Thursday 6 August 2020 12:52 pm

London hospitality firms call for free face masks at Tube stations

London’s hospitality firms require urgent improvements to the “insufficient and inadequate” support provided for struggling businesses in the city centre, the leading industry body has said.

In a letter to London mayor Sadiq Khan, UK Hospitality has set out a number of urgent measures that could encourage Londoners and domestic tourists to visit the centre of the capital. 

Read more: ‘More than three-quarters’ of UK hospitality firms could go bust within a year

Central London businesses have struggled to reach double-digit like-for-like revenues due to a sharp drop off in the number of tourists and office workers.

Meanwhile outer London and other areas of the UK have seen sales soar. 

Brewdog, which has echoed calls for a stimulus package for London, is trading at 26 per cent of last year’s sales in central London. Meanwhile, it has reached 66 per cent of 2019 levels in the rest of England.

The bar chain called for a government-led “aggressive, targeted programme of stimulus, support and activity”.

Initiatives mooted by UK Hospitality include a coordinated schedule of activities throughout August, centred around the Bank Holiday weekend and VJ Day. 

London hospitality firms like restaurants in Covent Garden are suffering from a lack of footfall
London hospitality firms like restaurants in Covent Garden are suffering from a lack of footfall (AFP via Getty Images)

Outdoor art treasure trails, surprise pop-up celebrity buskers and chefs, open houses for iconic buildings, artisan beer and gin walking tours and lighting up the river were among the suggestions.

Free face masks at Tube stations

The industry also urged the mayor to encourage greater Tube and public transport use, including removing out-of-date posters banning non-essential travel, in order to increase footfall in the city centre. 

It suggested the introduction of ‘Beat the Virus Guides’ to hand out, as well as distributing walking tours guides and free face masks at key stations, which could be staffed by furloughed workers or those in danger of being laid off. 

“Many operators would be keen to help and support but it does need coordination and a strong marketing support,” the industry body said.

“Put simply, this situation is not sustainable and we would urge you to work with affected sectors on a bold, ambitious and strategic plan of action to secure London’s future and a safe return to growth,” the letter said.

“This plan needs to be developed and implemented at speed, resulting in execution of marketing and information campaigns in August through to December and beyond. 

“The current initiatives are insufficient and inadequate alone to deliver a successful recovery, not just for London but the economy as a whole.”

London ‘needs marketing campaign’

Sadiq Khan says it is 'absolutely vital' people visit London's hospitality firms but said public confidence in their safety must first return
Sadiq Khan says it is ‘absolutely vital’ people visit London’s hospitality firms but said public confidence in their safety must first return (Getty Images)

It added that it was a “missed opportunity” not to have a marketing campaign encouraging tourists from elsewhere in the UK to visit London. 

In the longer-term, the UK hospitality industry needs a coordinated plan to encourage businesses back to work from September, it said. It suggested a three-month pause on changes to the congestion charge.

In response Khan said: “It is absolutely vital for London’s future that we get businesses and venues in central London thriving once again.

Read more: Working from home costs London hospitality sector £2.3bn, economists say

“That’s why as a result of TfL implementing an unprecedented range of safety and hygiene measures more passengers are now able to travel safely on London public’s transport network, whether for work or to visit the West End.  

“But our economic recovery is still hugely reliant on people having confidence that this global health pandemic is under control. 

“That is why the mayor makes no apology for encouraging more people to walk and cycle to enable social distancing on public transport, and why it is vital we have clear, unequivocal leadership from the government on mandatory face coverings and getting a grip of the test and trace system.”