Support us or lose us, Visit Norfolk conference told in Norwich

Visit Norfolk Autumn Conference - Mark Harvey, Managing Director of Shorthose Russell, Steve Miller,

Visit Norfolk Autumn Conference - Mark Harvey, Managing Director of Shorthose Russell, Steve Miller, Head of Norfolk Museums Service, Will Herschel-Shorland, Insight Track, Anthony Reilly, Marketing Director for Hoseasons, Louis Clabburn, AF Affinity, and Pete Waters Visit Norfolk Brand Manager. - Credit: Keiron Tovell Photography

Conference delegates were told about the successes and exciting vision of Visit Norfolk - but warned that the county's tourism champion will disappear without increased private sector support.

Visit Norfolk brand manager Pete Waters told an audience of tourism leaders and business owners at the John Innes Centre, in Norwich, that the £80,000 a year they currently received from Norfolk County Council and New Anglia LEP would be incrementally reduced in a three-year exit plan.

Although it was hoped that the county council would still contribute to the cost of future promotional campaigns, the funding gap would need to be made up by businesses increasing their advertising spend on the Visit Norfolk website.

The need for businesses to work in partnership to promote the county's £2.8bn tourism economy was underlined by the Better Together strapline of the Visit Norfolk autumn conference.

Mr Waters said the benefits of businesses advertising on the Visit Norfolk website were shown by the impressive figures - a record 3.5m page impressions in July and 2.5m users in the last year.

Among Visit Norfolk's achievements during its short history, Mr Waters cited the successful internet film campaign run on Visit Britain TV; the first of 12 films being rolled out, There's Nowhere like Norfolk, had been viewed by about 220,000 people in just a month.

For the future, he outlined plans for an A11 advertising campaign after Christmas - 'probably the biggest campaign undertaken in Norfolk' - which would emphasis the positive impact of dualling in making the county more accessible.

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The £100,000-plus campaign, funded by partners including Visit Norwich and Norfolk Trails, would reach such audiences as travellers on the London underground.

Mr Waters said Visit Norfolk had also commissioned at a cost of £11,000 the first research undertaken on tourism in the county for six years.

'We had been playing blind for the past few years,' he told delegates.

Presenting the findings at the conference, Will Herschel-Shorland, of Norwich-based Insight Track, which carried out the work. said they painted a positive picture of Norfolk tourism and highlighted a number of opportunities to exploit.

Key findings included the low awareness of Norfolk and the need to promote more; the need to make more of a virtue of being seen as flat - great for cycling and walking; and the need to counter the perception of Norfolk being inaccessible.

Also emerging from the poll of 1,600 people was the potential of out-of-season campaigns to promote a year-round visitor economy and the need to promote Norfolk's uniqueness - for example its warm climate and the Broads - to set it apart.

The exciting potential of turning Norfolk's 'Deep History Coast' into a heritage tourism draw was also outlined at the conference.

In a vision shared by Visit Norfolk, Steve Miller, head of Norfolk Museums Service, said the raw ingredients were already there in the shape of the West Runton mammoth find - 'the largest complete skeleton in the world' - and the Happisburgh footprints, the earliest evidence of man found outside the African Rift Valley.

Delegates were told of plans to bring national travel journalists to the coastline to help in the process of determining what was needed to create a tourist attraction.

Highlighting the museums service's commitment to being a 'tourism partner', Mr Miller emphasised the £14bn value of heritage tourism to the national economy - 'that makes the sector bigger than the advertising, car or film industry' - and his plans to grow visitor numbers to Norwich Castle and and the other county museums.

Other speakers included Paul Gogarty, former Daily Telegraph travel writer and Visit Norfolk's London PR man, Hoseasons' marketing director Anthony Reilly and Mark Harvey, MD of Shorthose Russell.