Easter traditionally heralds the start of the tourism season. High time, says Emma Outten, to look at what’s happening in the region’s fast growing visitor economy
Tourism is big business in this part of the region. Latest figures show that it’s worth more than £5 billion per year to Norfolk’s and Suffolk’s economies, with Norfolk’s tourism trade alone hitting a record £3.25bn, and more visitors coming to the county than ever!
And there’s been something of a rebrand, with Visit East Anglia becoming Visit East of England, and welcoming two of Norfolk’s and Suffolk’s foremost tourism and hospitality businessmen as the new President and Chairman: Lord Leicester of Holkham as President, a newly-created position, and Dr Andy Wood OBE, chief executive of Adnams of Southwold, as chairman.
More recently, the organisation has overseen a new Tourism Sector Skills Plan, outlining ambitious plans to future-proof the sector’s skills provision.
Tourism employs more than 78,000 people in Norfolk and Suffolk and, since 2010, it has been the fastest growing sector in the UK in employment terms – the new plan aims to meet the region’s projected demand for up to 11,000 new workers in the sector by 2024.
And therein lies the challenge, as Executive Director of Visit East of England, Pete Waters explains: ‘We have to overcome the idea that ‘hospitality’s okay until I can get a proper job’. It’s a rewarding trade with good career opportunities for people with the right attitude, good communication skills and personality. And while we want to encourage more youngsters into the sector it’s also accessible to people of all ages.’ Chair of the visitor economy skills group is Steve Thorpe, former head of the Hotel School at City College Norwich.
At city level, VisitNorwich, as part of Norwich Business Improvement, is planning to launch a new brand for Norwich at BID’s inaugural Tourism & Culture Conference on April 2. When it comes to attracting visitors, Caroline Mayers, Head of Marketing at Norwich BID/VisitNorwich, believes that the hospitality offer is integral to demonstrating the spirit, personality and energy of a city: ‘From our recent national research, visitors are seeking locations with a variety of high quality eateries, including cuisine options that demonstrate the locality of a place.’ Plus, she adds: ‘Norwich is well-placed as a hub for foodies now more than ever with our award-winning large outdoor market, showcasing the best of international street food.’
Feeling well-catered for is clearly a big attraction to visitors. In North Norfolk, Celia Deeley is Enterprises Manager at Holkham. She says: ‘The warmth of the welcome and quality of the food we offer to our guests is of paramount importance to us at Holkham, recognising the wealth of fine establishments and local producers along the North Norfolk coast as being a key attraction to this area. It is for this reason that we host the annual North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival, one of the region’s premier local produce events which attracts more than 10,000 visitors over the two days.’
She adds: ‘Our three cafés – The Courtyard Café in Holkham Park, The Lookout at the entrance to Holkham National Nature Reserve and The Beach Café at Wells – are completely different in terms of their settings and food offers but, like The Victoria Inn at Holkham, our main themes are consistently ‘fresh, local and seasonal’.’
Nick Attfield is Director of Properties and Experiences at Adnams and has been busy preparing the latest addition to its Managed Properties Group, The Cross Keys in Aldeburgh, for its recent opening. He says: ‘We’ve got a really tight portfolio of really great pubs and are concentrating on making brilliant experiences for as many people as possible.’ This latest pub aims to offer ‘fabulous Adnams food and drink, three cosy bedrooms and the perfect coastal location.’ And that in itself has its own implications, as he adds: ‘There’s a huge skills set we have to fill now.’
Visit East of England board member, Tom Blofeld, of BeWILDerwood in Horning, says that providing a top notch visitor experience is at the core of everything they do: ‘Quite rightly, with visitors coming to see us from throughout the UK with the highest of expectations, BeWILDerwood has to be the best in the industry, especially when it comes to food.
‘We maintain close ties to the area by sourcing the majority of our produce from Norfolk – we stock sausages from local award winning butcher Archer’s and ice cream from Ronaldo’s in Norwich.’
As he points out: ‘If we don’t provide the best in what Norfolk offers, visitors might just bring their own sandwiches…and no one likes a squished sandwich.’
Pete Waters again: ‘Getting hospitality right is so important to the visitor economy because it’s the way we choose to portray ourselves to our customers, and perception is everything. If people have had a good time and been treated well then they’ll come back, and that applies equally to a specific restaurant meal or to their overall experience on a short break or holiday.’
The annual Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Business Survey has been launched by Chartered Accountants, Larking Gowen.
Featured in issue 35 – April 2019