ANALYSIS: Picnics and late bookings among this summer’s trends for tourism in Norfolk and Suffolk
The summer holiday season ended this week, but how did our tourism businesses fare?
Signs are that, after a good start in the early part of the season – buoyed by the Royal Wedding and some good weather – many have found it tougher going later on, with the weather playing a part.
Many of the trends which are starting to emerge began to be highlighted in the EDP/Larking Gowen Tourism survey – a fall in so-called 'secondary spending' on food drink and other items once visitors have actually arrived, and signs that rising fuel costs have cut the journey times holiday makers are prepared to make as they seek to keep the costs of their getaways down.
This month saw the formation of a new business-led group, Visit East Anglia, which aimed to help promote the tourism industry across Norfolk and Suffolk with an offer of better and more co-ordinated marketing for both counties. Next year's Olympic Games has the potential to give a real boost to the industry locally.
But that is all to come, and as the season comes to an end, what has this summer been like for tourism businesses in this area?
Jo Arthurton, marketing manager at Bewilderwood, said it had been a tough summer, but the Hoveton-based attraction had held its own while there was a large increase in the number of people buying passes so that they could have repeat visits.
She said the firm was hoping for a 5pc increase on the 160,000 visitors who came last year.
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'It's been a difficult summer for us, but I think it's been difficult for everyone. Mainly it's because of the weather. But although it's been difficult we are actually up percentage-wise compared to last year. We are quite pleased with how it's gone because it could have been a lot worse. With the economic climate the way it is, we wanted to make sure we did well.
'We have added a lot more entertainment on the site this year and that has served us well. In general, people are still willing to spend money – they just want to make sure they get value for money.
'Our annual pass sales are up 86pc compared to last year.
'We've been been doing exit polls throughout the summer holidays which have shown us that the majority of visitors are holidaymakers who haven't been before. That shows us that our leafleting is doing its job.'
Mark Noble, commercial manager at Pensthorpe Nature Reserves and Gardens said: 'We run our visitor year from January to December and certainly for the first five months we had incredibly good figures with a fantastic Easter.
'Up to the summer months it was quieter but from the summer holidays we had a lot of visitors coming from the Midlands and North Norfolk which is linked to the boom in camping and caravanning of the last couple of years.
'June and July have been a little bit more taxing, but we have also introduced a host of family activities around the school holidays.
'We have noticed a lot more people are picnicking and it's the teas and ice-creams which are selling in the shops. But that seems to be reflected throughout the industry – there just isn't the secondary spend.'
Denise Thompson, spokesman for Pleasurewood Hills, based at Corton near Lowestoft, said: 'We had a brilliant start to the season, which was absolutely fantastic up until the start of July. But from the middle of July to the end of August we saw numbers dip. We're also finding more and more people are bringing picnics and there are more holidaymakers than local people.
'We saw a decline in visitor numbers. The weather didn't help at all because if the sun shines people are more inclined to come. We think it's to do with lack of funds and with utility and fuel bills going up, people cannot always afford it.'
Barbara Greasley, chairman of Broads Tourism, said: 'After a fantastic Easter, trade has been up and down. It's been reasonable but not great and for the first time we are seeing people cutting back. People are still visiting places but rather than going to the restaurants they are bringing their own food.'
Dominic Hughes, finance director at Strattons Hotel, in Swaffham, said: 'In general it was quite a slow start and it wasn't until we got to Easter that the holiday makers came out.
'The summer has been strong for us right from the start of July whereas in years since the credit crunch it had tended to be hit and miss in August.
'We have seen a lot more families with children and the good thing about that their stay is usually three to four nights.
'The secondary spend has also been pretty good – once we have got them, they are spending. Occupancy is up 3pc on last year and has been around 70pc and whereas last year we had massive peaks and troughs, this year has been more gradual.
'The lead time for bookings is still shorter. In the past we would have had a six week lead time whereas now it's more like seven days. That means you can look at the next weekend and think 'it's not that busy' and then find you are fully booked.
'It's a combination of the weather and the consumers taking out the element of risk over cancellations. They are just booking when they know they are definitely going to go.'
Pali Badwal, operating director of Hoseasons, Lowestoft, said: 'What we have seen is people booking far closer to their departure date – that's a trend that's been exaggerated this year. I think that's down to a number of factors.
'Because of the economic uncertainty people are looking at their cash flow and their own personal budgets and searching around and making sure they are getting value for money.
'That's at all levels, whether it's somebody coming for three nights or someone staying for seven days in a lodge.
'What also seems to be happening is that drive-time to destinations has reduced. Historically for a short break people are looking at a two-hour drive time, and a four-hour drive time for a longer break.
'But that has come down. We are looking at whether that has been an effect of the increases in fuel costs, which has added to an overall cost of a holiday, but it's too early to say whether it's locals staying closer.'
Richard Ellis, chairman of Visit East Anglia and founder of Norfolk Country Cottages, said: 'The general story is that it has been ok.
'We are seeing significant numbers of people who haven't holidayed in Norfolk before or for a long-time
Chris Scargill, Tourism and Leisure Partner at Larking Gowen Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, said: 'I think it's been fairly good, but that is going to be very subjective.
'At the start of the year people were performing better than they expected linked around the feelgood factor of the Royal Wedding and some fantastic weather. Then it started to slow down.
'The secondary spend is down and I think those businesses competing for that spend once visitors are here are finding it quite challenging. The numbers of visitors seems to have been maintained but the trend has been, as the summer has progressed, to more late/last minute bookings. Linked to this has also been a potential reduction in the secondary spend of the visitors so effectively we are seeing them sticking more rigidly to budgets than may have been the case previously.'