CHRISTMAS was a “disaster” for the hospitality sector in Dorset, leaving many businesses wondering how they will get through to spring, a leading figure in the industry has said.

Restaurants and hotels saw a flood of cancellations after people were urged to be cautious about mixing while the Omicron variant spread.

Many also had to contend with staff absences as employees were forced to isolate.

Andy Lennox, who runs the Zim Braai and Nusara restaurants and started the industry group Wonky Table, said: “Christmas was a disaster with bookings evaporating – a massive negative cash flow swing.”

He said his own venues were full on New Year’s Eve but a lot of other restaurants were forced to close because of cancellations.

“Most of hospitality is now struggling with staffing,” he said.

Many hospitality businesses rely on a busy festive season to see them threw the quieter period at the start of the new year.

But Mr Lennox said many were “wondering how to get through the next three to four months without traditional reserves”.

Mark Cribb, owner of the Urban Guild series of restaurants in Bournemouth, said the festive season “could have been worse”.

He said the previous Christmas had seen a 10pm curfew and a ban on households mixing.

“Anything was going to be better than that,” he said.

“It was probably 40 per cent down on our pre-booked Christmas sittings and 40 per cent on revenue, which was incredibly disappointing, but at least we were open and trading.

“I don’t think we thought it was going to be plain sailing through the winter. It’s really annoying and it cost us a lot of money and we would rather use that money to spend on good stuff beyond just getting through to spring.”

The government announced it would spend £1billion on supporting businesses hit by Omicron, including grants of between £2,700 and £6,000 for hospitality premises.

Mr Cribb called for reform of VAT, which has risen from five per cent to 12.5 per cent for the hospitality industry and is due to return to its pre-pandemic rate of 20 per cent in April.

“Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, it’s longer-term tax relief for the sector particularly the VAT cut, which I think should be permanent,” he said.

He suggested a VAT cut could pay for itself by fuelling a rise in revenue for hospitality businesses.