Boom time for Broads boating
THE Broads boating industry is enjoying a major boom, with a surge in bookings, investment and new jobs.Latest evidence shows the sector is continuing to buck the economic downturn, with firms reporting optimistic booking figures, new jobs and massive investment in their fleets and onshore facilities.
THE Broads boating industry is enjoying a major boom, with a surge in bookings, investment and new jobs.
Latest evidence shows the sector is continuing to buck the economic downturn, with firms reporting optimistic booking figures, new jobs and massive investment in their fleets and onshore facilities.
One of the Broads' major operators, Richardson's, of Stalham, is reporting an 8pc surge in bookings, coming on top of a 9pc rise last summer which was one of its best seasons for years.
And the boom has even put the wind in the sails of the Hunter's Yard, in Ludham, which has seen bookings on its classic mahogany sailing cruisers rise 2pc, with an 8pc increase reported on its half-decker day boats.
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The revival comes at a time the Broads is bidding to increase its stature by being named as a world heritage site and the Broads Tourism Forum is leading a concerted campaign to rebrand it as Britain's magical waterland.
Bruce Hanson, head of tourism at the Broads Authority, said: 'Most businesses are happy despite the economic climate and it is brilliant news that we are still up on last year when we saw a 5pc rise in visitor numbers to the Broads and a 2pc rise in visitor spend. The industry really seems to be pulling together now under the Broads Tourism Forum which is driving it forward.'
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Greg Munford, group general manager at Richardson's, said: 'Bookings on our online booking system introduced last year are even more encouraging, up 24pc.'
He said the buoyant outlook had encouraged them to invest �600,000 on 20 boats from France for this season and they had put aside money to develop a new hull and superstructure for next summer.
'We are using the labour force from our own yard to do the work on the new boat and have already employed an extra 12 people on the project,' he said.
Mr Munford said the staycation phenomenon seemed to be gathering force and as a niche holiday market, boating was reaping the benefit.
Hunter's Yard manager Vikki Walker said: 'We have had quite a few new people from the UK and have gained trade from going to the Birmingham Boat and Caravan Show with the Broads Tourism Forum.
'Last year's BBC show River, with Griff Rhys-Jones, also seems to have had an impact and we even picked up four customers from Australia who saw the programme.'
She said their new RYA training courses taking sailors to level one and two had also proved a success, with the course that had just finished being all but fully booked. Customers on that had included a range of enthusiastic novices from a retired fire chief to a family with teenage children.
Elsewhere on the Broads, Paul Greasley, managing-director of Norfolk Broads Direct, which has bases in Wroxham and Potter Heigham, said bookings were not quite matching last summer 'which was the best season we have ever had' and acknowledged the effect of the economic climate.
However, he said: 'I remain confident overall that a quality product is what people want and we are �1.5m into a �3m capital expenditure programme over two and a half years.
'In December, we bought moorings adjacent to us in Wroxham and will be developing those and a boat shed and bringing in 17 brand new high end boats over the next two years.'
Part of the investment has been in the development of a trial hybrid diesel and electric cruiser which will be formally launched later this week.
Langford Jillings, manager-director of Alpha Craft at Brundall, reported that they were virtually fully booked on their 22-strong fleet through to the end of the season.
The boat-building side of his business was also flourishing with advance orders for 16 mouldings and strong interest in a new model they were developing for Christmas indicating the healthy position of the Broads hire market.