Tourism businesses could face 'very hard winter' due to financial impact of coronavirus

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The owner of a canoe hire company in Norfolk has warned tourism businesses in the region face a race against time to make up for the money lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Wilkinson, known as 'The Canoe Man', said he expects an increase in redundancies will lead to people spending less money over the summer.

He said: "At the moment people are spending money but reality will hit, there are going to people made redundant and I think there is going to be a lot less money in people’s pockets.

"The seasonal trade has got six months to make its money or it dies and for a lot of businesses around the broads this is going to be a very hard winter."

Strict social distancing measures have been set up by The Canoe Man Credit: ITV Anglia

One of the businesses already feeling the pinch is Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, which is still prevented from opening by government guidance.

The zoo, which is run by ZSL, operates as a charity, and relies on income from visitors to look after its animals.

Chief Operating Officer Owen Craft said the ongoing closure is "really frustrating", adding that their reopening plan - complete with social distancing measures - is ready to go.

He said: "Our primary source of income through our zoos and every day we’re closed is an impact on our income, and of course our costs continue with the zoo being closed.

"We’ve still got a large cost base to ensure animals are well cared for and the site is maintained."

Social distancing posters have already been posted at Whipsnade Zoo Credit: ITV Anglia

When the zoo does reopen, it's likely they will adopt a model which requires visitors to have bought tickets online so visitor numbers can be regulated.

That is an approach being taken by other attractions in the region, such as the Welney Wetland Centre in Cambridgeshire.

Visitors will be welcomed back on 10 June, although all of them will be required to have pre-booked tickets.

A similar tactic being taken at the RHS garden at Hyde Hall in Essex, which reopened on Monday, 1 June.

The RHS gardens at Hyde Hall has welcomed visitors again Credit: ITV Anglia

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A maximum of 1,500 people are being admitted to the gardens with allocated arrival times.

The Hall's Head of Site, Ian Le Gros, admitted they needed as many visitors as possible to maintain the garden at current levels.

He said: "We are going to be very reliant on good levels of patronage to help us maintain the level of the garden that you see now."

In order to reassure the public two-metre markers have been spray painted on areas where visitors are likely to gather, but Mr Le Gros admitted they are also relying on common sense to see that social distancing is followed.

He said: To demarcate the whole of the site would be a breathtaking undertaking so we do need people to use what is comfortable for them and make their own decisions, just be conscious of other people and what they are doing."

Visitors are being allowed into the gardens in pre-booked slots Credit: ITV Anglia

There are some positive signs for tourism businesses in the Anglia region. The government's quarantine on people arriving from abroad is likely to see an increase in 'staycations'.

There have already been signs of people looking to enjoy the English countryside, according to Mr WIlkinson.

He said: "There’s no question that lots of people have made the effort - the sales of canoes and kayaks have gone through the roof.

"It sounds very good that people will be looking to stay at home and will be looking for things to do."