Ed Sheeran and TOWIE boost East Anglia tourism

Pop star Ed Sheeran and the TV show The Only Way Is Essex are proving unexpected hits for East Anglia’s tourism trade, new research shows.

Publicity generated by Sheeran means that 2017-2018 visitor numbers for Framlingham Castle in Suffolk are about 100,000 – up 15% year-on-year.

His 2017 single Castle on the Hill is about his childhood memories of Framlingham Castle and it has prompted fans to travel from across the UK to visit the attraction.

Meanwhile, the Essex town of Brentford is reporting visitors “by the coachload” thanks to fans of The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE).

The trends are revealed in the Tourism and Leisure Business Survey 2018 by accountancy firm Larking Gowen.

Lisa Bone, strategic tourism manager for Visit Essex, told the survey about TOWIE fans: “They’re still coming by the coachload, largely from places like Newcastle and Manchester. People come on hen and stag parties to do TOWIE tours.

“My role is to ensure that the area capitalises on the TOWIE success but also to show that there is so much more to Essex including history, heritage, art, beautiful gardens and culture.”

Overall, the report revealed optimism for the tourism industry of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex – with 62% of tourism businesses increasing turnover last year, and 67% anticipating increases in 2018.

Chris Scargill, Larking Gowen’s tourism partner, said: “This is great news for the sector. We have heard anecdotally how some businesses have done well but these statistics highlight how, as a collective, the sector has benefited.”

Challenges include rising wage bills, red tape and Brexit, with the departure from the European Union leading to concerns about overseas staff and increased costs.

However, other positive regional trends in the report were the rise of cycling holidays; an increase in wildlife, wellness and outdoor tourism; and a “growing hunger for history”, which bodes well for the “heritage-rich” counties of East Anglia.

Furthermore, the report highlights the work done by the counties’ tourist boards and VisitEngland, with initiatives such as the Mayflower 2020 campaign, #RAWSUFFOLK marketing, and Discover England Funding for Gourmet Garden Trails.

Pictured: Framlingham Castle ©VisitBritain/Rod Edwards