Broads blow as boat firm pulls out
PUBLISHED: 08:44 09 April 2013 | UPDATED: 11:30 10 April 2013
EDP pics © 2011
Europe’s leading hire boat firm Le Boat has closed its base at Somerleyton after only one season in a move seen as a blow to the Southern Broads economy.
One full-time staff member and a seasonal worker lost their jobs in the firm’s decision to focus on its base at Horning on the Northern Broads.
Some of the 12 Le Boat cruisers at Somerleyton have been moved to Horning with the rest going to Scotland.
The move reflects a difficult season for all hire boat firms last year when bookings were hit by a washout summer, ongoing economic woes and the distraction of the Olympics.
At the time, Le Boat launched a light-hearted video encouraging families to visit the Broads during the Olympics - and keep up with action on their on-board television.
However, in the first week of the school summer holidays the EDP learned that just a handful of boats had been hired at Somerleyton.
Distribution director Kate Bray said: “Due to demand year on year it was felt that having two bases would not be a business benefit for 2013.
“Efforts are being made to improve Horning performance and early indications are suggesting this decision was right.
“This season, the weather, for obvious reasons, has impacted on early business for the Broads. However, indications for summer 2013 are looking very positive with sales for May departures ahead of last year and customer confidence strong.”
She said they had not built any new boats for the Broads this season, the company focusing investment on the Thames and Ireland, but they would be reviewing the Horning fleet for 2014.
Barbara Greasley, chairman of Broads Tourism, said she was saddened to hear Le Boat had decided to pull out of Somerleyton after operating hire cruisers there for just one season.
She said: “Broads Tourism has been working with the Broads Society on a regeneration of the Southern Broads project, so the closure of another hire boat yard on the Southern Broads is particularly disappointing.
“This boatyard closure will mean that there will be less free moorings and facilities for hirers on the Southern Broads.” She said it came in the wake of disappointing news that boaters will now be charged £3 to moor at Reedham Quay.
She said: “As Broads Tourism we will continue to work with the Broads Society. So far this has involved working with the Broads Authority to encourage visitors to travel from the Northern to the Southern Broads.
“The Broadcaster this year has a very good article about the Southern Broads and the instructions for navigating Breydon Water have been written so that it doesn’t seem such an onerous ordeal, although as always safety remains of paramount importance.”
James Knight, boss of Waveney River Centre, Burgh St Peter, a flagship for camping and boating on the Southern Broads, said it had always been a tougher environment for tourism businesses than the Northern Broads.
“It attracts a different type of person, who is looking for peace and tranquillity rather than constant entertainment,” he said.
However, his long-term aim, when the economy improves, is still to introduce hire cruisers alongside the existing day boats at Waveney River Centre.
While the market remained challenging, he said he was buoyed by the amount of repeat bookings and positive customer
Le Boat’s Somerleyton base is now being run by the Somerleyton estate, which owns it, as a marina and repair yard.