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‘Only the best will thrive as change grips Norfolk and Suffolk’s tourism industry’ - Hoseasons boss

PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 October 2018 | UPDATED: 06:48 24 October 2018

Simon Altham, managing director of revenue at Hoseasons, which is based in Lowestoft. Picture: Hoseasons.

Simon Altham, managing director of revenue at Hoseasons, which is based in Lowestoft. Picture: Hoseasons.

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A major change in consumer behaviour is gripping the tourism industry – but it can be overcome with investment, innovation and inspiration, writes Simon Altham of Hoseasons.

I’ve worked in the travel industry for nearly 20 years, with each one of those years throwing up a different challenge for the sector.

From ash clouds and foot and mouth disease to Brexit and staycations – tourism businesses have seen it all, and 2018 was no exception.

We started the year with the Beast from the East, had four months of extreme drought, and only last week flooding in Wales. With conditions like these it’s hardly a surprise that tourism businesses had an unpredictable year.

But for me it’s not the weather that had the greatest impact on 2018 – it’s the continuing change in consumer behaviour.

Let me explain my thinking. Most of us don’t feel any worse off than we did this time last year, however many of us have delayed making big purchase decisions.

This is because while real incomes aren’t any lower, 
in fact wages are growing again, it is confidence that’s been hit.

Take a look at the housing market. The Building Societies Association says the last time the public posted any positive feelings about the right time to buy a property was March 2017.

Meanwhile, UK car sales in September slumped a staggering 20% and the high street is in real trouble with many big brands issuing profit warnings or disappearing altogether.

The tourism industry isn’t immune to this. When it comes to UK holidays the number of Brits taking a holiday at home has fallen in 2018 according to recent research from ABTA – dropping from an average of 2.1 holidays in 2017 to 1.8 this year.

An ABTA survey also showed that while 72% of Brits took a staycation in 2017, this number has dropped to 68% in the 12 months to August 2018, and they spent an average of £40 less during this period.

But why is consumer confidence so low? The lack of clarity around Brexit must be having some impact on consumer spending as we head towards a cliff edge – although many do remain optimistic about Brexit’s impact on domestic tourism, especially if additional costs are applied to travelling in the EU.

But whether holidaying at home or abroad, customers are likely to be looking for the best deal or amazing offer – whether that’s on meals out, activities or day trips – so encouraging greater confidence through offering good value will be paramount.

It’s not just a tightening of purse strings that’s changed behaviour though; as technology has evolved, so have we, and so have our expectations.

We don’t stand in the rain to hail a taxi any more; we request an Uber. We don’t settle for 9-5 business hours; we tweet, message and email to voice praise or dissatisfaction in a 24-hour cycle. And we expect a response to our feedback in the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

If we want to deliver delightful customer experiences, we must understand these new rules of availability and accessibility in service.

We must also embrace new cutting edge technology and discover exciting ways to engage and inspire our customers.

Taking this all in the round it really does look stormy on the horizon, and the waters will be choppy for some.

But, and this is the important bit, there will be opportunities. Some businesses, including our own, had a record 2018, but we all had to be resilient.

Norfolk and Suffolk have some of the UK’s brightest and best tourism businesses, so the core ingredients are all there.

We just need to be bold through investment, innovation and inspiration if we are to weather the literal and metaphorical storms ahead – as only agile businesses will thrive in 2019 and beyond.

Simon Altham is managing director of revenue at Hoseasons, which has its head office in Lowestoft.

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