Money concerns could hit tourism on coast this summer
- Credit: Tichwell Manor/NNDC/Leigh Caudwell
Concerns about the cost of living could hit tourism in north Norfolk this summer, according to local businesses.
With school holidays around the corner, the coast is preparing for its busiest time of the year - but those expecting a bumper summer like last year's, when the staycation effect attracted more vistors than ever before to the region, could be disappointed.
Eric Snaith, who runs Eric's Fish and Chips in Holt, said: "I think it's a tough time again. There is a lot of negativity in the news, a lot of uncertainty, and this generally makes people curtail their spending.
"It's a bit frustrating, because we've just got through the pandemic, so I'm hopeful the government will do something to help with the cost of living."
Last summer, the number of visitors to north Norfolk grew, particularly those looking for a UK-based holiday due to Covid restrictions on international travel.
"I don't think it will be as busy as last summer, although that was the busiest summer on record," Mr Snaith said.
"Last year a lot of people were in a good position financially, they hadn't been spending through the pandemic, and they were desperate to get out and do stuff. Whereas now people have seen living costs going up."
Mark Durrant, team and parks manager at Kelling Heath campsite in Holt, said that last year was "unpredecedented".
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"This year we're predicting a return to pre-pandemic levels," he said.
The campsite has seen an increase in bookings from people who live in Norfolk and Suffolk, which suggests people are deciding to take their holidays closer to home, he added.
Richard Kershaw, sustainable growth and employment portfolio holder at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), echoed some of Mr Snaith's concerns, predicting a "slightly calmer" season compared to last year.
"The cost of living crisis is affecting everybody. With the cost of fuel, a lot of people will literally stay at home," he said.
Mr Kershaw does think the season will go on for longer and hopes that more tourists explore inland rather than sticking only to the coast.
Graham Hukins, commercial manager at North Norfolk Railway, was more optimistic.
"We're certainly seeing the staycation effect," he said.
"We're expecting and gearing up for a busy summer, so we move to our peak timetable from this Saturday, which runs through the school holidays and sees at least nine trains a day steaming between Sheringham and Holt."
Advance bookings for the 1960s weekend on July 23 and 24 are "looking healthy", he said.
Kayla Dunne, brand manager at Visit North Norfolk, said that while the rising cost of living has curtailed spending, there is "cautious optimism" for another busy summer.
"Following two very busy years, we knew that 2022 would be challenging for hospitality businesses due to foreign travel resuming.
"However, with the uncertainty around traveling abroad this year, having a holiday in the UK is appealing and that has contributed to the recent increase in demand for staycation holidays in north Norfolk," she added.
'Recruitment is a challenge'
Finding staff has been an issue for the hospitality industry in the build-up to the summer season.
Mr Snaith said: "Recruitment has been really difficult. We're not in too bad a position at the moment. Businesses are desperate to get people in and wages are getting inflated."
He said that north Norfolk's location means they don't always get the young population they need to fill their vacancies.
North Norfolk Railway, meanwhile, is run by a team of 300 volunteers who maintain the stations, tracks, engines and carriages, and run the trains, supported by around 40 staff.
Mr Hukins said: "Recruitment is a challenge. For the early part of the season, it's harder to fill the vacancies than usual."
The lack of enough hospitality staff is said to be down to the lockdown leading people to pursue other interests, competitive wages and demographics.