From the Ed Sheeran factor to the rise of Instagram: 10 things we learned in the Larking Gowen tourism survey

Ed Sheeran is rumoured to be in the film . Picture: Greg Williams

Ed Sheeran is rumoured to be in the film . Picture: Greg Williams - Credit: Greg Williams

This year's Larking Gowen tourism and leisure business survey, the largest independent survey of its kind in the region, threw up some interesting facts.

Less to be cheerful about: In general, the past four years have seen a significant decline in optimism about business prospects and the future among tourism businesses. From a height of 51% of businesses feeling more optimistic in 2014, just 12% said the same in 2018, while the proportion feeling less optimistic has grown from 7% to 18% over the same period.

The celebrity factor: An historic Suffolk castle became one of the UK's most unexpected tourist hot spots in 2017 after Ed Sheeran released his single Castle on the Hill, inspired by the castle in Framlingham, where he grew up. Tourist figures for the 2017-18 season are expected to be about 100,000, 15% above expectations.

TripAdvisor trouble: Of the Norfolk and Suffolk businesses registered on review site TripAdvsior, only 38% said they had been hit by fake reviews (compared to 85% of businesses using the site nationally). Of those, one third (36%) had complained to TripAdvisor and not been able to get the fake review taken down. Around half got the review removed without a fuss.

European competition: Even with Brexit looming – bringing with it a depreciated pound and the possibility of roaming charges being reintroduced – businesses are still concerned about competition from cheaper European holidays. Around 56% of respondents felt such holidays were having a negative effect on their business, while 24% said it was one of their biggest worries going forward.

The power of advertising: In 2017 38% of businesses increased their spending on marketing, while 39% plan to spend more in 2018.

Of those who increased their spend in 2017, one in nine (11%) spent more than 10% of their income on advertising – about on par with 2016. However, the number investing more than 20% of their income on it went up from 3% to 5%.

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Home improvements: With more businesses investing in their operations, site improvements like refurbishing are the most popular with 57% of businesses planning to spend on them in 2018. Around 17% were also planning to expand their premises. Other popular investments for this year include additional spending on marketing (39%), staff training (31%), implementing better business practises (30%) and discounts, incentives and special offers (29%).

Counting the pennies: Budgeting was back on the holiday agenda for more tourists in 2017. A total of 36% of businesses reported an increase in the number of visitors sticking to a budget last year, compared with 31% in 2016 and 22% in 2015. Holiday budgeting hit a high in 2012, when more than half of businesses saw an increase in the number of visitors watching their spending.

Looking after staff: Questions on wellbeing, the year's watchword for business, were included in the survey for the first time in 2018. One in two (54%) businesses now offers support for employee wellbeing, with initiatives including free drinks and snacks (offered by 34% of employers), social activities (29%), flexible benefits like holiday, fitness facilities and medical support (20%) and seasonal bonuses (21%).

Social media presence: Facebook remains the most popular social media site for tourism businesses, with 89% using the site and 69% increasing their use of it in 2017. While more businesses use Twitter than Instagram to promote their business (69% compared to 52%), more said they had increased their use of the photo sharing app last year (70% compared with 54% for Twitter).

DMOs are in favour: Destination marketing organisations (DMOs) like Visit East Anglia, Enjoy the Broads and Norfolk Tourist Attractions Association were very much in favour last year, with 53% of businesses listing themselves as members of at least one. A total of 72% of businesses said their local DMO's promotion of their area was either very good or good, up from 40% in 2016. Larking Gowen believes this could be linked to an increasing willingness among businesses to invest.