Bumper season in store as Broads bookings soar

Broads hire boat firms are looking forward to another 'staycation' summer, with one leading company reporting bookings 15-20pc up on last season.

With the recent spring sunshine, firms are also reporting an early start to the season with a record number of last-minute bookings over the weekend.

Sam Lowe, yard manager at Barnes Brinkcraft in Wroxham, said: 'We are at least two weeks up on the number of bookings for our cruisers compared with 2010 – equating to a 15-20pc increase – so it is looking like a bumper year.

'With last-minute bookings prompted by the fantastic weather we have been nearly fully booked this week, and day boats have been in such demand that I got complaints that I had understaffed the yard at the weekend.

'Another encouraging trend is that we are seeing the number of boats being taken out in May, June, September and October increasing.'

Mr Lowe said confidence in the future was shown by the fact his firm had invested nearly �300,000 in two new luxury boats for this season.

Barbara Greasley, a director of Norfolk Broads Direct, also based in Wroxham, said the company's bookings were considerably up on last year and there was tremendous demand for the seven new boats it had introduced to the fleet for this season.

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'The new boats take five-star to another level. One of the most sought after has been Fair Princess, a boat with a hybrid electric/diesel engine that we launched at the end of last season,' she said.

Mrs Greasley said their confidence was shown by the fact they were into the second year of a �3.5m investment programme, buying and refurbishing new boat sheds and increasing mooring capacity as well as increasing their fleet from 47 to 60 boats.

Matthew Thwaites, vice-chairman of the Broads Hireboat Federation, said: 'The story is the same around all the companies I talk to. Everyone is noticeably up.

'The strong euro is putting people off going abroad, but I think the improvement in the standard of the boats is a major factor too.'

Bruce Hanson, head of tourism at the Broads Authority, said: 'When people changed their holiday habits as a result of the recession in 2009 lots of new people chose to try out the Broads.

'Signs are they liked what they saw, they told their friends, and they are all coming back.'

He highlighted the work the Broads Authority and Broads Tourism had done rebranding the area Britain's Magical Waterland and the Authority's progress in improving moorings, and raising the quality of the eating out experience through its pioneering Broads Quality Charter accreditation scheme which has now been rolled out nationwide.

stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk

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