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Norfolk and Suffolk visitor economy hit new records in 2019 – highlighting potential impact of Coronavirus

Norfolk and Suffolk’s tourism trade hit a new record high in 2019 with more people than ever employed in the sector, but tourism bosses have warned it will take time to recover fully after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Figures released by Visit East of England show that the value of tourism grew by 3% to £5.5bn and tourism-related employment rose by over 3%.

In Norfolk tourism jobs were up 3% to 69,266 and in Suffolk they were up 4% to 44,498. This means tourism was 19.5% of all employment in Norfolk and 14.2% in Suffolk.

The volume of day trips in the two counties remained the same, at just under 84 million, with the value of day trips growing over 3%. Overnight trips were up slightly to 49 million, with the number of nights also increasing.

Visit East of England Executive Director Pete Waters said, ‘The figures demonstrate the vital importance of the visitor economy to Norfolk and Suffolk but we know that 2020 will see a sharp decline and we’re not out of the woods yet.’

Visit East of England, with the support of every local authority and destination marketing organisation in Norfolk and Suffolk, has just launched a £500,000 ‘Unexplored England’ campaign which aims to extend the traditional tourism season through to the end of 2020 and encourage bookings for 2021.

He added, ‘Although the last few months have been good, they won’t make up for the three months of no income for the sector, so to keep on encouraging visitors for the rest of the year could make all the difference.’

‘If all Government financial support ends next month then some businesses may not make it through, and many more jobs will be lost. If that happens then it will take years before we see the 2019 figures again. We really need the Government to continue the VAT reduction through the Winter and also continue the reduced level furlough until next Spring. Then we might have a fighting chance.’

Sonia Holman, Marketing Director at Original Cottages said, ‘2019 saw substantial year-on-year growth for the Original Cottages family, in both our Norfolk and Suffolk brands, with bookings up 20% and 17% respectively. 2020 was shaping up to be an even stronger year until the Coronavirus. We’ve since transferred or refunded over 4,000 bookings for our Norfolk Cottages brand and almost 5,000 for Suffolk Secrets.’

She added, ‘Since late-June, the significant demand for a UK staycation saw us break our daily sales record twice. This led, not only to a shortage of availability in August, but also September. We’re not seeing this demand slow down. October half-term bookings are 65% up on last year. Our advice to consumers is to book early.’

Peter Williamson, chair of the Norfolk and Suffolk Tourist Attractions, said, ‘These figures only go to show and support how popular and important tourism is to both counties. It is such a shame that following a fantastic 2019 we have had the 2020 tourist season destroyed by the Covid-19 pandemic.’

He added, ‘The recovery of our industry has started well, but there is a very long and difficult winter for the industry to get through. Nonetheless, we are very positive for 2021.’

Ruth Knight, Chair of Visit the Broads, said, ‘Following a bumper 2019, Covid-19 has been catastrophic for tourism in 2020. However, as long as we can continue to avoid any further lockdowns by following strict measures and keeping visitors safe, I see no reason why Norfolk and Suffolk will not continue to see increased visitors in 2021, as we have a fabulous offer’.

The latest figures come three weeks after Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston visited the region to see how businesses were recovering from the Coronavirus crisis.

Businesses the minister visited advocated the VisitBritain industry standard ‘We’re Good To Go’ and also ‘Know Before You Go’.

Read the Visit Norfolk figures here

Read the Visit Suffolk figures here