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Tough times feared for tourism industry as lockdown continues

PUBLISHED: 07:07 14 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:10 14 April 2020

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District Picture: Sonya Duncan

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District Picture: Sonya Duncan

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The coronavirus crisis will change Norwich city centre and there will be casualties – but businesses can survive.

Five-day-old twin lambs born at Wroxham Barns earlier this year Picture: Denise BradleyFive-day-old twin lambs born at Wroxham Barns earlier this year Picture: Denise Bradley

That is the view of industry experts during the fourth week of social distancing to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left so many local businesses facing huge challenges.

Executive director of Norwich’s Business Improvement District (BID), Stefan Gurney, which runs Visit Norwich, believes that the crisis management stage of the lockdown has started to ease for many businesses and that attentions are now turning to what is needed for customers to feel safe and comfortable once freedom of movement returns.

“You hope that most of the businesses will come through it in whatever shape or form, and hopefully are able to rise and adapt, but there will be casualties – not just from the people affected by it but also from the business community,” Mr Gurney explained.

“So what we knew as the city centre will be different from when we reopen again because unfortunately not all businesses will make it through this, not everyone will have had the cash depth, the staff numbers or the business model which can transfer forward.

Wroxham Barns owner Ian Russell Picture: Antony KellyWroxham Barns owner Ian Russell Picture: Antony Kelly

“But we also know that there is always opportunity and hopefully that is where people will be able to reinvent what they have done or change. One of those hideous buzzwords at the moment is the ‘pivot’, when you say ‘my business was this and it needs to adapt now to this’.

“But I think most people are hopeful that they will be able to go back and work in which ever shape or form that is.”

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Ian Russell, founder and director of Wroxham Barns, has seen his business miss out on the busiest fortnight of its year due to being closed during the Easter school holidays.

“We’re a small family business and we are deeply committed to our staff and to the business itself, so we’ll battle through this,” said Mr Russell, who is also a director of regional tourism group Visit East Anglia.

Adam Goymour, company director of Roarr! Picture: Denise BradleyAdam Goymour, company director of Roarr! Picture: Denise Bradley

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“We’re doing a lot of Facebook live videos and inviting audiences to join us when we’re feeding the animals and looking after them – and that’s picked up huge traction.

“So the businesses are desperate to open and the visitors are desperate to come, it’s just how we go about doing that.”

Management is now eagerly awaiting government guidance on when and how businesses can start planning for a return to normal business.

The Predator High Ropes at Roar Dinosaur Adventure Park Picture: Antony KellyThe Predator High Ropes at Roar Dinosaur Adventure Park Picture: Antony Kelly

“We’re in the middle of making a very big investment into our new fun park and continue to invest in the visitors experience on our farm as well and a lot of our small, specialist studios are improving their businesses,” Mr Russell added.

“Those plans remain in place but obviously this is a massive, massive hit for us and all of the other businesses and I would say there is a limit to how long we can stay within our resources and stay in business.

“That’s not a comment about Wroxham Barns per se, it’s about all businesses basically.”

ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure Park, near Lenwade, is another of the tourism businesses trying to adapt to maintain contact with customers who they hope to be able to welcome back when the lockdown begins to ease.

“We’ve got free activities and downloads on our website, including an activity book, colouring sheets, dino snap cards,” explained director Adam Goymour, speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk.

“We’re also doing a four-week campaign every Friday with the EDP for a family ticket of four to be won, to be used when we reopen.

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“So we’re doing as much as we can digitally, like most businesses are having to do to adjust.

“But of course coming out of the winter period where cash-flow is really low and Easter being the first period of time when we make some money, it’s proving difficult.”


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