By Sarah Chambers
Friday, February 1, 2013
THE East of England became one of the fastest-growing tourism areas last year, as price-conscious holidaymakers opted for “value” destinations, a survey has found.
The trend for “staycations” and high fuel prices have been credited with helping the region achieve a 21% rise in tourism spending per trip over the summer – the highest growth across England.
Between July and September, which took in the period of the London Olympics, the region hosted fewer visitors than the previous year, but they spent more and stayed longer.
Keith Brown, chief executive of Visit East Anglia, said he was “delighted” with the figures, which were issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and for the east cover Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.
“The report in question is very encouraging and I think that if we continue to offer a high-quality experience at a value-for-money price we stand a very good chance of maintaining our position as one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the country,” he said.
In the year to September 2012 we
•Had the largest average length of stay growth in the UK(9.41%)
•Had the highest growth in average spend per trip in the UK (21.71%)
•Had the second highest growth in total tourism expenditure and double the national average(8.77%)
In Suffolk and Norfolk alone, tourism is worth about £4.2billion, although it is still a “Cinderella” sector, said Mr Brown.
“The east, like many regions of the UK, saw a small decline in the number of trips taken in both the quarter and the year to date,” he said.
However, overall, visitors are staying longer and spending more money, he pointed out.
In the quarter to September, the east saw the highest increase in total tourism spending in the UK at 13%, bringing total spend to £652million. Visitors spent an average £205 a trip, still £1 below the England average of £206 a trip.
The east also saw the second highest rise in total bed nights spent here at 12%. However, the number of trips was down by 6%, dropping from 3.4million to 3.2m.
“Like any research, there’s a fair amount of salt to be taken with it, but the trend information is, we think, fairly accurate,” said Mr Brown.
“The picture for the longer term prospects is very good - we are growing faster than most regions.”
He believes the spending growth is partly down to the fact that the east is a “value” area, but is also striving to be a quality one.
“We don’t have premium pricing for hotels for example,” he said. “That’s actually a very good place to be when there’s an economic squeeze. That’s why we think there’s this growth because it’s cheaper to stay here than other parts of the UK.”
Suffolk and Norfolk are both strong in self catering, which is a growth area, he said.
“I think the trend in this latest report is pretty accurate, which bodes well, all things being equal, for a slightly better year than we were anticipating,” he said.
“We are close to a lot of people and people are paying attention to what they are spending and getting. Driving five or six hours is not an option for a lot of people and staying somewhere closer to home would support those figures. That will continue to be the case as fuel prices continue to rise.”
Visit Suffolk will be hoping to capitalise on the spending growth with the launch of its controversial “Curious County” digital marketing campaign in London on February 12. Critics of the campaign believe it is potentially demeaning to the county, but tourism bosses have continued to stand by it, believing that it will help reach bring the county to the attention of new audiences.
Spokeswoman for Visit Essex Eli Constantatou said: “The whole staycation movement has helped motivate people to stay at home and generate pride in your own area which is fantastic. We are also working with our Olympic ambassadors to continue promoting areas closer to home.
“The summer weather hasn’t been great but from figures we have collected so far there we have also seen an increase in the visitor numbers to the various attractions in Essex.
“Usually during Olympics we would expect to see a drop in numbers of visitors to areas near where they are taking place. People stay away because of the crowds and higher prices, so this is very positive news for us and the whole region.”