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Region gears up for the first fortnight of tourist season

PUBLISHED: 12:03 05 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:03 05 April 2014

People enjoying the weather and the rides at the Pleasure Beach as it opens for the first day of the season in Great Yarmouth. March 2014.  Picture: James Bass

People enjoying the weather and the rides at the Pleasure Beach as it opens for the first day of the season in Great Yarmouth. March 2014. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

Leading lights of the region’s tourism industry have urged people to make the most of our “wonderful” attractions this Easter.

"The tourism season really gets under way at Easter... There’s stacks here for people who are lucky enough to live here"

Nick Bond, of Visit Norwich

Work has gone on round-the-clock to repair tidal surge damage, holiday bookings have been strong and businesses are anticipating a bumper fortnight. And attractions across Norfolk and Suffolk are ready to welcome crowds of smiling visitors.

Angie Fitch-Tillett, North Norfolk District Council cabinet member for coastal issues, said the authority had honoured its pledge to get as much of the coast as possible ready for the Easter holidays.

She said: “North Norfolk is definitely open for business and we are looking forward to people coming to see us. The contractors have mainly left the promenade at Cromer and will return to complete the job in October.”

Although visitors will not be able to rent out beach huts in Cromer, as many were swept away with the storm surge, the footpath at Blakeney has been replaced and the shingle bank at Cley has repaired itself.

With Larking Gowen launching its Tourism Survey this week, business writer Ben Woods takes a closer look at what the results might mean for the region.

• POSITIVITY: The tourism sector’s resilience amid two years of challenging weather is something to be admired. But while the patchy sunshine has made times tough, it has not stopped a swell of positive feeling about this year’s summer season. According to the Larking Gowen Tourism Survey, 68pc expect turnover to rise this year, compared to 57pc last year, while 61pc are expecting a boost to profits.

• ONLINE BOOKINGS: The battle for holiday bookings has been won and lost on the web in recent years. So it is alarming to see that 41pc of firms still offer no service for buying online. If the region is to compete nationally, more must be done to encourage businesses to invest in their online strategy. Evidence shows that late bookings rose by 77pc last year – most would have been done digitally.

• POLITICS: The chancellor’s budgets have left the tourism sector wanting. This could go some way to explain the strong sense of disillusionment with the powers above: 78pc believing the government is not doing enough to help tourism. The sector is desperate for a reduction in VAT to encourage holidaymakers to spend more, with 33pc worrying that lower VAT rates in Europe could harm business in the future.

• PAY: The debate over the country’s ‘cost of living crisis’ is likely to dominate the political landscape on the run up to the next election.

And the Conservatives had some relief in recent weeks when figures showed that earnings were starting to pick up.

Signs that workers could take home more in the next few years has also been reflected within the Larking Gowen Tourism Survey. 57pc firms claim to be considering increasing staff pay this year compared to 38pc the year before, while 43pc said pay will stay the same compared to 61pc in 2013.

Decisions to up wages are a clear indicator that confidence is increasing in parts of the region’s tourism sector.

• The Larking Gowen Tourism Survey, sponsored by the Eastern Daily Press, is culmination of four months worth of research, with 330 business leaders taking time to fill in the questionnaire.

Bernard Reader, chairman of the Waveney Tourism Forum, who runs Heathland Beach Caravan Park in Kessingland, said: “After the very good weather last year, the bookings are coming in and we are anticipating a busy Easter and spring bank holiday.”

Some Lowestoft businesses suffered flooding during the tidal surge and part of the sea wall, near the South Pier, was damaged by the winter storms.

Mr Reader said many of the businesses had now recovered and, although a 300m stretch of beach is closed for repair works, there was still 1,000m of sand for visitors to enjoy.

In Great Yarmouth, the season is getting under way, with the Pleasure Beach fully open today and seafront businesses getting busier.

Gary Smith, who runs the award-winning Kilbrannan Guest House on Trafalgar Road with his wife Julie, said the east coast had “something for everyone”.

“Not only do we have the seafront and amusements in Great Yarmouth, but the food in Norfolk must be some of the best in the UK and the standard of accommodation has improved enormously over the years.”

Nick Bond, head of tourism at Visit Norwich, said: “The tourism season really gets under way at Easter and it shouldn’t just be visitors having all the fun in Norwich and Norfolk; there’s stacks here for people who are lucky enough to live here to enjoy, indoors and out.”

Jeremy Owen, from the National Trust, said: “All of our places will be open this weekend and offering a great day out for the whole family.

“Those with a curious mind will love exploring our big houses at Oxburgh, Blickling and Felbrigg, with myriad discoveries waiting inside. The estates also look stunning this time of year with daffodils and other spring flowers in bloom.”

Mark Noble, commercial manager at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, said visitor numbers had been positive.

Mary Rudd, on behalf of the Holkham Estate, which owns Beach Café in Wells, said: “The good weather has really helped and got lots of people out walking on the beach and we were packed out for Mother’s Day.”

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