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The Tourism & Leisure Business Survey is back for 2024, with half of businesses reporting a fall in profits

Those who took part in the survey had the opportunity to share their experiences in the industry. Tourism business owners shared what’s working for them, the challenges they face, and how the current economic climate is affecting their businesses.

The results of the survey showed mixed reviews about the future of the industry among business owners.
The survey revealed 83% of respondents reporting a change in spending habits among customers, which had a moderate or significant impact on their business, leading to 50% of businesses seeing a fall in profits in 2023. One-in-three businesses were anticipating falling profits in 2024. This resulted in 32% saying they planned to cut jobs, 10% said business activity may need to be reduced, and 10% said their businesses may have to close.

But there was also a degree of optimism, with 59% of respondents saying they had plans for site improvements and refurbishments, 11% were extending premises, one-in-three were looking to improve customer and employee experiences, and 36% were going to increase investment in marketing and PR.

When asked about confidence in the local tourism economy last year, 55% of businesses gave a strong score of seven or eight out of ten. That confidence has now dropped with only 24% scoring a seven or eight in the 2024 survey.
In the survey, only 9% of respondents felt that central government provided enough support for the sector. Local support was also found wanting, with only 19% suggesting enough support was being given.

Chris Scargill, Partner and head of the Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Team at Larking Gowen, said: “These are challenging times for the sector. As the world changes, so do the needs and habits of customers. People are fussier and their cash is hard-earned. More people are looking for authenticity, sustainability and making fun memories, so their holiday time has to provide a return on their investment.”

Leading Suffolk tourist attraction Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park was the setting for the official launch of the results on Tuesday 21 May, and guests representing some of the regions’ top tourist destinations were given a tour of The Lost Lands of the Tundra reserve, where polar bears Ewa, Flocke and Tala are now in residence.

Host Jimmy Doherty spoke about how he saw the tourist industry as massively important for the region beyond the £10bn of income it generates. “Tourism is not just another industry. It provides amazing jobs and makes the most of our landscape and wonderful towns and beaches. It provides a fantastic respite for a nation that needs it now more than ever, with everything we’ve been through in recent times. I think the tourism industry should be seen as a national tonic sometimes,” he said.

The Tourism Business Survey allows businesses to have their voice heard, and provides a valuable benchmarking tool. Chris Scargill said: “Following a long run of challenges and customers struggling with the rising cost of living, the tourism sector in the eastern region is understandably feeling fatigued.”

The results were discussed in detail at the annual results seminar, held at ROARR! in Norwich on Wednesday 22 May, including a panel discussion with Andrew Hird Chair of Visit North Norfolk, Stevie Sheppard, Park Manager at Jimmys Farm & Wildlife Park, and Iain Wilson, owner of Byfords, and cake makers Sponge. The seminar allows business owners and leaders in the sector the opportunity to network with their peers, and meet like-minded leaders in the sector – hopefully this, and the survey will have injected some much-needed enthusiasm and hope back into the sector.

Chris Scargill believes there’s a growing feeling in the industry that collaboration between businesses was important, especially in economically troubled times.

“My belief remains that together you’re stronger. The destination marketing organisations are helping highlight the wealth and eclectic mix of good things the area has to offer, and businesses working together to create campaigns will add value outside the reach of any one business.”

He said it’s important for businesses to realise that they’re not alone in facing current challenges. “I hope people who work in this important sector will see positivity in the data and that you’ll grow your business and continue to provide the experiences that customers are looking for in this new era.”

Speaking to Chris Scargill, Jimmy said the story of polar bears coming to the farm had seized people’s imaginations, and brought them into a closer relationship with the farm.

“We did this, not for the visitors, but because the polar bears we were rescuing needed a home, and animal welfare and conservation is at the core of our business. We’re fortunate that the story of the construction and rescue mission struck a chord with the general public and as a result we’ve seen an increase in visitor numbers. It’s important for our staff to see the business developing and staying true to our values whilst doing so.” he said.

Chris Scargill said that although there’s more negativity in the sector in comparison to the results of the 2023 survey, there were signs of light on the horizon.

With inflation going down and a recent report showing the average household being £22 per week better off, there’s hope that this would begin to reverse the downturn in spending in the sector.

To download the brochure, visit here.

Thanks to survey partners