Tourism sector urged to take part in EDP Larking Gowen survey

It has been a year of great change for the region's tourism sector.

Gone is a chunk of public sector funding, and with it bodies such as East of England Tourism. From its ashes the private sector has stepped in and created Visit East Anglia – a specially created not-for-profit company which will aim to create a united and simplified voice for the industry.

Nobody yet knows what is to come in 2012, but businesses are hoping the Olympics will bring visitors to the UK from across the world as all eyes are on London and factors such as the increased cost of flying and fuel will persuade those at home to holiday here.

Whatever faces the sector, however, by taking part in the EDP Larking Gowen Tourism Business Survey, which opens today, collective information from those at the coalface can be used to help the region make more of the opportunities that are available.

The survey was launched in 2006 by Larking Gowen and the EDP to bring together a comprehensive review of the trends affecting Norfolk's tourism industry, providing statistical evidence as to changes affecting the region and to identify issues to be taken on board by those in the sector.

This year's survey will not only reflect on the 2011 season, but will gauge businesses' views of what the future holds as well as burning issues for the sector from its ability to employ staff to how the region promotes itself.

This year's survey will include new questions. One new area raises the issue of VAT for tourism businesses in the UK. Owners face higher rates than many other European counties which have significantly lower VAT on hotel accommodation, amusement parks and restaurant meals.

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The impact and use of social media will also be highlighted in the survey to identify how successful this new medium is as more and more businesses take on board the challenge of keeping pace with customers' expectations.

And with some 50,000 people employed within the tourism sector, a new question in the survey this year relates to the barriers to taking on new employees.

Christopher Scargill, tourism and leisure partner at Larking Gowen, chartered accountants, said: 'With the majority of Norfolk's Tourism businesses having previously benefited from year on year growth as a result of the 'staycation' phenomenon, it will be interesting to see how the 2011 season has panned out. This season has been interesting with early bookings being ahead of expectations and then a general slow down in activity prior to rejuvenation in the early summer. The survey results in this regard will make interesting reading.

'With an eye on 2012 and the Olympics and Queen's Diamond Jubilee placing the UK firmly on the international stage, this tax burden [VAT] could be a barrier to the UK benefiting as much as it could,' Mr Scargill added. 'In last year's survey, some 49pc of VAT registered businesses indicated that they would not be able to pass on the impact of the VAT increases [the rates effectively rose from 15pc to 20pc in the year]. This reduces potential profitability and has a knock on effect regarding ongoing investment,' Mr Scargill explained.

Richard Ellis, chairman of Visit East Anglia, said this year had seen a dramatic collapse of in public sector funding for tourism.

'Private sector grasped the nettle and set up Visit East Anglia to fill the important parts of the void,' he said.

'The private sector has stepped into the breach to ensure the area gets promoted'.

Visit East Anglia aims to create a united and simplified voice for the industry, pulling together work done by existing bodies such as Norfolk Tourism and Choose Suffolk.

Founding members, who have each contributed to the �100,000 needed to get it up and running, include: Adnams plc; Bewilderwood; the owners of Banham Zoo, Africa Alive and The Dinosaur Park; Norfolk Broads Direct; Norfolk Country Cottages; Southwold Pier; Suffolk Secrets and Wroxham Barns.

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: 'Tourism is a crucially important sector for our economy and it is also an important priority for the New Anglia local enterprise partnership. We are keen to help tourism businesses grow and we also need to understand their challenges. That's why the EDP Tourism survey is such an important tool for us in our work.'

EDP editor Peter Waters said: 'Tourism and hospitality is the largest industry sector in this region and has, quite rightly, been identified by the local enterprise partnership as a key target for growth.

'Nobody would doubt that the opportunity is there. High fuel prices and the weak pound are encouraging people to stay closer to home, or Holiday Here as the EDP has been saying for the last three years. And why wouldn't you want to holiday here in Norfolk?

'We've got it all. Bucket-and-spade at Great Yarmouth and Sunny Hunny, upmarket coast around 'Chelsea-on-Sea', the forest and countryside of the Brecks, the boating and conservation haven that is the Broads, and our Fine City, a shopping, culture and heritage mecca.

'And, of course, we also have brilliant, modern visitor attractions, fantastic pubs, restaurants and hotels.

'So, is there anywhere else in this country with a better offering than us?

'In 2012, we have the little matter of the Games in London – if there's an Olympic legacy for us it must be tourism, and the employment and wealth that brings.

'We need to start making ourselves top-of-mind with foreign visitors, rather than Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, the Cotswolds, the Lakes, Cornwall.

'There's also the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – and we're a Royal county, And there's a chance we may actually be the first leg of next year's Tour of Britain.'

Tom Blofeld, owner of Bewilderwood said: 'Although there is some unsettlement within the industry due to public sector cuts, we are confident that the future is promising.

Private sector businesses are coming together to take the lead, for example the formation of Visit East Anglia, so it's more important than ever to work together to reach a common goal – attracting visitors to Norfolk.

'So for 2012 we offer the perfect opportunity to escape from it all if you don't have tickets to the Games or don't intend watching it on television. Norfolk offers so much for those wishing to escape, we're very fortunate to have such a variety of things to see and do in Norfolk, at such affordable prices.'

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