'Quality is key' - call to keep Norwich tourism industry competitive at launch of 2016 destination guide
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:26 09 March 2016
It has become one of the mainstays of the city's economy. And at the launch of the 2016 tourist guide for Norwich, Broads and tourism correspondent LAUREN COPE looks at the future of an industry said to be worth £700m to the city.
One business reaping the rewards of a growing local tourism industry is Barnes Brinkcraft, which runs day trips and holidays on the Broads.
Director Daniel Thwaites, who runs the company alongside brother Matthew and mother Jill, said 2015 was the best year on record for boat hire - and, with bookings already up 5pc this year, 2016 looked set to top it.
Bookings for the family-run company’s Broads lodges are also up 15pc on last year, with many of its customers coming from outside the region.
He put the success down to a growing lack of confidence in travelling abroad.
“People are still concerned about Calais and terrorism problems abroad and they are beginning to feel safer staying in the UK,” he said.
“Airports don’t help - the costs and the time it now takes to get through are putting people off travelling. We have had people say to us that just being able to get in the car for a few hours is much more tempting.”
The company’s boat sale and brokerage arm Norfolk Boat Sales - which, with Barnes Brinkcraft, comes under parent company Barnes Marine Units - has also seen a rise in orders.
It is a sector credited with supporting 12,000 jobs across Norwich, and worth £700m to the local economy.
But at a launch yesterday of Visit Norwich’s latest guide to the city, there was a clarion call to make sure the city raised its standards and stayed competitive in the notoriously cutthroat tourism market.
Nick Bond, head of tourism at Visit Norwich, said the sector was expected to grow this year - but bosses had to remember that “quality is key” for visitors deciding where to spend their money.
The call came just weeks after Hoseasons boss Simon Altham said the region had “got its act together” following the A11 upgrade and significant investment from operators, which was already reaping rewards for the county’s £3bn tourist industry.
Mr Bond was speaking at the launch of Visit Norwich’s 2016 destination guide, which was unveiled yesterday and - with 35,000 copies sent to tourist information centres around the country - hopes to showcase Norwich and the county to visitors.
“In all fields of discretionary spend, quality is key,” he said. “Whether it is quality retail choice or a quality food and drink offering, it is the most important thing.
“That is how we experience growth and ensure that people come to the area rather than other cities.”
Tourism in Norwich supports about 12,000 jobs and continues to grow, with expenditure rising by 14pc from 2013 to 2014, according to the latest available figures from Visit Norwich.
While Mr Bond admitted hitting the £1bn mark may be a “way off”, he said the sector was doing everything it could to push the figure higher.
“I wouldn’t want to promise too much, but what I will say is that everything is being done to up the sector’s offering,” he said. “It is about showing people how wonderful this place is and certainly the trend is upward, suggesting people like what we have here.”
Meanwhile, Chris Scargill, partner at Larking Gowen, said Norwich had been identified as a “hot spot” for short breaks, something which would help tip the Norfolk tourism total over the £3bn mark.
“Something the UK has seen over the last few years is a lot more city breaks, which at the moment are very trendy,” he said. “Of course Norwich is one of the top shopping experiences so it has become quite a focus.
“It’s also a good base for people wanting to get out and explore places like Sandringham, or the north Norfolk coast, for example.”
The launch of the guide - which highlights attractions, accommodation and eateries in Norwich, the Norfolk Broads and the wider countryside - comes during English Tourism Week, which celebrates the country’s £106bn industry.
It will be branded Norwich, The City of Stories, inspired by a Visit Norwich and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) campaign launched in 2014.
The 12-week campaign encouraged people to share its stories with a weekly theme.
Mr Bond said: “As England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, the Norwich, City of Stories brand differentiates the city from other destinations - Norwich has an extraordinarily good set of stories to tell, it informs those who are not familiar with the city and allows us to challenge the perceptions of those who think they know it.”
During the launch, held at the Maid’s Head Hotel in Norwich, Anna McCarthy of Norfolk Museums Service said a national move towards domestic breaks had been reflected in record-breaking figures at Norwich Castle.
“We are seeing a lot more people from around the country, rather than just Norfolk and Suffolk,” she said. “We have just had our busiest ever February half term, with 14,000 visitors over the week, and our best ever day, where 2,200 people visited.”
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What does the guide include?
Norwich is known for its shopping experience, with 40pc of its shops unique to the city. The guide picks out the independent offerings of the Lanes, while Jarrold, Castle Mall, Chapelfield and the Cathedral Quarter also get a nod.
Built more than 900 years ago, the guide recommends a visit to the stunning cathedral and a walk along Cathedral Close, as well as a trip to the gothic Cathedral of St John the Baptist.
3. Norfolk and Norwich Festival
The well-known festival takes over the city for 16 days in May. A highlight of Norwich’s social calendar, it features more than 100 performances.
4. Food and drink
The city’s expanding food and drink scene gets a mention, with the riverside Ribs of Beef on Wensum Street and popular Grosvenor Fish Bar on Lower Goat Lane making the top five food and drink favourites.
5. Wider Norfolk
Well-known names including Africa Alive, Banham Zoo, Bewilderwood and Bure Valley Railway are listed as top attractions, while the market towns of south Norfolk, including Wymondham and Loddon, are recommended as day trips.
For more information, visit www.visitnorwich.co.uk