Bumper summer season in store in Waveney

LOWESTOFT and Waveney's tourist industry is gearing up for a bumper summer as hopes grow that the district could be set for one its busiest holiday seasons in years.

LOWESTOFT and Waveney's tourist industry is gearing up for a bumper summer as hopes grow that the district could be set for one its busiest holiday seasons in years.

Copies of the glossy 2010 Sunrise Coast tourist guides have been sent out in record numbers, and hotel, B&B and guest houses say bookings are already well up on 12 months ago.

Tourism leaders believe that uncertainty over flights caused by the volcanic air-ash chaos, hard-pressed families planning 'stay-at-home' holidays in the economic downturn, and the attraction of Waveney - with its award-winning beaches and affordable, family-friendly activities - has prompted many people to consider the East Coast rather than taking a foreign holiday this summer.

Darren Newman, Waveney District Council's service manager for tourism and events, said: 'The feedback we have received from members of the Waveney Tourism Forum has been extremely positive.

'All sections of the industry are doing well but those offering longer stays are doing particularly well.'

The news comes just days after the beaches at Lowestoft were recognised as among the finest in the country. The sandy beaches either side of Claremont Pier have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag and have received the top 'recommended' accolade from the Marine Conservation Society.

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At Southwold, the beach, harbour and other attractions including the pier continue to woo visitors.

Stephen Bournes, owner of Southwold Pier, said: 'The weather has been a bit up and down early in the season but we have more than matched last year's figures which were really good.

'In fact on some days during May we were having visitor numbers normally associated with July.'

Mr Bournes believes the trend is set to continue. 'More and more people are happy to take their holiday in England and in Southwold and Waveney we have a real gem,' he said.

Hotels and guest houses across Waveney are also reporting a big leap in bookings.

Tony Gittins, chairman of the Lowestoft Tourism Group and owner of The Sandcastle guest house on Marine Parade, said his bookings were up 50pc compared to last year and he was hopeful that things would improve still further. 'Things are looking very good for this summer,' he said.

'I'm 50pc booked up for June, July and August and the bookings are continuing to come in.'

Mr Gittins said that other hotel and B&B owners in the tourism group, were equally upbeat.

'The internet is a big help, but we've also benefitted from some great publicity. As well as the Blue Flags for our beaches Lowestoft was described as 'Suffolk's best kept secret' in one national newspaper.

'Things like that make a big difference, but we have a great venue. The seafront is our big selling point - in the evening as well as during the day since the lighting was improved,' he said.

Mr Gittins said local hotels were also benefitting from the growth of the local offshore wind power industry, as workers based in Lowestoft were filling rooms out of season.

Away from the coast the market towns and villages have a strong appeal to visitors and the tourism guide promotes the wide range of locations to be found in the area.

Major attractions such as Pleasurewood Hills in Lowestoft and Africa Alive at Kessingland are also proving popular with visitors, having invested in facilities for the new season.

The Pontins holiday centre at Pakefield is also set for a multi-million pound improvement and expansion scheme with plans submitted to the district council which will be discussed later this year.

It is estimated that the Sunrise Coast welcomes more than four million visitors to the area each year and that the tourism industry is worth more than �235m to the local economy.