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Norfolk and Suffolk visitor economy suffers dramatic drop as a result of Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on Norfolk and Suffolk’s tourism trade last year, with the visitor economy in the two counties shrinking by nearly 60% and thousands of jobs lost.

Figures released by Visit East of England show the value of tourism shrunk by 56% in Norfolk, from £3.4bn in 2019 to £1.5bn in 2020, and 59% in Suffolk, from £2.1bn to £885m.

Tourism-related employment in Norfolk fell 38% from 69,266 to 43,414 and in Suffolk 42% from 44,498 to 25,840.

In Norfolk, staying trips dropped from 3.2m to 1.4m (-56%) and leisure day trips from 48m to 21m (-56%). In Suffolk, staying trips dropped from 1.7m to 699,000 (-58%) and leisure day trips from 34m to 14m (-58%). The number of staying nights fell by 58% in Norfolk and 63% in Suffolk.


In comparison spending by domestic tourism in Britain in 2020 was down 63% compared to 2019, based on a decline of 60% for staying trips and 64% for leisure day trips.

Visit the Broads chair Mary Sparrow said, ‘The figures are down but businesses were open for less than half their usual amount of time, so we should take this as a positive compared to what they could have been.

‘For most businesses 2020 was not about making profit but remaining in business and a significant majority achieved this and did so whilst implementing new safety measures to ensure all guests were good to go and safe.’

Visit East of England executive director Pete Waters said, ‘The figures demonstrate the resilience of businesses to get through what could have been a catastrophic situation. Clearly Government financial interventions were key and furloughing helped avoid a large number of redundancies. Temporary staff and those on zero hour contracts were not as fortunate.

‘Nonetheless, the figures highlight the importance of the sector for the wider economy and employment and the need for tourism to have had a strong 2021. Businesses will have learnt lessons from the pandemic and the industry will come back stronger in 2022.’

Great Yarmouth

Norfolk and Suffolk Tourist Attractions deputy chair Peter Williamson said, ‘Despite lockdowns the attractions sector didn’t do too badly, even with restricted numbers. This was made possible by Government assistance, particularly with the reduction in VAT, but fixed costs are going up, some of which might get passed on to the visitor, and there are staff shortages, but we’ve come through this and that’s the main thing.’

Steve Mitchinson, National Sales Manager at Norfolk-based The Original Cottage Co, said, ‘Despite a strong growth in the national demand for staycations, the large periods of lockdown in 2020 resulted in lower customer occupancy within our portfolio, and Norfolk and Suffolk both saw less customer holidays take place within 2020 versus 2019.

‘But the national lockdown that we endured in early 2021 seemed to create an even greater demand to get away in the UK. Since Easter we have seen occupancy records set for each of our key periods. 2021 bookings for Norfolk and Suffolk have exceeded those in 2019 by 18% and 13% respectively. At the same time the number of people booking in advance for next year is also up significantly (+29%), naturally this is fantastic for our homeowners.

‘Our message continues to be ‘book early to avoid missing out on your favourite property’!’

Visit East of England, with the support of every local authority and destination marketing organisation in Norfolk and Suffolk, continued to promote the region in 2020, not least with the £500,000 Unexplored England campaign which promoted extending the season from the end of lockdown in July to the October half-term.

The campaign restarted at Christmas, with a budget of £175k, to build demand and bookings for 2021.

Norfolk County Council also launched a £2.25m Tourism Recovery Fund which was distributed to local businesses across the county.

The latest figures come shortly after Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston visited the region to see how businesses were recovering from the Coronavirus crisis and also the publication of the Visit East of England Destination Development Plan, an initiative supported by New Anglia LEP and every local authority and destination organisation in the region.

Read the Visit Norfolk figures here

Read the Visit Suffolk figures here