Suffolk: Tourism campaign to boost ‘cool’ county

COULD Suffolk be “cool”? Leading figures certainly believe so. It’s cool, and even, according to the experts, curious.

Around 200 of East Anglia’s top tourism entrepreneurs, gathered at Ipswich Waterfront last week, were given a glimpse of a new marketing campaign, due to be launched in 2013, which promotes Suffolk as the “Curious County”.

“The Curious County is probably the most exciting, eccentric and innovative way we’ve ever decided to promote tourism in Suffolk ,” explained Visit Suffolk brand manager Amanda Bond.

A rising sun logo above the waves promotes its geographic status as the most easterly county, while a series of colourful and eccentric cartoon figures float whimsically within familiar landscapes, suggesting that beneath the broad East Anglian skies, our imaginations can take flight.

And for the more earth-bound among us, there is the “cool” factor. Yes, you read it here first: we’re cool. And we’re not talking here about the exceptionally poor weather this summer.

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It’s even, according to Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, “edgy” as well.

Delegates at the Visit East Anglia event were given a clear message, though: while the counties do have plenty of natural attributes, it’s now up to businesses as a group to start promoting them.

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With the demise of East of England Tourism and of the East of England Development Agency, the more laid-back approach to tourism promotion, leaving the public sector to take the lead, is no longer an option, delegates heard.

Visit East Anglia, a private sector-led body started up by a group of tourism businesses, has two or three years to make an impact, they were told. It has a shoestring budget, helped by local authority grant aid, and these cash-strapped local authories would be looking for results.

All of this will require the counties’ tourist industry to get behind the aims of Visit East Anglia, which is urging businesses to make a little go a long way by using social media and the new opportunities opened up to it by the internet to market the region.

The setting for last Thursday’s first Visit East Anglia conference could not have been more symbolic: the beautiful DanceEast Studios set on the stunning, but as yet unfinished, Ipswich Waterfront. The Waterfront was hit by the recession, and is now a patchwork of finished, unfinished, and as yet unstarted building projects. Yet already, it has proved a tourism draw, and those who have visited it are impressed.

The conference focused on how to keep the region in the spotlight, and encouraging businesses to network and share ideas on marketing the region.

In the lead-up to the day, Visit East Anglia chief executive Keith Brown said it would be the first high profile tourism event the region had seen, and “a great opportunity” for tourism businesses to meet and question some of the sector’s major players helping shape the future of tourism in the region.

DanceEast’s artistic director Assis Carreiro, the powerhouse behind Ipswich’s successful bid to become a centre for dance, introduced the conference. Among the speakers were Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, and Visit East Anglia chairman Richard Ellis.

Mr Gummer told businesses that they needed to get behind Visit East Anglia, and support efforts to market the counties over the next two or three years.

“Business people have got to make this work in the next year or if they don’t make it work, local authorities will have to find a different way of doing it,” he said.

Suffolk needed to be “more brazen” about its assets, he added.

“I don’t think we are bold and vulgar enough about talking about them,” he said. “We are really lucky.

“We don’t have to create a brand for ourselves. We have already got a very cool, edgy brand for those who know Suffolk.”

In the afternoon, Pete Letanka and St Pancras primary in Ipswich got the second half off with a swing with a musical interlude which displayed the impressive artistic talent now coming up through our schools.

Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams and chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) explained why tourism matters to the region’s economy.

Karen Plumb, senior sales director at review website Tripadvisor, told tourism venues that they shouldn’t be afraid of reviews, and that positive reviews far outweigh negative ones.

She explained how buying in to the concept, and embracing online and social media potential, was paying dividends for those businesses.

Benn Tagg, managing director of New Vision Group, leaders in tourism technology, followed up the theme, and talked about his e-tourism platform and how it was helping businesses to develop.

Claire Martinsen, founder of “posh pops” company Breckland Orchard, explained how she had been able to use social and new media to good, practical effect in promoting her business.

Tourism bosses at the event were surprisingly upbeat, in spite of a disappointing summer season recorded recently by Visit East Anglia following an online survey. The Olympics and the wet weather were blamed for the decline in fortunes.

Despite this, one of the 200 delegates, Suffolk restaurateur Regis Crepy, said his turnover had gone up in the last year. However, tourism businesses are having to work hard for that kind of success, he indicated.

“I’m touching wood. We do a lot of marketing and making sure we are giving the right product to the right people,” he said.

“Not only price is important, but also what they get for the price.”

The tourism industry is being held up by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the business community as one of the sectors, alongside energy, which is expected to lift the region out of recession. Visit East Anglia is planning to play a key role in this. Mr Brown said that with the support of Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council from October 1, and train operating company Greater Anglia, Visit East Anglia turnover this year was half a million pounds. Next year, Visit East Anglia was looking to increase that by 20%, but turnover was not the primary motivating factor for the not-for-profit organisation, he said.

“Our priority is not necessarily to build our turnover, it’s about building activity to drive activity for East Anglian businesses.”

But hotelier Robert Gough, one of the original 10 to launch Visit East Anglia a year ago and owner of the Salthouse Harbour Hotel on Ipswich Waterfront, warned that businesses should not have unrealistic expectations of the type of services that the tourism body is capable of delivering, with its limited staff numbers.

“It’s lean, mean and keen,” he told delegates. “I think hopefully if you understand that that there are four people (staff members), it’s really impressive the amount of work they are doing.”

Ms Bond added: “We do as much as we can with the resources we have.”

She said it was important that she had input from the private sector and local authorities.

“What we are not is a traditional tourist board,” she said. “We are marketing body to raise the profile of Suffolk.”

Dr Wood believes the East Anglia “brand”, and the natural and built assets it can market, will be key elements in expanding its already important tourism base.

“We are talking about the brand of Suffolk and of Norfolk, and they can be really cool and we really need to believe in ourselves around that,” he said.

With much diminished public sector money, it was important for individual tourism businesses to get on board in promoting it, he said.

“We don’t talk about being public sector or private sector – we talk about the issues and how we can advance economic progress.”

But it was an uphill struggle making the powers-that-be aware of what the area had to offer, he admitted.

“There’s a dearth of knowledge about this area in Westminster, and, indeed, in Europe,” he said.

The LEP was acting as a catalyst to bring groups together, but the Government did not have a lot of money to throw at projects, he said.

“It’s clear that the recovery is going to be private sector led, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“Quite frankly you people here today represent one of the most important sectors, not only in Norfolk and Suffolk, but also in the whole of the UK. Across Norfolk and Suffolk we have something like 74,000 jobs and it contributes �4.5billion to the counties. So it’s absolutely vital. We can perhaps put another �250million, perhaps �5m on that number. It’s one of the most important sectors.

“Tourism is our brand in many respects. It’s our opportunity to market Norfolk and Suffolk to the rest of the world. I really do believe we have got the potential to have one of the collest brands, if not the coolest, in the UK.”

Helping with the marketing of the brand and supporting those involved in its promotion was enlightened self interest in many respects, he said, and was something Adnams had been involved in in Southwold.

“I have been absolutely overwhelmed by private sector and public sector willingness to get involved,” he added.

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