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Norfolk and Suffolk visitor economy bounces back from Covid but still a third down on 2019

Norfolk and Suffolk’s visitor economies bounced back in 2021 from the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, but were still a third down on 2019’s record figures.

Figures released by Visit East of England show that Suffolk’s 2021 tourism value was up 59% on 2020 to £1.4bn, but still 35% below 2019, and Norfolk’s 2021 tourism value was up 54% on 2020 to £2.3bn, but 32% below 2019.

Tourism-related employment in Suffolk rose by 31% in 2021 to 33,738 but that is 24% down on 2019 and in Norfolk it rose by 17% to 50,777, 27% down on 2019.

This means tourism was 10.8% of all employment in Suffolk and 14.3% in Norfolk, down from 14.2% and 19.5% in 2019.

Day trips in Suffolk were 22.8m, 55% up on 2020, but 34% down on 2019’s 34.7m. Overnight trips were 1.1m, 60% up on 2020, but -36% on 2019’s 1.7m.

Day trips in Norfolk were 29.6m, 36% up on 2020, but 39% down on 2019’s 48.8m. Overnight trips were 2.3m, 63% up on 2020, but -26% on 2019’s 3.1m.

The coalition of destination organisations, led by Visit East of England, continued to promote the region as ‘Unexplored England’ to encourage a return of visitors when the final lockdown ended in July 2021.

Nigel Huddleston at Southwold

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston (centre) at Adnams with VEE chair Andy Wood and VEE executive director Pete Waters.

VEE also invited Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston to Suffolk to see how resilient the tourism sector was. He visited Southwold Pier and Adnams Brewery, Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings, Sutton Hoo and the Ipswich Food Hall.

Visit East of England Executive Director Pete Waters said, ‘While the figures are encouraging, there is still a lot more to do to get the vital visitor economy back to pre-pandemic levels. We thought that might happen in 2022, but the impact of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine put paid to that.’

‘The Summer’s lengthy spell of warm, sunny weather will have encouraged more staycations, as will the increase in the cost of going abroad and the disruption at airports and Dover. Footfall has been excellent but growing financial pressures will inevitably have meant visitors spent less.’

VEE’s August trade survey suggested that there was an even split of businesses believing 2022 is better than 2021, that it is the same, and that it is worse.

Mr Waters added, ‘As we come out of the main part of the tourism year, there is now an existential threat to hospitality businesses in particular. It’s a perfect storm for them: struggling to get enough staff to cover expected opening hours, many having to reduce serving times or stay closed; increased costs including food and fuel; and potential customers with less disposable income.’

UK Hospitality estimate that the sector has lost around 250,000 experienced workers since Brexit and trade bodies are calling for more government intervention, including reducing VAT to 5%, introducing business rate rebates, re-introducing a cap on energy price rises and new decarbonisation and grant schemes to support SMEs to migrate to renewable and alternative energy sources.

Many businesses will naturally close down after the New Year until February half-term to give them a chance to have their own breaks and to do essential maintenance, but it’s thought that many who might have remained open will mothball themselves to save on expenditure.

Suffolk Volume and Value 2021 report

Norfolk Volume and Value 2021 report