Norwich 'has to look and feel open' to attract people for staycations
- Credit: Antony Kelly
Accommodation providers have said the success of tourism in Norwich this year will depend on how open the city is, amid worries that far fewer people are booking beds in the city than in rural areas.
As part of the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, from Monday, self-contained lets will be allowed to rent out homes and apartments once again to groups from one household or bubble.
It's a welcome boost for England's tourism industry, with domestic trips and staycations now possible for the first time in 2021.
The news is also music to the ears of accommodation providers like Louise Thorley, who runs eight properties – seven of which are active – through her firm
She knows there has been "a rush of bookings along the Norfolk coast" and her farm property near Wendling is booked solid through July and August, but the rest of her properties in the centre of Norwich are "filling up slower".
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She said: "I think it's because people are wondering if they might still be able to go abroad, but also I think there are worries about whether the city will be open. It needs to be open for people to come – there's no point people coming to stay if they can't go in a pub, the shops aren't open or are too busy.
"Generally people who book with us want to see Norwich – they might do one day on the Broads and another at the beach, but by and large they want to see the city's history, buildings and character.
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"Our Norwich lets are getting booking tentatively, but people need to know that if they come to the city there will be lots to do. You don't need a reason to visit the coast or the countryside because that's the attraction, but city breaks need a lot more going on. Norwich has to look and feel open.
"Everyone's saying it's going to be a bumper year, but I'm still waiting to see how it pans out."
Andrew Corney also said his four Norwich properties have also seen an uptick in bookings and "a few more enquiries", but feels generally glad that he doesn't rely on the income.
The money he earns by letting out accommodation is to boost his pension, but that pot hasn't been topped up much in the last year.
He said: "It went from £2,000 of something in our best months down to nothing at all. But it can't get worse than zero so it's got to go up from there.
"We use AirBnb and in the main people who book with us want to visit the city for shopping and going out, and that's more restricted. And booking is limited until at least May 17 – you're only allowed one bubble."
VisitNorwich said demand for longer stays in the city appears to be on the rise, going against suggestions from earlier this year.
Head of marketing Isabel Johnson said: "VisitNorwich has been hearing from our accommodation partners that demand is rising steadily, with several providers already fully-booked during peak summer weeks.
"It's hugely positive – especially as consumer sentiment trackers in January and February suggested that towns and cities would have to work extra hard to regain their share of tourism during the summer season, compared to coastal and countryside destinations.
"VisitNorwich will be continuing our work with Visit East of England and Visit England to bring visitors back to the city in a safe way, and there's so much to be excited about in Norwich over spring and summer."
The general feeling is that the pandemic, at least in the short term, will encourage more people to holiday in the UK rather than abroad.
Mr Corney cited both Covid unease and extra procedures brought in by Brexit as reasons why he thinks staycations will become more popular.
"I think the majority will choose to leave foreign travel for a year at least," he said.
Mrs Thorley added: "We'll always have a good staycation industry in the UK, particularly somewhere lovely like Norwich. It's convenient for people who can't or don't want to travel too far, and there will definitely be some who will not want to risk travelling abroad.
"Last summer we had a number of people who had never staycationed before, and had a brilliant time. Hopefully once people try it they will realise the great deal of benefits there are to staying in the UK for a holiday."