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2017: A mixed year for Norfolk and Suffolk tourism

PUBLISHED: 16:38 20 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:38 20 December 2017

Larking Gowen's Tourism Business Survey 2017. Photo: Larking Gowen.

Larking Gowen's Tourism Business Survey 2017. Photo: Larking Gowen.

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For a number of reasons 2017 will prove to have been a mixed year for the tourism and leisure sector in our region, says Chris Scargill, a partner in Larking Gowen, chartered accountants and business advisors.

Chris Scargill. Photo: Sylvaine PoitauChris Scargill. Photo: Sylvaine Poitau

For a few years now, while overall the value of tourism and leisure to Norfolk and Suffolk has been on the up, some businesses and some locations have not shared the success and ultimately struggled.

I believe 2017 will again be seen as a year of further growth, but maybe not to the extent of previous years.

Our decisions on how to use our leisure time and, importantly, spend on our holidays and leisure is still very much being left to the last minute, and we are sensitive to what events are taking place at the time. Whether it is political observations, current events or indeed simply pessimism about what the weather has to offer, the businesses in the tourism and leisure sector are at the mercy of what is ultimately our discretionary spend.

As Norfolk and Suffolk have become busier, our actions have changed with a little more forward planning. Advanced bookings have seen an increase for holiday cottages and Broads hire fleets, but for hoteliers and day boat hire the trend is still more last minute.

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Each year, businesses across the region take part in our Tourism and Leisure Business Survey. Results from this year’s survey, which was carried out in January 2017, showed that 21pc of businesses felt less optimistic about the future. This is an increase on previous survey results and the highest percentage we have seen in many years.

And although 24pc of businesses said they felt more optimistic about the future, this figure was lower compared to results seen in previous years.

Our summer “snapshot” survey indicated that the vast majority of businesses had performed better over the summer of 2017 than during the same period in 2016. This was great news as it highlighted that visitors to our region are not so worried about the weather.

We should not forget that 2017 brought a heat wave in June, a very wet July and ultimately an indifferent August. For some businesses, though, the boost the sector had seen in the spring ultimately protected them from the decline due to the weather (approximately one in four businesses saying their activity had decreased due to the weather in July and August).

But, overall, tourism in Norfolk and Suffolk was better – as always there were some winners and some losers. Worries about safety aspects abroad combined with the fiasco of cancelled flights by one of the major budget airlines, as well as problems following the collapse of one of its UK competitors will have enhanced the appeal of staying in the UK for our next holiday.

Our region therefore needs to work hard to ensure that what we have to offer is visible to all.

Investment remains key and plays an important role in bringing greater visitor numbers to our region. Our 2017 survey indicated 11pc of businesses planned to extend their premises, while 58pc planned site improvements and refurbishment. There has not just been organic investment, but new money has come to the market, as well.

The fall in the value of the pound has led to a spate of acquisitions by larger international organisations. which have followed up with substantial investment, ultimately improving what we already had to offer. This again can only be good for our region.

The importance of the Norfolk and Suffolk tourism and leisure sector to our general economy should not be overlooked.

Tourism doesn’t just happen. It currently generates some £5bn of value to these two counties and is responsible for more than 100,000 jobs. We need to believe in our tourism offering, support it and not take it for granted.

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