Valentine’s Weekend is just the pick up the UK needs

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Hugh Knowles is feeling optimistic about Valentine’s Day bookings at his four indoor mini-golf venues in and around London this weekend.

The managing director of Puttshack expects February’s takings to surpass pre-pandemic levels seen in 2020 — right before the coronavirus crisis forced the closure of hospitality venues and non-essential shops across the country.

With the company’s branches mostly shut until May last year, aside from a few periods where restrictions eased enough for the venue to reopen, Puttshack upped its marketing budget by 25 per cent this month to give its “hole lotta love” Valentine’s packages — available until February 15 — a boost.READ MORENo one in Britain is immune to the cost-of-living crisis

“I expect Valentine’s to be the peak of this year so far,” Mr Knowles told The National.

“We’re seeing a huge demand coming through and our website traffic has increased by 25,000 per cent but it’s non-comparable with last year, which was a dead duck because we were closed during lockdown.”

Puttshack, which describes itself as “tech-infused mini-golf”, because technology inside the golf balls updates customers’ scores as they play, has Valentine’s offers on its games and food and beverage menu. It is banking on a bumper weekend of bookings as Covid cases decline in the UK.

UK Valentine’s spend set to hit £1.37bn in 2022

Up to 91 per cent of the UK could be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, projections from comparison platform Finder.com show, with Britons expected to take advantage of the easing restrictions to lavish their loved ones with gifts or dates.

This is up on the 40 million Britons — 76 per cent of the adult population — who celebrated the day of love in 2021 and even a rise on the 41.4 million who embraced the occasion in 2020 before the pandemic took hold.

Finder.com expects a total UK spend of £1.37 billion ($1bn) for the romantic day this year, a huge jump on the £926 million spent in 2021, when England was still in lockdown with similar restrictions elsewhere in the country. However, this year’s total will still be below the 2020 figure of £1.45bn.

Hugh Knowles, managing director of Puttshack, hopes the mini-golf venue will enjoy a bumper Valentine's weekend. Photo: Puttshack UK
Hugh Knowles, managing director of Puttshack, hopes the mini-golf venue will enjoy a bumper Valentine’s weekend. Photo: Puttshack UK

Puttshack’s upbeat bookings for the weekend are a welcome relief for the company, said Mr Knowles, which saw a boom-like recovery from the crisis in the first two weeks of December when corporate bookings soared in the run-up to Christmas.

However, restriction announcements by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hit demand.

“They were surpassing our 2019 numbers. But then, after Boris’s announcements about Omicron restrictions, they declined rapidly,” said Mr Knowles, who said the venue typically attracts millennial and Generation Z clientele, as well as corporate bookings and families during the day.

“February is important for us and we’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand as Puttshack super-resonates with the dating market. We’re just delighted to have the venues back open to be able to do this,” he added.

Cost-of-living crisis could dampen demand

WithValentine’s Day falling on a Monday this year, combined with continued financial pressure and concerns about Omicron, many people are likely to spend the night at home, said Carmen Bryan, consumer analyst at GlobalData.

“As a high percentage of Britons are under financial pressure, and concerned about eating out, restaurants are still unlikely to see the same footfall experienced in pre-pandemic years,” Ms Bryan told The National.

Supermarket chain Iceland has launched a 'mood food aisle' before Valentine's Day, featuring romantic dishes. PA
Supermarket chain Iceland has launched a ‘mood food aisle’ before Valentine’s Day, featuring romantic dishes. PA

While some may book romantic nights out at the weekend instead, one in five people in the UK are currently extremely concerned about their financial situation, GlobalData’s fourth quarter 2021 consumer survey showed — a figure that rises to a third among millennials.

“On top of that, the same survey found that many are still reluctant to venture out, with 28 per cent of people reportedly concerned about eating out because of exposure to Covid-19,” said Ms Bryan.

“Many retailers, from Tesco to Marks & Spencer, have been offering Valentine’s meals for two, emphasising their affordability through promotions — which will appeal to the third of financially pressured millennials

While Mr Johnson has indicated he plans to lift all coronavirus restrictions in England by the end of the month, a move that could offer a boost to the economy — which saw its output dip 0.2 per cent in December amid the Omicron outbreak — this might not be enough to persuade Britons to spend more.

Many households are facing a cost-of-living crisis in which their real incomes could decline up to 2 per cent this year — the largest on record — when a leap in utility prices and rise in taxation takes effect on April 1.

Capital Economics expects real household disposable income to decline by a cumulative £80bn over the next two years, despite an expected surge in inflation to a peak of 7.5 per cent in April from December’s 5.4 per cent.

However, some consumers may still look to spend big this February before the cost-of-living increases really start to bite in April when energy price and tax rises kick in, if the economic growth outlook is anything to go by.

“Surging Omicron cases of Covid-19 may have knocked about 1 per cent off GDP over December and January,” said Paul Dales at Capital Economics.

“But the latest data for January suggest that the impact has been short-lived. We expect GDP to rebound quickly, leaving output flat over Q1 as a whole. Beyond that, the hit to real household incomes from surging inflation and tax rises is likely to weigh on GDP growth.”

Will consumers splash out before living costs rise?

Mr Knowles certainly expects his customers to spend more this year.

“At the moment, I’m still seeing people wanting to spend,” he said.

“Our price point is not extortionate, it ranges from £7.50 to £13.50, and we’re average for the price of a drink or a burger or pizza from the restaurant. So, it’s an affordable price with our average spend ranging from £15 to £25 per person.”

Restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus, who owns three restaurants around the London Eye tourist attraction, including kebab eatery Troia Southbank, is hoping for a last-minute surge in Valentine’s Day bookings this weekend.

His business has been hammered by closures over the past two years, with takings in 2020 and 2021 significantly down on 2019 figures because his outlets cater heavily to international tourists visiting London and office workers in the local area.

“We are still waiting for our customers to arrive but we’re hopeful that we will see an increase in turnover over Valentine’s weekend,” Mr Dogus told The National.

While Troia Southbank has already received more than 100 bookings for the weekend, Mr Dogus’s other two eateries — an Italian restaurant and a steakhouse — have only received about 15 to 20 bookings so far.

“We’re hoping for last-minute bookings,” Mr Dogus said.

London restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus says there are more than 100 Valentine's weekend bookings at his kebab eatery. Photo: Ibrahim Dogus
London restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus says there are more than 100 Valentine’s weekend bookings at his kebab eatery. Photo: Ibrahim Dogus

Like Mr Knowles at Puttshack, Mr Dogus, who runs the British Kebab Awards, said Christmas was a disappointment when Omicron restrictions curtailed demand.

“It was getting busier and we were almost at about 40 per cent of our pre-pandemic trade then everyone disappeared,” he said.

“There might be a little lift from Valentine’s but with travel restrictions coming to an end and workers invited back into offices, hopefully we’ll start seeing more people in central London.”

London is Britain’s top spender for Valentine’s

London is certainly the leader when it comes to Valentine’s spending in cities across the UK.

People living in the capital spend the most on their partners for the big day, said online gifts retailer Cartwright and Butler, which found that Londoners spend an average £56.39 on Valentine’s presents for their loved ones.

Southampton in Hampshire came in second with an average spend of £50.38 on gifts, with Manchester in third with £39.90, while residents in Scotland’s capital Edinburgh spend the least on their other half — shelling out only £12.95.

While Puttshack is focused on the mid-range segment of the market, the Bvlgari Hotel in Knightsbridge is firmly focused on the luxury sector.

Bulgari Hotel London is offering a ‘B.Indulged experience’. All photos: Bulgari
‘B.Indulged’ is priced from £10,000 ($13,627) per night for a two-night minimum stay for two adults in a Bulgari Suite.
Dinner prepared by a private chef will be served on a suite terrace.
A view of a bedroom in a Bulgari suite.
Guests will also be able to use the spa.
It includes a ‘vitality pool’
The Bulgari Lounge, where guests can enjoy lunch.
A view of a fireplace in the Bulgari Lounge.

Bulgari Hotel London is offering a ‘B.Indulged experience’. All photos: Bulgari

The hotel’s B. Indulged experience — a two-night stay for two adults in a Bvlgari Suite, the top-room category — costs £10,000 and includes a three-course lunch, a cigar and beverage-tasting experience in the hotel’s Edward Sahakian Cigar Shop, and breakfast.

A 210-minute spa experience at the hotel’s spa’s Private Onyx Suite is also thrown in, along with dinner served on the suite’s terrace cooked by a private chef.

The package was created to provide “the ultimate luxury treat to kick-start life after lockdown”, the hotel said.

“There is a surge in three-to-four-night weekend enquiries to include the Monday night,” the Bvlgari told The National.

“We have been experiencing a rush of inquiries as London returns to normal following the easing of restrictions.”

Rise of Galentine’s and Palentine’s Day

Spending on others is one thing, but spending on yourself or your friends is also an increasingly popular trend.

Amish Patel, aesthetics practitioner and skincare expert at Intrigue Cosmetic Clinic, which has two branches in Kent, said his services are fully booked before February 14 as clients spend on facials “to supercharge their skincare … in time for their romantic dinner for two”.

“My clients say they are celebrating Valentine’s in a bigger way this year — either by extending their day with weekends away, lavish dinners at high-end restaurants and making this year a date to remember,” Mr Patel told The National.

A couple pose for wedding photos with white horses and a carriage in Westminster, in London. Getty Images
A couple pose for wedding photos with white horses and a carriage in Westminster, in London. Getty Images

While Mr Patel said the clinic typically receives a rush of bookings in the lead up to Christmas, there has been “a bigger jump this year for Valentine’s” with a 30 per cent increase in bookings on 2019.

“We have also seen a big uptake in lip filler clients over the past couple of weeks, with clients citing that they want to have the perfect pout for Valentine’s and beyond,” Mr Patel said.

“Our male clients also want to look their best with jawline fillers and anti-wrinkle injections.”

Others are following another trend such as Palentine’s or Galentine’s, Mr Patel added, when people celebrate love with their friends on the eve of February 14.

“Britons love an excuse to celebrate, so in that respect, Valentine’s Day is still going strong. However, it is evolving,” said analyst Ms Bryan.

“Many in the UK are marrying later in life, or don’t see the need to marry at all giving rise to the Galentine’s and Palentine’s alternative celebrations.”

Covid safey still a concern for date nights

Despite optimism, Covid safety is still at the forefront of people’s minds, which is why Mr Knowles said his Puttshack team have worked hard on Covid safety to encourage customers to come out on February 14 — with staff tested regularly and golf balls and clubs sanitised after use.

“Our surveys say safety is still important to our customers in the F&B and leisure sector,” Mr Knowles said.

Staff wipe down golf equipment at Puttshack after use to reduce Covid spread. Photo: Puttshack
Staff wipe down golf equipment at Puttshack after use to reduce Covid spread. Photo: Puttshack

Some of the UK’s leading dating apps, such as Tinder, Match, OurTime, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish, have also backed the government’s Get Boosted Now campaign to encourage young people to receive their Covid booster before Valentine’s Day.

Those who share their vaccination status on dating apps receive 30 per cent more matches than those who do not, dating app Hinge reported, while more than a third told a Plenty of Fish survey that they view vaccination as a desirable trait.

So far, about 60 per cent of eligible young people between the ages of 18 and 34 have been boosted, with Minister for Vaccines Maggie Throup lauding “people making the most of our restored freedoms thanks to the vaccination programme”.

“Now getting a booster may even help you find someone special to share them all with,” Ms Throup added.

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