Suffolk: Second home effect could help swell county coffers

Predicted boost in domestic tourism spending Predicted boost in domestic tourism spending

Thursday, May 22, 2014
1:09 PM

The influence of Londoners buying second homes in coastal resorts like Southwold and Aldeburgh has helped Suffolk’s tourism industry, claims a new report.

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The trend – which has caused concern in some communities – has helped broaden “retail and leisure” offerings, and led to an increased demand for restaurants and cafes.

That is one of the claims made in a major analysis of the region’s tourism industry released today by Barclays. It says tourism spending in the East of England will soar from £6.3billion in 2013 to £78.6bn in 2017. Strong growth in the likes of Suffolk and Norfolk will continue in the coming years, with increasing numbers of overseas visitors.

However, the report will also fuel the debate over the impact of second homes in the region – in Suffolk Coastal there are more than 2,500 holiday homes, and around 1,500 in Waveney, mainly Southwold.

Some communities fear too many second homes leave local businesses struggling for trade in winter months.

But the report states: “The influence of the second home-owners, as well as day-trippers, from London has helped to broaden the retail and leisure mix in the East of England, with an increase in demand for restaurants and cafés, alongside shops.”

New Southwold mayor Ann Betts agreed that the retail mix of the town had benefitted from second home owners but that they had to “strike a balance”.

She said: “It’s just a shame that there are so many properties when they come up for sale are now second homes. You have to appreciate there are quite a lot of people that live here and in winter it’s a bit of a ghost town. There are lots of tourists but when it’s cold and miserable there aren’t many people on the streets.

“Obviously because of where we are the second home people have more or less priced out the local people. They just can’t afford the price of the houses.

“I live in a flat and the two flats above me are second homes, one is rarely used and the other is used about once a week. There are other houses in the town where if they come up two weeks that’s the most. That seems to me to be a waste.

“It’s a difficult balance but it’s one we’ve got to face and live with I’m afraid. There’s no going back.”

Meanwhile, debate over the high number of houses available to rent continues to divide – but business chiefs admit the boom in rentals attracts year-round trade.

Letting agents across East Anglia have reported bumper early year bookings, confirming the findings of another survey – by VisitEngland – suggesting a continued rise in staycations.

The retail sector could benefit most from growth of 23% by 2017, according to the Barclays report, which suggests that the influence of the second home-owners and day-trippers has helped broaden the retail and leisure mix in the region, with an increase in demand for restaurants, cafés and shops. Domestic spend on eating out is also set to grow by 23%.

However, the effect of second home owners means that growth in accommodation spend is likely to increase but be restricted to 20%.

Aldeburgh Business Association chairman, Rob Maybe, said the issue could be divisive, but that the town was able to maintain its sense of community. He added: “We cherish Aldeburgh as a place to live - if you are in business, you obviously cherish the arrival of visitors too.

“In the last 10 or 15 years, the main holiday home agents have created an investment market in the town. With that has brought work for local builders, tradesmen, cleaners, and customers to local shops.

“The more we can help to keep the high street balanced, and make sure the locals are well looked after throughout the year, the better.

“Some will say second homes are taken out of local hands, but those who have sold them will say they cashed in at the top of the market, which can’t be a bad thing. We want to keep Aldeburgh special and we are managing to do that at the moment.”

The staycation trend has been rising steadily in line with increasing inflation and slowing wage growth. However, it is likely that people will look for value-for-money experiences, as disposable income remains limited.

Amanda Bond, of Visit Suffolk, said discretionary spend was slowly picking up as consumer confidence bounced back. She added: “Suffolk’s tourism industry at large is quite savvy; offering good quality experiences, which consistently attract the repeat visitor and thus reap the rewards of the ‘staycationer’.

“In the short-term, 60% of tourism businesses in Suffolk expect volume of visitors to increase, according to our latest Business Confidence Monitor, whilst it is far more difficult to look so far ahead with any great accuracy.

“The heightened state of optimism, however, places Suffolk in a strong position to attract the discerning visitor through good quality experiences backed by innovative marketing and PR promotions.”

Mark Bee, Suffolk County Council leader, said: “Suffolk’s beautiful coastline, towns and villages, excellent pubs and restaurants and tourist attractions are just some of the many reasons why we are very well placed to capitalise on an increase in staycations.

“Suffolk’s visitor economy is already well established and worth some £1.75 billion a year. This is set to grow to the benefit of everyone.”

Jane Galvin, managing director of corporate banking at Barclays Eastern Region, said that with domestic tourism set to be big business for the East of England, those with a clearly targeted strategy are set to benefit the most.

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