Almost 100 representatives of tourism businesses, local authorities and transport providers gathered at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, to hear a rallying call from Visit East of England.
The new organisation, formerly Visit East Anglia, seeks to bring together the stakeholders of the region’s largest industry sector and one of its biggest employers to create a collective voice for the first time since the demise of the East of England Tourism Board in 2011. Host Lord Leicester, President of Visit East of England, called for stakeholders to pull together to help grow the region’s £10bn visitor economy.
VEE Chairman Dr Andy Wood OBE, chief executive of Adnams of Southwold, said that the sector had to come together for the benefit of all. “The visitor economy is the largest sector in the region but is fragmented and cannot communicate with itself. We are asking the sector in the region to work with us so we can speak with one clear, collective voice in the same way that other regions have. With the huge investment in transport infrastructure and our visitor offering that is already happening, the stars are aligning for the East of England. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to galvanize ourselves, to work together, to forge a new relationship between ourselves that will bring more visitors, more wealth and more jobs to the region as well as improving skills and productivity.”
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership Chief Executive Chris Starkie said, “The tourism sector is a star performer for the region, predicted to be the fastest-growing in the East in the next five years, but we believe it has been off the national radar for too long. We believe Visit East of England can help remedy that.”
VisitBritain Director of Strategy & Communications Patricia Yates spoke about the Tourism Sector Deal that is currently being negotiated with Government and the potential opportunities of Tourism Zones. Tourism Zones would be areas with a dominant tourism-based economy and concentrate on strong local leadership with LEPs, building product, developing the year-round visitor economy, improving productivity, and fixing local transport issues.
Visit East of England Executive Director Pete Waters spoke about how the organisation can help bring the industry together as well as generate more value, firstly by offering every tourism-related business or service a free listing on the Visit East of England website. “We want to complement the excellent work of local destination marketing organisations, not compete with them. To that end we are working with the cultural and arts sector on our new website to promote our unique offering, festivals and events – things that nowhere else has.
Mr Waters also spoke about offering an alternative to the global Online Travel Agents. “They charge high commission rates and suck money out of the local economy. Our new website offers a free real-time booking mechanic for all accommodation providers that undercuts the OTAs, and using an Ipswich-based company, Staylists, we guarantee that 100% of the value of every booking with us stays in the local economy. Perhaps unlike some OTAs, we are transparent, ethical and offer fair trade with businesses.”
Visit East of England, which manages Visit Norfolk and Visit Suffolk, is also the new Sector Group for New Anglia LEP and, with stakeholders, has produced a Sector Skills Plan.
Keynote speaker Bernard Donoghue, Director of the Association of Large Visitor Attractions, said, ‘This is exactly the right time to be harnessing the collective energies of tourism businesses, destination marketing organisations and local authorities and confidently place the East of England in the consumers’ and tourism policy-makers’ minds.’