Great Yarmouth: Tourist spot hopes for 'best summer ever'

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image copyrightGreat Yarmouth Hippodrome
image captionJack Jay says the UK government's lockdown roadmap is a psychological boost ahead of the summer months

The government's roadmap to life out of lockdown has dangled the carrot of a return to normal life - at least in England - by mid-summer. But with Easter breaks now not possible, how are businesses in one of the UK's tourism centres feeling about the future?

When the pandemic began, Great Yarmouth Hippodrome already had its set built for its Easter holiday show.

But when the first national restrictions were imposed on 24 March, 15 box office, technical and ancillary staff at the Norfolk venue were furloughed, as fears built that arts venues would struggle to emerge from lockdown at all.

"June is a long way off, but psychologically it helps so much," said the hippodrome's ringmaster, producer and impresario Jack Jay.

"Our town is so heavily dependent on tourism, but there is a real sense that this could be a summer of rediscovery for British tourism."

image copyrightGreat Yarmouth Hippodrome
image captionThe venue was built in 1903 and is one of only three purpose-built circuses in the world where the stage sinks to reveal a full swimming pool

Mr Jay took the baton from his father Peter, who bought the historic venue in 1979 and is now its artistic curator.

He said he was "naturally disappointed" that restrictions would not ease in time for Easter, but said it had not been unexpected.

"Coming out of this is like a deep-sea dive - you need time for decompression at every stage.

"We want to do it right and for this to be the last time [we face these restrictions]," he said.

image copyrightGreat Yarmouth Hippodrome
image captionGreat Yarmouth Hippodrome saw its 900-person capacity cut by two-thirds in order to host socially distanced shows

The grand art nouveau venue, built in 1903 and tucked away behind an amusement arcade, remains one of only three purpose-built circuses in the world where the stage sinks to reveal a full swimming pool.

It resumed socially-distanced shows briefly last summer while permitted by lockdown laws, but with its capacity reduced from 900 to 300 spectators.

Mr Jay said: "The final piece of the puzzle for us is what happens with furlough - will it be extended to support businesses through to the end of the lifting of restrictions?

"That support, the final furlong of furlough, could be the final piece of the puzzle. It could even be our best ever year, and my God we need it."

image captionAlbert Jones fears his business would not have survived without government support

One of Great Yarmouth's biggest attractions is its Pleasure Beach, which regularly drew in almost a million visitors a year pre-Covid.

"Obviously we're delighted that we're able to open from the 12 April although some indoor attractions won't be able to," said its managing director Albert Jones.

"We did have a lot of help from the government with VAT, the rates, with furlough. Without that, we probably wouldn't be talking now."

image captionGreat Yarmouth Pleasure Beach drew in almost a million visitors a year pre-Covid

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Asa Morrison from Great Yarmouth's Tourism Business Improvement District shares the same optimistic vision building in the resort.

"Having visitors is the lifeblood of the town," he said.

"If people can't have holidays abroad, we'd like to think they will have one in the UK. That gives us an opportunity for expansion and for growth."

image captionPre-pandemic, tourism was one of Great Yarmouth's biggest industries

If the timetable set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets best-case scenario targets, domestic overnight stays will be allowed from 12 April, which Mr Morrison said would mean the "ball can quietly get moving" as the summer months approach.

"One of the biggest challenges in Great Yarmouth is that our tourism economy is worth £650m," he said. "It supports 13,000 jobs, 36% of the workforce... and we lost half of that in 2020.

"We need to build it up to protect businesses and jobs, so we welcome the opportunity through this plan. Let's hope we can deliver together."

The town also plans to introduce a 50m-tall (164ft) London Eye-style observation wheel to add to its post-pandemic appeal.

image copyrightGiant Wheel Co Ltd
image captionAn observation wheel has been loaned to Great Yarmouth, free of charge

In light of the PM's plan, some tour operators have already reported record demand for summer holiday bookings.

James Knight from Norfolk Broads Direct said its lodgings were no exception.

"Our phone lines are already red-hot and our email inbox is crammed.

"It's a blow to miss out on the Easter holidays and we are working with those who had earlier holidays booked, but this is our light at the end of the tunnel.

"The government are being realistic in their targets so we're certainly hopeful for 12 April.

"The last year has been one foot in front of the other. At the moment it does look like we should have a good year or two in domestic tourism."

image captionThe Norfolk Broads is a popular UK holiday destination for many

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