Can East Anglia create a new golden age for its tourist industry?

The Covid Tourism Action Plan will set out how to manage the influx of millions of visitors each yea

The domestic tourism industry could be heading for a golden age, bringing visitors to resorts such as Southwold - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Whisper it gently, but there are real signs the new normal we've been waiting for after the Covid nightmare is starting to emerge - and it might be time to allow ourselves to be a bit more optimistic about the future.

And among those businesses that should be more optimistic is the tourist industry - and in this part of the world, that could be very good news for the tens of thousands of businesses and the families they support.

I can't help feeling that domestic tourism is going to remain much more popular with more families for years to come, as the sheer hassle of trying to go abroad becomes too much for an increasing number of people.

I have to declare an interest here - I've always been someone who likes going on holiday in the UK (and I still refuse to use the S-word unless I'm actually staying in my own home during the holiday period!).

But increasingly more people seem to following this lead and turning their back on the idea of a foreign holiday, because of the sheer hassle of trying to go abroad with PCR tests - as well as the constant uncertainty of whether the country you're planning to fly to will be on the red, green or amber list by the time you want to go (not to mention come back from!).

And there are other factors at play too.

I've heard several people say they're relieved they're not in southern Europe, because the prospect of being stuck somewhere with temperatures in the mid-40Cs is too terrible to contemplate.

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We might like to moan about the British climate, but few of us want to end up with heatstroke or being forced to stay in our air-conditioned hotel room for an entire holiday in Spain or Italy!

All of that poses a huge challenge for package holiday companies and airlines from BA to Ryanair - but for domestic tourism, it could be the start of a new golden age.

What is significant this year is that our holiday businesses are already seeing an uptick in bookings for next year

There are clearly a number of factors in that - and while the problems with the foreign travel industry are important, the attraction of domestic holidays is also significant.

This might not have been a record-breaking summer in terms of sunshine, but there has certainly been a lot of "useable" weather encouraging holidaymakers to visit tourist destinations. 

Zoos, theme parks and other attractions often do better if it isn't scorching hot and the weather isn't dragging everyone to the beach. And the same goes for the country towns that attract visitors.

When we booked a holiday in the south of England for next summer, we noticed there were more bookings - especially for July and August - than we expected. It seems the same is happening in East Anglia.

And we have to look at the region as a whole when talking about holiday destinations.

A family staying in Constable Country won't worry which side of the River Stour they're visiting. Similarly, holidaymakers staying near Lowestoft aren't going to be put off paying a visit to Wroxham because it's the wrong side of the county boundary.

And Banksy's visit to east coast resorts has been a real boost for the whole area - and especially the City of Culture bid by Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

Banksy at Lowestoft

Banksy's recent 'spraycation' has been a big boost for the east coast - Credit: Danielle Booden

The trick, of course, is finding enough staff - and finding enough accommodation, without making it impossible for the local people you need to work in the industry to find enough homes.

We've already heard that in some parts of Suffolk, homes being converted to holiday accommodation is putting pressure on the rental sector.

Given the wages in the tourism industry, many staff tend to rely more on the rental rather than the owner-occupier model.

And the tourism industry - like other sectors of the local economy - is still coming to terms with the changes after Brexit.

This means there is not a potentially limitless pool of seasonal workers from Europe that many businesses had come to rely on over recent years.

But while there are challenges, overall the prospects for the UK tourism industry really do look sunny for the next few years.

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