‘A lot of our custom has vanished’: River tour operator worried about future of tourism

PUBLISHED: 16:47 21 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:47 21 August 2020

Ely-based Liberty Belle Cruises have reopened but still face the impact of Covid-19 on business. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

Ely-based Liberty Belle Cruises have reopened but still face the impact of Covid-19 on business. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

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A Fenland river tour operator has spoken out about the problems they face after losing “50 per cent of trade” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaving the Ely riverside base. Picture: Supplied/FacebookLeaving the Ely riverside base. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

Liberty Belle Cruises operate 30-minute river tours from their waterside base in Ely and were forced shut in April amid the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Bob Todd took over the 23-year-old company seven years ago – following the death of the previous owner – and says a lot of his usual customers have “vanished”.

He said: “Business, now, is slower – for instance today there would be 20 to 25 coaches full of people arriving at Ely Cathedral, today there is none.

“Tourism is down; we are getting people come in by train or by car – and they do love to come down by the river – but a lot of our custom has vanished.

Bob Todd stood proudly with the Liberty Belle. Picture: Supplied/FacebookBob Todd stood proudly with the Liberty Belle. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

“I’m not sure how we can really save the tourism without getting more people coming in, it is quite difficult to know where to go forward from here.

“We’re trying our best and promoting business online and through groups, but even some people living in Ely don’t even know there is a river here.

“It is difficult and tourism has changed, the customer base has changed so we’ve just got to find the way to make it work for us.”

Mr Todd, who has worked on the Fen rivers all of his life, says he is doing all he can to boost business after he reopened again on July 11.

Liberty Belle Cruises Halloween event last year. Picture: Supplied/FacebookLiberty Belle Cruises Halloween event last year. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

He added: “We are doing our best to keep people safe and make people feel safe – that’s the main thing, make people feel safe doing what they would like to do.

“The great big outdoors is the best place to be, you’re away from confined spaces and you’ve got fresh air and sunshine – it’s the best thing for anybody.”

Now, in a bid to bring back customers on board his boat, Mr Todd has teamed up with Visit Ely for an event over the August Bank Holiday Weekend.

He added: ““We’re doing an event through Visit Ely, they’re doing a walk around the city and a little trip on the boat with us before finishing off with cocktails at RBK.

A view from the boat. Picture: Supplied/FacebookA view from the boat. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

“Anyone wishing to attend should book through the Visit Ely website, but do come down, it’s a nice way to find out about the city and the riverside.

“You’ll finish up with a nice cocktail, who wouldn’t like a nice cocktail next to the river on a Bank Holiday Weekend?”

The event – called ‘Walks With A Difference Summer 2020’ - has a minimum age of 18, given the alcohol element, and takes place on August 29, 31 and 31 from 5pm.

Talking of what lockdown life was like for him, Mr Todd added: “It’s been very difficult, it’s been frustrating sitting here not being able to do anything due to Covid-19.

Business booming for Liberty Belle Cruises before Covid-19. Picture: Supplied/FacebookBusiness booming for Liberty Belle Cruises before Covid-19. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

“But it’s good that we’re open now – it’s certainly different, we’re running at reduced capacity, there is extra cleaning going on and a lot of extra work for less custom.

“Tourism numbers in general is well down in Ely, coronavirus has meant that we have lost about 50 per cent of our trade this year.”

Mr Todd hopes he can encourage more people to climb on board the boat with enhanced cleaning procedures and safe social distancing measures in place.

He added: “We now have two cabins for two groups, instead of filling the boat up to capacity. So, there is enough room for two bubbles.

Some of the beautiful backdrop on offer on a Liberty Belle trip. Picture: Supplied/FacebookSome of the beautiful backdrop on offer on a Liberty Belle trip. Picture: Supplied/Facebook

“The boat is an open vessel so, unless the weather is bad and the sides aren’t down, you don’t have to wear a mask because you are basically outdoors.

“All of the trips themselves are still the same, but the time between trips is slightly longer because after each trip I clean down, disinfecting the whole vessel.”

For more information on Liberty Belle Cruises or to book a trip, visit: www.facebook.com/LibertyBelleEly/


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