With tourism booming, Great Yarmouth dreams of turning the tide | Travel & Leisure
Strolling in the September sun, eating ice cream and sitting on the golden sands, visitors to Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile walked in on one last breath of fine weather.
The second pandemic summer delivered a booming tourist season for the seaside resort of Norfolk on England’s east coast, and domestic visitors continued to arrive long after the school holidays had ended.
Ever-changing travel restrictions have discouraged many from traveling abroad for their annual trip, and UK resorts, towns and country destinations have benefited. But as the season draws to a close, many coastal towns wonder if the summer influx of domestic visitors will have a lasting impact on the local economy.
Ben and Kate Atkinson and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Grace visited Great Yarmouth for the first time. The South Lincolnshire family had decided to save themselves the hassle and expense of overseas travel and were staying at a holiday park recommended by friends. “We came for the day, it’s really clean and there is a nice beach,” Kate said.
Sally and Damon Cooper of Worthing, West Sussex had stopped for a mid-afternoon ice cream while walking their three bassets along the resort’s promenade.
“We’ve been to the Model Village,” said Sally, enjoying their third consecutive September during a break in Norfolk.
Victoria Newstead, whose 27-room hotel, Andover House, is expected to stay busy with tourists in October, said: “We’ve been here 15 years, have seen 15 summers, and we’ve never seen anything like it, the occupation has been incredible. “.
Newstead has noticed that business travelers – usually people working in the offshore energy and wind industry – are coming back as well.
According to data from Social Investment Business (SIB), a foundation that provides loans and grants to improve local communities, Great Yarmouth has seen one of the biggest spending booms of any coastal town over the summer. .
Spending on food and drink rose 73% in August compared to the same month before the 2019 pandemic, and spending on entertainment rose 86%.
“These summer months have also brought much needed relief to local businesses in the hospitality and leisure industries,” said Will Thomson, policy manager at SIB, attributing the rise to the increase in domestic tourism and to easing of Covid restrictions.
After the pandemic, Thomson believes resort economies need to be more self-reliant to become more resilient.
“In order to truly upgrade cities like Great Yarmouth, we need higher levels of investment to support a local social economy that meets the needs of the people who live and work there, and creates reasons to visit the city. that are not entirely dependent on tourism. or the time of year, ”he said.
Like many coastal resort towns, Great Yarmouth has struggled to attract investment, and the area has pockets of deprivation.
A recent report by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England, who found that coastal towns had some of the worst health outcomes in the country, including disproportionately high concentrations of chronic disease, mental illness and low life expectancy.
Great Yarmouth and eight other coastal regions, including Blackpool, North Devon, North Norfolk and Cornwall, were among the council’s 13 regions with the lowest average weekly wages.
According to official data, the average weekly wage in 2020 for a full-time worker in Great Yarmouth was £ 473, almost 20% lower than the UK average of £ 587. The city recorded 6.4% of its working-age population claiming benefits in August 2021, according to official figures, 1% more than the UK average and 2% more than the rest of the region from the East of England.
Despite these statistics, Great Yarmouth Borough Council chief Conservative Cllr Carl Smith believes the town is starting to turn things around.
A constituency represented by the Tories since 2010, it has secured nearly £ 35million in government funding from the Future High Streets Fund and the Town Deal, funding aimed at helping communities recover from the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the city’s iconic glass and steel winter gardens – in place since the turn of the 20th century and previously home to a ballroom and ice rink – have received nearly £ 10million in funding from the national lottery to renovate it for the modern era.
“People can see the amount of investment we have made in the city, over £ 200million,” Smith said.
“We have our new waterfront health and recreation center which will open next summer, we have our new market which will open next spring, then we have an offshore maintenance campus for the construction industry. offshore energy, providing 650 jobs. “
The town also wants to extend the tourist season by offering entertainment during the October school holidays and beyond.
“As we approach midterm, we have our ‘fire on the water festival’ on the Venetian waterways; the first time we did it, ”Smith said.
“We know there have always been a lot of people doing low paying jobs in the vacation industry, but extending this season gives them more opportunities to work. “
They also want to keep running until fall on the city’s Pleasure Beach, which stretches across nine acres (3.6 hectares) of waterfront.
Once schools return in September, Pleasure Beach is only open on weekends until the end of the Halloween season, said co-principal Aaron Jones, who, along with his older brother, is the fourth generation of his family to lead. the leisure park.
Jones believes the tourism industry needs to make a “collective effort” to organize events to attract visitors after the peak summer season.
“There’s no question people are looking for things to do in November and December. Winter events are something that we are considering and would like to do, ”he said.
For several decades, the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust has been purchasing, restoring and reusing some of the town’s historic buildings.
Once the grand merchant houses left abandoned over the years are transformed into vibrant community spaces, including the Yare Gallery, which has proven to be very popular in a bidding city, together with the East Council Suffolk, to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2025..
The Trust’s most recent project, on King Street in the city center, is the only surviving local example of a 17th-century timber-framed building. The site had been left empty for years, ignored by an overseas-based owner. It is now transformed into an apartment upstairs, while the ground floor will become a Jamaican restaurant that will offer cooking classes for young people.
“We are taking a closer look at those problematic buildings that are vacant and neglected and do not lend themselves to other uses,” said Barker. “If we are successful in regenerating the city, we would not be needed.