Holidays at home are here  to stay, says boating boss

Greg Munford, Richardson's chief executive

Greg Munford, Richardson's chief executive, doesn't see the trend for domestic holidays abating - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Holidaymakers are staying in East Anglia like never before – and it’s a trend likely to continue for the next decade, according to a tourism business boss.

Bookings in the shoulder months at Norfolk Broads-based boating holidays and holiday park venture Richardson’s Leisure are at unprecedented levels.

Chief executive Greg Munford said people who might have holidayed in the Balearic Islands or Spain or Greece came to them last year and some returned, along with a tranche of new customers.

By the time the season ends he expects there will have been about 35,000 on his boating holidays and the same numbers in the park, taking numbers visiting the Stalham and Hemsby-based operation from 60k in pre-pandemic 2019 to about 70k this year. 

He expects with the addition of Easter being open next year he will see a similar performance again next year – and he expects boating holidays to be up about 30% next year. “Basically that will flatten out because we’ll be sold out,” he said.

Hire a comfortable day boat and explore the Broads National Park at your own pace

A Richardson's Leisure boat - one of the many which UK holidaymakers took out this year when they couldn't holiday abroad - Credit: Richardson's

Bookings have been buoyed by the venture’s new platinum fleet as the £12m turnover business, which employs 230 staff, sees the fruits of its investment.

“What we have noticed is we have seen greater occupancy in the periods outside the packed school holidays,” he said.

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“It has been a huge opportunity for domestic tourism to showcase what a wonderful product we have and we are actually a very credible if not better alternative than queuing at the airport and going overseas.”

A similar trend followed the credit crunch of 2008, he recalled. “The recession really bit with the exchange rate not being very friendly people were again almost forced to look at home,” he said.

After a sluggish start in the fortnight after opening on July 4, 2020, occupancy rates really picked up. The types of holiday on offer at the site mean that families can stay in bubbles – another attraction over other types of accommodation.

“The boating holiday was probably the perfect place to come and stay and feel safe in your isolated bubble. Again the same with our holiday park.”

Although due to lockdown Easter 2021 was lost, occupancy levels over the rest of the year were considerably up on 2019.

“With the perception change to the domestic holiday people are prepared to pay more now to holiday in the UK,” he said. “We had competition before the pandemic and we’ll have competition after the pandemic, but the fact we have had that spotlight on domestic tourism for these two years and people have had a fantastic time holidaying at home what we’ll see is that a domestic holiday will become part of people’s holiday portfolio. So while they might spend their week’s holiday abroad in 2008/09 what we saw was people were choosing also one or two short breaks as part of their holiday breaks.”

Apart from a blip during the 2012 Olympics that upward trend continued up to 2019 when there was a slight dip. 2020/21 saw a rise in demand during the periods when the business’s Hemsby Beach Holiday Park was able to be open.

Mr Munford says he’s “exceptionally optimistic” about the next 10 years for his 207-strong fleet of boats and 377 park accommodation units. 

“For domestic tourism I think we are set fair for the next decade. I think there’s a real sea-change in how people want to spend their holiday time,” he said. 

“We are investing heavily in our product at Hemsby. This year alone we spent £1.3m. We have got more luxury boats coming on board.”

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