown by stealth”.

He said: “The Chancellor, Rishi, needs to do something very, very quickly because I am not sure any of the Cabinet understands cashflow.

“And cashflow is the problem at the moment, of the last week or two and of the next 10 days, near London, and near the city centres.

“These businesses have no cashflow, they are paying staff, they have got to pay their suppliers.

“It’s a bit of a disaster area for smaller businesses over the last two weeks, so Rishi needs to do something in the next 24 hours, I think.”