Festivals set to drive ‘tide of tourism’ to region

Festival goer upside down with wellies in the air

Next year's festivals planned for East Anglia should provide a welcome economic boost to the region - Credit: PA

Welly boots are set to make a welcome return to outdoor venues across East Anglia next year — as strong ticket sales suggest festivals and live events are as popular as ever post-pandemic.

The return of the Latitude Festival at Henham Park, near Southwold, this year as a “test” event to see how gatherings could resume successfully proved a huge hit, with festival goers eager to experience a live event once again after many months of feeling life was on hold. 

Next year will see the welcome revival of a host of other popular festivals, shows, concerts and themed gatherings both large and small which will not have been staged in three years. There is also the tantalising prospect of new ones to join them.

The events revival holds out the hope of a huge economic boost for the region as pent-up demand drives higher ticket sales. 

One of the biggest will be the Latitude Festival which returns to Henham Park on July 21 to 24 next year. 

Way back in 2011, an economic impact study of the event – which comprises a rich cultural mix of theatre, art, comedy, cabaret, poetry and politics — was estimated at £12m. Since then the festival has become much bigger and more popular, and anecdotally, it appears that many festival goers this year also chose to holiday in East Anglia, staying in local accommodation and visiting the sites while sandwiching in their festival treat.

That meant a knock-on effect for the visitor economy, including bed and breakfasts and hotels, local shops and attractions, and tourism supply chains.

Most Read

Around 40,000 attended Latitude this year, and demand was huge, say organisers, as it was the first major festival to take place in the UK. Saturday day tickets sold out, and signs are that next year will be equally successful. Sales for 2022 are “buoyant”, a spokeswoman said.

The upbeat signs will be music to the ears of those involved in the festival industry. 

Its workers have been decimated by the pandemic. With events universally cancelled many suppliers and technicians had to look elsewhere. Many, said Mike Wilson, founder of the East Anglian Festival Network (EAFN), turned to the TV and film industry which was able to keep going through the crisis.

Mike Wilson of EAFN on his walkie-talkie

Mike Wilson, founder of the East Anglian Festival Network (EAFN) says the festival industry was badly hit and many workers here turned to TV and film production instead - Credit: Andrew Moore

The EAFN continued to hold its monthly meetings through the pandemic via Zoom and Mike admitted that at one stage the picture was quite bleak. “It was very depressing for a few months,” he said. All he could offer was advice on where to go for support to tide them over — but even this was hard as at first the industry seemed to fall through the cracks when it came to government support.

“It’s just hidden,” he explained. However, it did eventually make it into the vital SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) of economic activities code and help started to filter through. However, many in the sector are still hanging on “by the skin of our teeth”, he said.

“We lost a lot of our industry to the film industry and they are never going to come back,” he said. Performers have also been lost — another casualty of the pandemic fallout. However, recovery is happening, he said.

But there is a long road ahead. It is estimated the UK events industry lost £57bn of its £70bn pre-pandemic value. The Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), whose members include tourism agency VisitBritain and the Events Industry Alliance, reported a 95% drop in events across the UK as a result of the pandemic. This resulted in a 17% reduction in the size of the sector and the loss of 126,000 jobs, it concluded.
However, Mike remains upbeat.

“In 2019 we had over 700 events in the four counties. This year we have had over 400 and that’s in a much tighter timeframe.” Some of these had to operate with reduced numbers and sometimes at a loss, he said.

But he added: “2022 is going to be a huge year for us. Already festivals are selling out.”  

Those in the regional industry are doing “an amazing job”, he said. “Our industry is very adaptable and festivals will take place and most of them will be back and there will be new ones. People will come back to the industry.” 

Overall, the EAFN estimates that the festival industry is worth £2bn to the local economy and more than £20m to charities and local causes so the impact of its return will be considerable.

Mike has attended seven or eight festivals this year and expects a far fuller calendar in 2022. “Every single one was amazing. People were just glad to be out and back,” he said. “People loved it. You can tell by the take up of tickets not just in this region but nationally. Tickets are selling out. People are just wanting to get back out there.”

Among the many festival highlights for next year will be some new ones — Wide Skies and Butterflies will take place at Raynham Estate, near Fakenham, on August 5 to 7 next year and the Rhythm Sans Frontieres festival, with a mixture of musical genres at Euston Park near Thetford from July 1 to 3.

Asa Morrison, executive director of Visit Great Yarmouth, said his organisation was currently looking at which out of 20 event project applications which are in the pipeline for next year to support. Live events provided a “huge opportunity” with potentially big returns for the economy.

Asa Morrison, executive director of Visit Great Yarmouth

Asa Morrison, executive director of Visit Great Yarmouth, says festivals provide a welcome boost to the town's economy - Credit: Visit Great Yarmouth

A Fire and Water event in the town which has just ended sold out halfway through, he said. “That’s 30,000 tickets gone.” Running in November, it was clearly an off-season experiment, but if Covid behaves, he hopes to build on such successes next year.

Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East of England, said: “Festivals and events are a great way to build the year-round visitor economy and spread demand seasonally and geographically. We’re building towards a 12 month calendar which will help drive the overall tide of tourism towards the high water mark of summer.”