Working to keep Norwich in hearts and minds of local people and visitors alike

Cross-street wisteria on London Street in Norwich

Norwich BID commenced a programme of city activations to improve city surroundings, including across-street wisteria in London Street - Credit: Norwich BID

Our Summer in the City campaign encourages people to get out and about in Norwich this summer. Mel Cook from Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), which sponsors the campaign, tells us more about its efforts to keep the city of stories in hearts and minds during the pandemic. 

In all our time marketing Norwich as a visitor destination, this last 18 months has been the hardest. Relatively quickly, life changed for all of us – and with it our role in bringing people to this fantastic city.  

As we came out of our first lockdown in 2020, confidence to head out was divided. Many people couldn’t wait to return to some kind of normality, while others took a more cautious approach. Cast your mind back to last year, late-spring-early-summer, and you’ll remember that restrictions changed almost weekly, plans made, re-made and then cancelled.  

People were on furlough, and consumer sentiment changed all the time. But there were positives too: the sense of community, our ability to make decisions fast, and the recognition that working collaboratively was our greatest tool. 

People relaxing on benches at Norwich Market

Norwich BID has supported local businesses to help people feel more confident and – critically – encourage people to visit the city safely and responsibly - Credit: Norwich BID

As things opened up, cities across the world - including Norwich – were taking action: There was development of public space, streets pedestrianised, urban interventions to accommodate expanded outdoor dining and floral planting. Businesses rallied and communities stepped up to support them. During such uncertainty, new businesses emerged, others adapted – and of course some, very sadly, closed their doors. 

As an organisation, we really were in unchartered territory. From the outset, Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) reacted, recognising our strong position working with over 750 city businesses. Setting an example of positive leadership and support we created  assets to help Norwich reopen. 

We also procured PPE at cheaper rates for businesses and held regular recovery meetings with all sectors. Alongside this, VisitNorwich (the Destination Marketing arm of BID, and official tourism marketing for the city), continued work to keep Norwich in the hearts and minds of local people and visitors alike.  

VisitNorwich’s 2020 coming-out-of-lockdown local campaign for the City of Stories was “Norwich, the Next Chapter”. Because this is exactly what it was: A new chapter encouraging people back to Norwich safely. How were the general public feeling about stepping over their threshold, and who was open when they did?  

Most Read

Throughout the whole pandemic, we felt it was so important to continue our marketing efforts, being respectful of the times (and the restrictions) and mindful of how people were feeling, yet putting Norwich forward as a place to visit and enjoy when the time was right.  

We had lots of messages to deliver, and a fine line to tread between bringing people back, supporting local businesses, helping people feel more confident and – critically – encouraging people to visit safely and responsibly. Across the UK people were at home - furloughed or not having to commute. In tourism terms this was a time VisitEngland cited as the ‘dream state’ - the time when people were thinking of where they could go when times got better, they needed something to look forward to.   

So we took Norwich online, building demand for when the time was right to visit again. We commissioned brand new assets – film and photography – and put Norwich in front of as many people as we could.

We continued our work with tourism partners in the East of England and with VisitEngland, and reprioritised our owned digital channels to make sure our content was relevant and we were as visible as possible.

During this time, we saw site traffic increase month on month, huge engagement across socials (translating to a 600pc increase in Facebook and Instagram reach compared to 2019), and more callouts from travel media than we’ve ever seen before. 

Floral window and door displays in Norwich

Norwich BID organised spring Florists’ Feast windows and door decorations for city shops - Credit: Norwich BID

Fast forward to spring 2021, and we were glad to welcome people back again. Norwich BID commenced a programme of city activations to improve our city surroundings and repopulate the city centre with visitors and locals. These included the spring Florists’ Feast windows and door decorations, the across-street wisteria in London Street and attractive window vinyls, new urban art murals in Exchange Street, Westlegate and St Stephen’s Street with another soon to be unveiled.  

The dinosaur-themed City Food Trail is happening right now, and last week we saw the return of BID’s ever popular Head Out, Not Home series of free live, outdoor street entertainment and music, taking place Sunday afternoons until September 5.  

This year VisitNorwich’s Summer is on campaign messaging aligns with the EDP’s Summer in the City. It builds on people’s confidence to go out, and invites people to enjoy all that there is to do this summer in Norwich. After such a long period of disruption we have plenty of options to entertain us which includes: Dippy On Tour at Norwich Cathedral, the GoGoDiscover T.rex sculpture trail and Norwich BID’s own City Food Trail as well as a long list of other dino-themed events.  

Outdoor activities include City Escape Games and Crazy Golf at Eaton Park as well as alfresco cinema, theatre, dining, and live music.  

Stealing words from last year’s campaign, we’re still in the territory of ‘business unusual’. However, with more and more people getting vaccinated, and businesses doing their very best to provide safe environments where people can feel confident, VisitEngland’s sentiment tracker results in July is reflecting increases on 2020 of overnight stays and visits.  

The general public are being cautious, but travelling is increasing, whether it’s half an hour away or further. And businesses are open for our enjoyment; there is no lack of things to do. 

The pandemic has thrown us into discovering places to visit all year round; a habit we hope will continue. Over the past 18 months travel shows and national print sections have highlighted our beautiful lands - actively promoting staycations. And Norwich and Norfolk have had their fair share of all of it.  

Sykes Cottages Staycations Index revealed East Anglia has made it into the 10 fastest growing regions for the first time. We have learnt that we can enjoy ourselves not just in our warmer months. We’re hoping this will lead to growth in tourism in the traditional ‘low season’ with longer stays, people enjoying wonderful experiences and the outdoors even if it means wrapping up warm.  

Picture of a restaurant in Norwich

Norwich BID held regular recovery meetings with all sectors, while VisitNorwich continued work to keep Norwich in the hearts and minds of local people and visitors alike - Credit: Norwich BID

The Government has produced a Tourism Recovery Plan, which forecasts that UK tourism won’t get back to 2019 levels until 2025, and emphasises the sector’s economic, social and cultural importance. Tourism made a direct economic contribution of £75 billion a year pre the pandemic. Now, the Government aims to see domestic tourism recover volume and value to 2019 levels by the end of 2022. And overseas inbound by 2023.  

We don’t know what the future holds but we do know that it’s human nature to want to travel and be social. And this area - with its walkable, cultural medieval city close to the Broads, countryside and coast - will always be a destination that holds its own, domestically and internationally. 

We look forward to welcoming people back to Norwich from near and far and we particularly look forward to welcoming first-time visitors who we hope to convert to forever friends.  
For inspirational stories, places to visit, eat, drink, shop and stay to go