Tourism in Norfolk and Suffolk 'lost £3bn in value' during Covid pandemic

  • Watch a report by Natalie Gray

The east of England's multi-billion-pound tourism economy lost more than half its value and tens of thousands of jobs at the height of the covid pandemic, new figures reveal.

A report from Visit East of England shows the value of tourism in Norfolk and Suffolk shrank from £5.5 billion to just £2.4 billion in 2020, while the number of tourism-related jobs fell from 115,000 to below 70,000.

The report is the organisation's first in-depth analysis of the impact of coronavirus on the region's biggest industry - but does not include the bounce-back of summer 2021, when restrictions began to be eased.

Despite the stark figures industry leaders insisted there were positives to be taken, saying that anecdotal data had shown the national lockdown of early 2021 had created greater demand for UK holidays and early bookings for 2022.

Mary Sparrow, chair of Visit the Broads, 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 while 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 showed the resilience of businesses, and pointed to government-funded furlough as having helped to avoid further redundancies.

"Temporary staff and those on zero-hour contracts were not as fortunate," he added.

"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."

Despite that, the industry faces further challenges including staff shortages and rising costs, much of which will need to be passed on to customers.

Steve Mitchinson of Norfolk-based The Original Cottage Co, said there was still a strong demand for holidays in Norfolk and Suffolk.

"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," he said.

Bookings for next year were also up by 29% already, he added.

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