Yarmouth enjoys bumper summer season

NORFOLK'S multi-million pound tourism industry has enjoyed a bumper holiday season as families shun European climes in favour of the county's beaches and tourist attractions.

NORFOLK'S multi-million pound tourism industry has enjoyed a bumper holiday season as families shun European climes in favour of the county's beaches and tourist attractions.

Some holiday parks and resorts say visitor numbers have risen by up to 40pc compared to last year as more people chose to holiday in the region, instead of abroad, thanks in part to the recession and the poor value of the pound to the euro.

The so-called staycation effect has seen usage of Yarmouth's car parks rise by 40pc and north Norfolk's Bewilderwood adventure park has seen visitor numbers up by 35pc.

And Norfolk's countryside is also luring more trippers - with some camps reportedly having to turn people away.

The rise in visitor numbers is a welcome boost to the region's tourist economy, which generates �2.4bn a year and employs 35,000 people.

Michael Timewell, the chairman of Norfolk Tourism, has seen bookings at his Kelling Heath Holiday park soar by 30pc compared to last year.

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He said: “The majority of Norfolk tourism businesses are benefitting from people holidaying at home.

“Business has been brisk in the county. The real stars this year have been touring and camping. People have been rediscovering the holidays of their youth and are already booking to return next year.

“There also has been a huge increase in the number of people booking holiday homes.”

The news comes as official figures released today showed that Britain is becoming a nation of stay-at-homes, with people travelling less now than they did two years ago.

Statistics released from the Department for Transport revealed that the average distance per person travelled in 2008 was 6,923 miles compared with 7,103 miles in 2007.

The average length of trips taken - which included walks, road, rail and within-Britain air travel - was 7 miles last year compared with 7.3 miles in 2007.

Meanwhile, a separate report from VisitEngland revealed that the number of people going to England's visitor attractions rose 2pc last year compared to 2007.

John Lindsay, owner of the Clippesby Hall campsite near Acle, has been reaping the benefits of families choosing camping instead of more expensive holidays.

He said: “We have had a cracking summer and the weather has helped. We were fully booked for the school holidays by April.

“It is just the number of people we have had to turn away that has been a pity - although I am sure other campsites will have benefitted.”

In Yarmouth car park use has increased by 40pc during the holidays and last month Hunstanton's and King's Lynn tourist information centres had 5,000 more visitors than the previous seven years.

Yarmouth's Merrivale Model Village has seen visitor numbers increase by 16.5pc.

Owner Peter Williamson said: “We are seeing the real impact of visitors that have chosen to stay in the UK this year. So far 2009 has been a fantastic year.”

Another knock on effect of the staycation phenomenon has led to use of double decker sighting buses in Norwich and Yarmouth increasing by 25pc and passenger numbers on the North Norfolk railway rising by 8pc last month compared to 2008.

Fakenham's Pensthorpe nature reserve has seen a 20pc increase and Broads boating companies have reported a 35pc seasonal surge in bookings.

Martin Goymour, the director of Banham Zoo, near Diss, said his site has seen a 14pc increase in business.

He said: “We have certainly benefitted from the better weather, which is a big factor and were also assisted by the staycation.

“People are re-examining their holidays abroad- and that it good for Norfolk which has so many attractions and the coast and countryside.”

Barry Woodgett, chairman of Mid-Norfolk Railway which runs special train services, including some steam services, between Dereham and Wymondham, said: “It has been a pretty good summer. Our passenger numbers are up on last year quite considerably which is very encouraging.

“Last year was a record year for Mid-Norfolk Railway and this year we expect to top that.

“I am quite sure that there are a lot of people who have stayed at home this year and are looking for good value for money, and we believe that Mid-Norfolk Railway offers that.”

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse has also seen an increase in visitors this summer. Between July 20 and August 16 this year 9,830 people have visited the attraction compared to 9,163 between July 21 and August 17 last year.

According to Visit England, categories which showed the most growth with above average increases included farms (up 8per cent), museums/art galleries (up 7per cent), visitor/heritage centres (up 6per cent) and places of worship (up 5per cent).

VisitEngland chief executive James Beresford, said: “The uplift in numbers and increasing appreciation of England's world-class attractions is extremely welcome news.”