Can Suffolk's tourist industry hang on to new customers?

Stoke by Nayland Hotel

Stoke by Nayland Hotel and Golf centre - Credit: Judah Passow

Britain's hospitality industry is facing up to a challenging 2022 as the the country emerges from Covid restrictions - but at one of Suffolk's biggest resort centres they are confident about the future.

The Boxford Group, which runs the Stoke by Nayland Resort and golf centre, is backing the hospitality industry's call for VAT to continue to be levied at 12.5% as it recovers from the lockdowns of the last two years.

But group commercial director Peter Osborne said the prospects for the year ahead did look promising for his business.

Group Commercial Director of the Boxford group, Peter Osborne.

Group Commercial Director of the Boxford group Peter Osborne. - Credit: SbN Resort

He said: "The last two years have been quite extraordinary and the whole industry has had to adapt to new ways of working.

"Last year the demand was very high because of all the difficulties and uncertainties associated with going on foreign holidays  - but we invested and now that people are able to travel again I think we are going to more than hold our own."

The industry had faced huge challenges at the start in trying to ensure premises were safe: "The amount of work that was done to make premises Covid-secure was very significant and was one of the reasons the government reduced VAT rates for the industry.

"We have now reached the stage where hospitality venues are some of the safest places you will find anywhere."

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Another challenge that is facing the industry is inflation with rising prices - and Mr Osborne believes this is another reason why businesses need to evolve.

He said: "I think people understand that prices are going up - you only have to look at the cost of basic groceries - but they do want to see something new or a bit different if they're being asked to pay a bit more."

The resort has invested in new facilities at its hotel and holiday lodges - and Mr Osborne hoped to retain some of the new business it won over the last two years.

Orchard Terrace

The new Orchard Terrace at the Stoke by Nayland resort. - Credit: Stoke by Nayland resort

He said: "Golf has become much more popular as people were keen to get out and enjoy the countryside. And we have also seen an increase in the number of people taking golfing breaks with us - that has been big business on foreign courses but now we are starting to attract those golfers too."

The UK holiday business has seen increased demand over the last two years - and many businesses have reported repeat bookings for this year even though the foreign holiday market is opening up again.

Mr Osborne said for many the simplicity of a UK break was welcome: "People look at cheap flights, but then you have to pay to leave your car at the airport, it takes some time to go through all the security and customs. With UK breaks you don't have that."

Lakes Restaurant

The Lakes Restaurant at Stoke by Nayland has been given a new modern look. - Credit: Stoke by Nayland resort

He was speaking as trade group UKHospitality outlined the impact that the two years of the pandemic and different phases of lockdown had had on the industry.

It estimates the total loss of business to the sector was £115bn - the equivalent of 43% and 45 full weeks of sales since March 2020.

As costs rise UKHospitality is urging the Government to continue to keep VAT at its current level of 12.5% - before the pandemic it was charged at 20%.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “These figures lay bare the utter devastation that two years of this terrible pandemic has wreaked on the third largest private sector employer in the UK, with thousands of businesses closed, many on the brink of collapse, and countless jobs lost.

"The last thing operators need – and which a lot of them simply wouldn’t survive - is a VAT increase.

"Businesses big and small have been left with depleted cash reserves and crippling debt as Covid loans as well as contending with a gaping hole of 400,000 job vacancies, as more than 80% of hospitality businesses report they have roles to fill.

“But two years on, and with all restrictions about to end, there are signs of hope and recovery. With government support, hospitality – which is full of energetic, creative and entrepreneurial people – must be at the vanguard of the UK’s wider post-pandemic recovery."