Jewel of Southern Broads is real family achievement

The EDP Tourism Awards' outstanding achievement category will focus on 'individuals who have spent years championing the county, tourism and their business to the benefit of the wider community'.

That will be the exacting standard the winner will be expected to reach, said Simon Altham, director of category sponsor Hoseasons.

He said: 'They will be individuals who really stand out from the crowd and contribute something special to the tourism community by showcasing Norfolk to visitors from around the UK.'

Anyone seeking inspiration to meet those exalted levels could do worse than look around the Waveney River Centre domain of James Knight and his wife Ruth.

The idyllic holiday park at Burgh St Peter on the bank of the River Waveney has won numerous awards since the couple took over what was then a run-down centre ahead of the 2004 season.

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Father-of-two James, 44, recalled: 'It was a beautiful location back then but there had been no investment for quite a long time.

'A succession of previous owners had seen the potential and started doing things, but when we took over it was on the way to being derelict.'

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The first two or three years were largely devoted to 'fixing things that did not work' but, in the years since, the park has been transformed into the jewel of the Southern Broads.

Reeling off their accomplishments, he described how they had steadily replaced half the site's static caravans with luxury holiday lodges, built a new shop and boatshed and refurbished the pub, cafe and swimming pool.

He said: 'There had always been a touring and camping park but it had been what you might describe a hobby site.

'We developed and improved the pitches, levelling the site, planting and putting in electric hook-ups, and built a state-of-the-art showers complex.'

He said they had invested a seven-figure sum in the park, but stressed it was just as important to have a vision - and theirs was to create 'the premier environmentally friendly destination on the Broads'.

He said: 'From the outset we have had that vision of where we want to take the park and we have consistently pursued that goal. In every thing we do we keep that goal in mind.'

Very much a family business - Ruth's parents Len and Hazel Funnell are also directors - they have striven to create the perfect family destination for a relaxing holiday and have seen visitor numbers grow year on year.

James said: 'This has been a difficult year with the weather but we have still managed to show a little bit of growth. We get many visitors coming back year after year.'

He is immensely proud of their David Bellamy conservation gold awards reflecting the centre's attention to the environment with wildlife-friendly planting.

A new ferry service launched this year takes centre visitors to the Suffolk side of the river within a short walk of the Carlton Marshes nature reserve.

A legend of Norfolk tourism for more than three decades, Len Funnell puts customer care at the top of his list for creating a successful business.

And he should know having built one Broads boating empire and sold it off - and then started all over again at Horning Ferry Marina.

In the EDP Tourism Awards Customer Care category judges will be looking for employees who have gone the extra mile to keep their customers happy.

Mr Funnell, who has built up a 34-strong fleet at Horning over four years, said the recipe for customer care was quite simple.

'In our case, what it means is providing a clean boat, a nice welcome and looking after people if it goes wrong,' he said.

'The easiest way of getting new bookings is to persuade people to come back. If they have had a nice experience they are likely to tell their friends as well.'

He said in the days when he owned Herbert Woods and Broads Tours they had built up to attracting 60pc of bookings themselves.

'Here, we have already got to the stage of attracting probably 40pc of bookings ourselves,' he said.

Mr Funnell, who is investing nearly �450,000 in three new luxury boats this winter as well as �400,000 in a further top quality riverside property, stressed that the visual impression made by a business was an important aspect of customer care.

They had invested heavily in their riverside complex, upgrading facilities such as the fish and chip shop and cafe and even installing a landmark statue of Harry the Heron which had become a popular talking point with visitors. Further statues of Broadland animals were planned.

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