East Anglia/Suffolk: Region’s tourism industry ‘growing in confidence’

A colourful snap of Southwold Beach Huts A colourful snap of Southwold Beach Huts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
5:00 PM

The eastern region’s tourism sector is growing in confidence as holiday businesses capitalise on a warm summer and opportunities including the arrival of BBC’s Springwatch programme at Minsmere nature reserve, a survey has found.

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A quarterly business confidence monitor by chartered accountants Larking Gowen to June 30 showed that around three in 10 businesses saw higher than expected discretionary spend by visitors, while the numbers of visitors continued to grow.

Nearly three out of five firms reported an increase in visitor or guest numbers during the quarter, compared to the same period last year, while fewer businesses - a fifth - reported a decrease in visitor numbers. Around a quarter of businesses reporting an increase said numbers were up by more than 10%.

Firms were “reasonably positive” about their expectations for the summer quarter to the end of September, with three out of five planning for a rise in numbers, compared to just 5% expecting a fall. Around a third of businesses were expecting numbers to be up by at least 10%.

“Businesses appear to be as optimistic about the next quarter as they were for this quarter,” the report said.

Internet and social media continue to be the most successful forms of marketing, with around a half of businesses seeing an increase in business activity as a direct result of email activity, while four out of five reported an increase through social media and website activity.

However, there was a slight drop in optimism compared to the previous quarter’s survey, when 52% of businesses felt optimistic, compared to 45% in the quarter to the end of June.

Bookings continued to look positive, with more than 80% of relevant businesses reporting that the volume and value of bookings to the end of September was either the same or had risen.

There was a division of opinion over the effect of the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station at Leiston. Three out of five firms either felt unsure about it or saw no effect on their tourism business, while 21% felt it was a threat and the same proportion believed it was an opportunity.

31% of businesses in coastal parts of Suffolk felt Springwatch had a positive effect, while 46% said it had no impact. In towns, 25% felt it had a positive impact, and in the countryside, 18%. The nature reserve says it has seen visitor numbers soar by about 50% to nearly 11,000.

“Looking back over past confidence monitors, it has been rare that all sectors of the market across all parts of East Anglia have shown such consistent confidence as this report highlights,” said Visit East Anglia chief executive Keith Brown.

Amanda Bond, brand manager at Visit Suffolk, said growing discretionary spend and increased room nights pointed to a welcome bounceback for the local economy.

“Major events and festivals continue to be seen as a growth area for Suffolk which fits with the county’s ambition to continue to capitalise on opportunities such as Britten, Springwatch, and going forward, ‘The Making of a Master’ exhibition (on painter John Constable) at the Victoria & Albert, firmly placing Suffolk at the forefront of potential new audiences and decision makers. In addition, a major new development for Newmarket, the £14million horseracing heritage museum due to open late 2015, is fantastic news for the local economy and yet another hook to grab media attention and drive visitor numbers to Suffolk.”

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