Will customers have the confidence to return to tourism businesses?

Chris Scargill (inset) hosted the webinar on East Anglia's tourism sector. Picture: Archant/LarkingG

Chris Scargill (inset) hosted the webinar on East Anglia's tourism sector. Picture: Archant/LarkingGowen - Credit: Archant/LarkingGowen

As Norfolk and Suffolk’s tourism economy gears up to reopen for summer leaders in the sector have made their predictions about when customers will return.

In a webinar hosted by MHA Larking Gowen businesses reported that they expected to see the vast majority of staff back within a month of reopening.

But starting mid-way through the season and with another winter looming many say more support is needed.

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The webinar, which was chaired by tourism, leisure and hospitality partner Chris Scargill saw Ruth Knight, director Norfolk Broads Direct and Waveney River centre, Andrew Barnes, chief executive of Bure Valley Railway, Andy Woods, Adnams chief executive and Philip Turner, founder and managing director of Chestnut join as panellists.

Mr Woods began by outlining the position of Southwold-based brewer and pub group Adnams: “80pc of our turnover disappeared overnight. We have had the benefit of being a more diverse business so have our operating and online sales which are up 50pc. However for some of this we are dealing with supermarkets which has major implications for margins.”

Elsewhere the Chestnut group have predicted that 95pc of their customers will return within the first four weeks.

And it’s not just the customers that are excited to get back to tourism destinations.

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“Staff have been really keen to get back to work and we’re trying not to overload them,” said Ms Knight.

“We’re really pleased with how they’ve handled it. We’ve been fully booked in what we’ve offered – our phones have been ringing constantly with customers wanting to get on the water.”

The panel all agreed that heading into winter government may need to support the sector further or risk losing businesses and skills.

Mr Barnes said: “We have highly skilled very specialist staff and if we don’t retain them we won’t be the business we once were. We have a mix of younger members and older members of staff and the younger ones want to learn from the more experienced. For the leisure and hospitality sector young people are critical to safeguarding specialist skills.”

Mr Woods added: “Tourism is not a sector that’s enjoyed lots of government support. I think there’s a strong case to go to government and ask for support. Some of this is in our hands though and we need to think about not only this year but coming years – there’s an opportunity to have people stay on a more sustained basis.”

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