‘Suffolk’s tourism landscape will not be the same’ - industry experts speak of coronavirus consequences

Children play on Felixstowe beach Picture: MIKE BOWDEN

Children play on Felixstowe beach Picture: MIKE BOWDEN - Credit: Archant

Industry experts have predicted Suffolk’s tourism sector will ‘not be the same’ after the coronavirus lockdown - and warned many businesses could struggle to survive.

Hundreds flock to Felixstowe to enjoy the seaside when the weather is warm Picture: GREGG BROWN

Hundreds flock to Felixstowe to enjoy the seaside when the weather is warm Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Archant

Current guidelines are preventing people from leaving their homes except for essential reasons, leading to devastating effects for tourism providers all throughout the region as visitor numbers vanished overnight.

And that has led to bosses of The Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation to come up with creative methods to help the sector through the crisis.

Annie Willey, brand manager at The Suffolk Coast, said all of the organisation’s 230 tourism and hospitality members were forced to close as soon as lockdown restrictions came into force.

In response, The Suffolk Coast have begun offering free short-term memberships to businesses in the sector to ease the financial pressures they are currently under.

The tide mill in Woodbridge is usually in full swing in April Picture: GEMMA JARVIS

The tide mill in Woodbridge is usually in full swing in April Picture: GEMMA JARVIS - Credit: Archant

Other options set to be explored to maintain income include potentially extending the holiday season into later in the year and encouraging tourists to visit when it is safe.

Mrs Willey said: “The businesses had a chaotic and distressing time closing extremely quickly.

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“Easter is the first opportunity for providers to make money after eking out what they made over winter. This is a massive blow.

“Many of our businesses work to extremely narrow profit margins. They still have costs at the moment but not income.

Aldeburgh Museum is one of many attractions forced to close Picture: ALDEBURGH MUSEUM

Aldeburgh Museum is one of many attractions forced to close Picture: ALDEBURGH MUSEUM - Credit: Archant

“And when the lockdown is over, businesses will not have the capital to get going again.

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“Some businesses have also not met the criteria for government grants and fallen through the net. It’s really difficult - there’s only a finite amount of money.

“But the reality is those who work in the sector are some of the most creative and passionate people who will do what they can to keep their businesses afloat and keep paying their staff.

“The sector as a whole is incredibly resilient, but not all might survive.

“Everybody is desperate to plan ahead and hold onto their day dreams. We need hope at this time.

“We are already planning for recovery. Despite the fact that we don’t know when it will be, we must be prepared.

“We want to be ready to fly and keep Suffolk in people’s minds. There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes.

“But the tourism landscape will not be the same in Suffolk after this is over.”

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Meanwhile, Woodbridge Tide Mill Museum is celebrating its 850th anniversary throughout 2020 - but it is currently not even able to open.

Chairman John Carrington said the museum was due to open up for the season at the end of March, though the lockdown forced those plans to be scrapped.

Mr Carrington estimated the lack of visitors during the Easter period has led to an estimated shortfall of £500 due to lost museum admission receipts, flour sales and takings from the gift shop.

The tide mill costs several thousand pounds a month to service.

Mr Carrington added: “We have decided to remain closed. The Easter weekend would have been brilliant for us, it would have been really busy.

“There has been an impact in terms of income.

“Fortunately, the anniversary celebrations can effectively be held later in the year, once we’ve been given the all-clear.

“Whilst we’re in lockdown, we’re still producing things for children to do remotely. It’s all about keeping people interested for when we can reopen.

“We’ve got to preserve life and we can look forward to reopening whenever we are given the all-clear.”

And Aldeburgh Museum, which only reopened in November last year after a Heritage Lottery-funded revamp costing nearly £750,000, is another attraction currently unable to welcome visitors.

Chairman Tony Bone said the museum is “exploring other options” to maintain income, including applying for government grants.

In the meantime, the museum is trying to offer engaging services remotely - which could include launching a virtual tour.

Mr Bone said: “We have had a complete drop in income. There were a whole load of activities we were going to launch in the spring but haven’t been able to.

“We are concerned and it’s challenging.”

Lambs were born at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket over the Easter weekend, though no visitors were there to see them.

The museum is another Suffolk attraction currently without visitors, though they have been making use of the time by cataloguing their exhibitions.

Museum director Jenny Cousins said around 50 volunteers, some from as far as France and Italy, had been recruited in recent weeks to assist in the virtual project, which has been running for several years.

Ms Cousins also said it is “strange” not having visitors around the 75-acre site and was looking forward to the lockdown being lifted.

She added: “It’s sad to have lambs being born and no one there to see them.

“It is difficult to know what is coming next. We do wonder how long we can survive.

“But we have taken advantage of government funding and are pretty confident we can see this through.”

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