Year-round offering will be ‘key’ for region’s tourism businesses

A young stag standing proud in front of Holkham Hall. Picture: Martin Sizeland

A young stag standing proud in front of Holkham Hall as tourism chiefs ask businesses to look to attract visitors beyond the peak Easter and summer months - Credit: Martin Sizeland

Tourism must shake off its image as a part-time summer jobs employer, says a regional tourism chief.

Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East of England, says the industry needs to demonstrate “longevity and commitment” and create year-round offers to entice workers — as much as visitors.

“We do have both staff and skills shortages in hospitality,” he admitted. “We have to change the perspective that it’s low skilled and seasonal. We will continue to have a problem until we turn it into a year-round offer.”

According to Visit East of England, the region’s visitor economy is worth £10bn a year. Norfolk’s 2019 “Volume and Value” figure – which uses what’s called the Cambridge Model to decide its total worth – was £3.4bn. Suffolk’s was worth £2.14bn, Essex is £3bn and Cambridgeshire £2bn.

According to a Covid-19 – Online Consumer Sentiment Survey published in March this year by the private sector-led organisation – whose role is to promote the region’s visitor economy – top reasons for coming to Suffolk and Norfolk were its good beaches, that it was easy to get to, had lots of space to avoid crowds and good food and drink and places to stay.

Visit East of England executive director Peter Waters.

Visit East of England executive director Peter Waters - Credit: Keiron Tovell

Top destinations were the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts, followed by Great Yarmouth, Cromer and the Broads National Park. Now Mr Waters wants to see businesses expand their offer to enable visitors to enjoy them over more than just the summer – helping them to attract staff.

“People see it as a part-time summer job. There is a lot more opportunity in the sector than just serving tables or working in a kitchen and we need to convince youngsters and their parents there are actually long-term careers in the sector,” he said.

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He cited the example of Holkham Hall, which was at one time a seasonal attraction but had broadened its appeal to become year-round by creating a wide offer which includes a children’s area, a museum, a range of restaurants and cafes and events including Christmas shows.

Worker shortages in some parts of the sector was due to the end of the Eastern European economic migration – and the fact house prices in many coastal areas are out of the reach of many as well as transport and infrastructure issues, he said.

But on the plus side, tourism businesses are now able to assess the staffing they need more accurately, thanks to online booking systems introduced during the pandemic. Mr Waters predicted that as a result, zero hours contracts would be used less frequently in the sector in future.