Suffolk: Tough start to season for county’s tourism sector

TOURISM businesses in Suffolk remain positive despite a difficult start to the 2012 season, according to a new figures from the sector.

Visit Suffolk’s latest Business Confidence Monitor survey, conducted during May, found that two thirds (67%) of tourism-related businesses in the county have seen lower visitor numbers so far compared with the same stage last year.

Price competition was identified as the dominant factor affecting turnover, reflecting the continuing pressure on consumer spending amid the UK’s return to recession, but the weather was also cited as an issue following a rain-lashed April.

However, the study shows that tourism businesses are working hard to win and retain trade, with four out of five (82%) making site improvements and nearly two thirds (63%) increasing their PR and marketing spend.

As a result, nearly half (45%) are expecting their performance for 2012 as a whole to be about the same as last year, and nearly three quarters (73%) expect their visitors numbers either to remain stable or to increase in the run-up to the Olympic games.

Amanda Bond, brand manager for Visit Suffolk, said yesterday: “It’s certainly been a challenging start to the year for the tourism industry.

“Take for example Easter in April; average temperatures were lower than the last three years plus there was more rain and less sun.

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“However, it’s clear to see that the industry spots the great potential in Suffolk for the forthcoming Olympics on account of our proximity to London and superb offering for those looking to stay outside the capital – that, or escape the Olympics rush altogether!”

She added: “We also feel that there is great opportunity in 2012 compared to other years,” she added. “Consumers are booking trips later than normal and being more impulsive when deciding to book a getaway, thus presenting opportunities to attract customers right up until the games”.

One business which says it has bucked the downward trend so far this year is holiday lettings firm Suffolk Secrets.

“I am delighted to say that despite difficult economic decisions, Suffolk Secrets is seeing an increase in demand for its holiday cottages this year compared with 2011,” said general manager Alex Paul.

“Certainly we are noticing that customers are taking much more time in deciding their cottage, reviewing different properties and prices and often booking very late. However demand for Suffolk seems strong and demand for our self-catering cottages which can adapt to all budgets – high and low – is rising.”

James Berresford, chief executive of Visit England, said: “These results in Suffolk mirror the feeling nationwide as the majority of operators are feeling confident for the late spring and early summer months.

“This year will be like no other. With so much going on it’s a fantastic opportunity to get out and discover the destination on your doorstep and take a holiday at home this year.”