Norfolk Broads festival starts today

Broads businesses hope to put the gloom of the wettest April on record behind them this weekend with a festival launch, and growing optimism that high fuel prices will attract holidaymakers to Norfolk this summer.

With the second Broads outdoors festival starting today, the region's support for its most famous natural attraction has been highlighted by figures showing over 80pc of visitors to the Broads are coming on day trips from the surrounding area.

The tourism industry hopes that figures will increase with soaring fuel prices meaning more holidaymakers either stay in Norfolk or travel from the south-east and the Midlands rather than jetting off abroad.

The Broads support 6,300 jobs in the county and attract 7.1 million visitors a year, contributing �437m to the economy – a figure which is growing each year, making it the third biggest national park in the country after the Lake District and Pembrokeshire coast for visitor spending.

Ian Russell, director of Visit East Anglia and director of Wroxham Barns said: 'It was a good story up to and including Easter. We were up 11pc on last year. However, the weather of the last three weeks has had an impact.

'But we remain optimistic that when the weather is helpful visitors are really looking to the Broads.

'There is no reason we will not do well. The local population will save money and enjoy what is on their doorstep and the Broads are increasingly attractive to London, the home counties and the Midlands with the cost of fuel.'

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Boat hire bookings are high for this weekend and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but bookings for the crucial summer season are thought to be slightly down on last year.

Owner of Martham Boats, Ian Curtis, said late bookings were becoming more prevalent, but his firm had enjoyed a strong April.

Pali Badwal, vice-president of boating for Hoseasons, said tourists were tending to book their holidays later, making it harder to predict how the season would pan out.

He said: 'People are concerned about their finances, but average bookings are up year-on-year. We are happy with the number of sales that we have achieved for the holiday period.'

The season starts in earnest this weekend with the launch of the outdoors festival at Whitlingham Country Park heralding the start of two weeks of activities with 100 events.

Lydia Smith, director of Norfolk Tourism, said: 'The trend for the staycation is people book slightly later so boat yards are expecting to be back on track by the summer. Last year was really good and this year shouldn't be far off.'

Norfolk's tourism industry has been working with Visit England to encourage people to holiday in the UK, while also attracting foreign journalists to raise the Broads' profile to tourists from Asia and Europe visiting London for the Olympics.

Tourism chiefs are hoping for a bumper summer to help them get over a disappointing April, with the heavy rain keeping visitors away from outdoor attractions.

Peter Williamson, chairman of the Norfolk Tourist Attractions Association (NTAA) and owner of the Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth, said: 'The Broads are critical to Norfolk and surge in popularity year on year.

'April started very well but the last three weeks we have, unfortunately, been severely affected.'

He said visitor numbers have halved since Easter, but the next few months were looking good.

'If we get the weather we could see record attendances.'

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