Last Friday, the First Minister of the Welsh Government (WG), Mark Drakeford, announced the latest round of relaxations of the coronavirus restrictions in Wales.
Taken overall, they are extremely welcome, ranging from the freedom to meet other households outdoors to the reopening of hairdressing salons and barbers’ shops. From a personal perspective, the latter is particularly pleasing; my last haircut was just before New Year and I am fast developing an understanding of how it must have felt to be a troglodyte.
There has, however, been no clear indication as to when the rest of the economy may reopen. “Non-essential“ retail businesses will start to open on 22 March, though that is initially confined to garden centres and the taped-off sections of supermarkets. Other retail businesses will have to wait until 12 April, which is when they also reopen in England.
There is still considerable uncertainty as to when the all-important tourism and hospitality sector will reopen. The WG has announced that self-contained accommodation will be able start trading before Easter. No announcement, however, has been made about hotels and guesthouses.
On the face of it, this also appears to be a welcome step, but it has to be said that its economic utility is debatable. Without the reopening of restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars, it is hard to see that many will be induced to make holiday bookings. Furthermore, since the WG has made it clear that no reservations may be accepted from outside Wales, the demand is likely to be extremely small.
This means that, even though self-contained accommodation proprietors are likely to accept the WG’s announcement as some slight relief, they will continue to need financial support until such time as the economy is fully open.
The important, though missing, factor is clarity. Tourism and hospitality are crucial to the economy of North Wales. Easter, now just two weeks away, is the traditional start of the season. Unless business operators are given a roadmap of the WG’s proposals to reopen hospitality in Wales very soon, there will be continuing concern that another year’s trading will be lost.