Norfolk’s tourism industry to get set for Olympics
With just over 18 months to the Olympics, tourism leaders have been urged to maximise Norfolk's potential as a destination for visitors. KATE SCOTTER reports.
A rallying cry has been made for Norfolk's tourist attractions and places to stay to get their thinking caps on and start planning ahead for the 2012 Olympic Games.
The call came as tourism chiefs revealed that nearly half of Norfolk's visitors were planning to attend an Olympic event and that 70pc could see the potential in Norfolk being a base for the Games.
Next year, all eyes will be on the UK when the Olympic Games return to the country for the first time in 64 years.
It is expected that more foreign visitors will head to the UK than for any previous summer Games held in Europe.
At the Norfolk Tourism Annual Review, held at the Marriott Sprowston Manor Hotel, tourism officials heard how a 2012 task group was formed at the end of last year, aiming to maximise the county's potential.
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A report compiled by the team revealed that nearly half of Norfolk's visitors are inclined to attend one of the events and that a third consider the county as a suitable base for visiting the Games.
This figure more than doubles when people are made aware of the county's rail links and accessibility to the Olympic Park.
Clare Millar, from Visit Norwich, said: 'The Olympics present an opportunity for Norfolk as a tourist destination. Communi-cating that transport message is going to be crucial if we are going to maximise that opportunity.
'Norfolk provides people who are going to the Olympics a convenient base from which they can take a day break to the Games. London does not have enough accommodation for all the people who are going to the Games, so people are going to be looking at commutable places to stay and they will be looking well outside the capital.
'We are the closest major holiday destination to the Olympic Park. We have direct rail links to the Olympic Park. 2012 is fast approaching and Norfolk has genuine potential.'
The countdown to the Olympics started two years ago, with Norfolk Tourism running familiarisation visits for members of the London-based Foreign Press Association to help raise the profile of what Norfolk has to offer.
Last year, they had separate visits to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, the Broads and Sandringham.
The Olympics is expected to generate �2bn to Britain's tourism economy over the four years after the event takes place in August.
More than two million people have already registered for tickets, which will go on sale in March.
With that in mind, now is thought to be the prime time for the Norfolk tourism industry to start tapping into ways of promoting the area as Games-goers will soon start planning their trips.
Ms Millar added: 'It's our firm view that there's an opportunity. We need to think about how we can take it forward and how we can play a part in making it happen.
'We need to retain our existing visitors. There's a risk we could see an erosion in our visitor numbers in the peak summer season so we need to encourage people to come to Norfolk and use it as a base for a day trip down to London for the Olympics.
As part of promoting the county, it is hoped Norfolk will become the first destination to be granted the Inspire Mark, an official London 2012 programme to help people be inspired by the Games.
There is also potential in the Norwich big screen attracting visitors to watch the games away from London, for bed and breakfasts to improve their offer so they can cater for people who want the events recorded while they are out exploring the county and for Norfolk to even be an escape from the crowded capital.
Richard Ellis, chairman of Norfolk Tourism, said: 'There are tremendous opportunities for tourism in our great county over the coming years.
'This year will see a royal wedding, with all the attendant Norfolk connections, plus the return of the Tour of the Britain to the county.
'In 2012, we have the combined attractions of the Queen's jubilee and the Olympic Games. These are tremendous opportunities for us to raise Norfolk's profile and increase out visitor numbers if we take concerted action.'
As well as the Olympics themselves, there are also opportunities for businesses, schools and organisations to get involved and promote the county in other ways.
As recently reported, six deaf teenagers are taking part in a Norfolk County Council-led project, called Dance Aloud, which has been inspired by the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and will see the youngsters perform a final piece at Norwich Playhouse.
For more Olympic inspiration or to find out how you can be involved go to www.visitnorfolk.co.uk or www.norfolkcelebratingtalent.co.uk