22 June 2022

The creative sector is crucial to year-round tourism


    By Pete Waters - Executive Director, Visit East of England

    There is a huge role for the creative sector in helping with the evolution of tourism. Part of it is around the visitor offer. We want to work with the creative, cultural and artistic sectors to attract visitors and not just in peak season. Some say we’re open 12 weeks of the year but I’ve always been an advocate of the view that we are open 12 months of the year. A lot of shows, events and attractions do not just happen in the height of summer, and developing the year-round visitor economy is a real opportunity for us.

    Visitors are looking for things that are unique. We can say we have a fantastic coast, beaches, or a varied heritage, and while we have all those in abundance, so do other areas and they are saying exactly the same thing. We need to focus on what really is unique such as the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth (the only surviving purpose-built circus in this country), Thursford Christmas Spectacular, Aldeburgh Music and the Latitude Festival, with its broad appeal. This region has one of the best overall climates in the UK and can be enjoyed all year round by people of all ages.

    We have good momentum at the moment, but a lot has changed both in the market as tastes change and in the way we have had to adapt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We anticipate that overseas tourism is not going to return to normal any time soon. Visit Britain research suggests that people will instead take more, shorter breaks. With our breadth of offering, including the wide-open spaces of our coast and countryside, we can provide variety to draw more visitors here. We need to keep that new and different audience who perhaps came here for the first time in 2020 instead of going abroad, and the creative sector can help with that.

    Looking forward, the digital world will play a much bigger part in tourism. Practically, a lot of attractions and accommodation providers have had to invest in digital technology and that will continue. It will bring business benefits too, helping employers manage staff and predicting a clearer picture of customer volume and future trends, as well as ensuring greater accountability for stakeholders as they can assess what is working based on specific geographies and demographics.

    It also opens up creativity too. With our Unexplored England campaign, we have used social media channels, videos and blogs to help enthuse people about areas of Norfolk and Suffolk they may not normally visit. We have the locations, venues and experiences to interest people and with exciting video, engaging copy and sharing real-life experiences, this can make it a must-visit location.



    Visit East of England’s inaugural campaign video for ‘Head East’ celebrating the region’s arts, culture and heritage. It aims to promote and build a national profile of the East as a ‘must see’ UK cultural destination.

    In the next few years, a great outcome for us would be Norfolk and Suffolk becoming a Tourism Zone, as announced in the 2019 Tourism Sector deal. This would bring an appetite and potentially investment for upskilling, increasing accessibility and developing that crucial year-round visitor economy. Currently tourism is worth £5.5bn to the economy in both counties but imagine what it could be if we were a more ‘top of mind’ destination.

    Overall, we all need to work collaboratively. The mood music that is coming out of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is that if you do not speak with a collective voice, you are not going to be heard at a national level. All of us in the sector need to be speaking with that one voice.

    You can find more information on the Visit East of England website.

    This blog post was written by Pete Waters, Executive Director of Visit East of England. Originally published as part of Visions of a Creative Future, a collection of essays and reflections by UEA researchers and our partners across the region. These pieces were written from mid-2020 to mid-2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their content and tone reflects this context.

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