'The digital journey has to be at the heart of any tourism business'

A Hoseasons holiday property with a hot tub

Investment is essential to ensure the East of England holiday sector continues to innovate and provide a quality experience that matches customers' expectations - Credit: Hoseasons

Victoria Colton, property and owner experience director at Hoseasons, which sponsors the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022, tells us more about the East of England holiday market. 

How important is innovation in the future of the East of England holiday market? 
Innovation should be at the heart of any tourism business’ growth or customer retention strategy. If you look back over the last 15 years the sector has gone through enormous change. This has been driven by innovators in the sector, mostly down to a digital shift, and also by customers (rightly) demanding more. 
Firstly, the internet and social media have changed the way customers want to interact with brands. They want information at their fingertips, they want to be inspired and they want to purchase things quickly and easily.  

Victoria Colton, property and owner experience director at Hoseasons

Victoria Colton, property and owner experience director at Hoseasons - Credit: Hoseasons

In a sector which is all about fun, excitement and inspiration this is even more important. The digital journey has to be at the heart of any tourism business’ future innovation. 
Secondly, investment in the product is essential to ensure the sector continues to innovate. In the same way customers want to be inspired to travel, the quality of the experience must match their expectations.  
But it isn’t just about simply spending more money on renovations, it’s also about staying ahead of the curve. Ten years ago, treehouses and yurts were a small part of the UK market - now many caravan and park sites offer them as standard. 
So, what’s the next treehouse-style accommodation, and is my digital customer journey converting to bookings? These are the questions the regional tourism economy must continue to ask itself if it wants to grow and thrive. 

What does the next 12 months hold for the East of England visitor economy? 
In a ‘normal’ tourism year this would be an easy question to answer. As a regional tourism economy, we would continue to see innovation and development, and investment and growth – it’s what has been at the heart of our collective success for the last 20 years. However, the current and future impact of Covid will undoubtedly shape the next year more than any of these factors. 
The first impact of Covid in our sector is on customer behaviour. While the sector did an amazing job in delivering holidays for an unprecedented number during the peak periods, this was only achieved because a large group of people were unable, or unwilling, to travel abroad.  
It certainly looks like it will continue to be a factor in their decision making in 2022. Our own data is showing that we have a high number of repeat bookings, giving us confidence that the sector will continue to benefit from some uncertainty.  
The second big impact, and the most pressing one for the prosperity of tourism in the region, is recruitment and retention of staff.  
Nobody has a magic wand to solve this issue in the next 12 months, but the industry must work collectively to solve the longer-term challenge – tourism is an amazing sector to work in, but we need to tell that story better.  
The final big trend for 2022 will be driven by the quality of the customer care our businesses provide. After nearly 24 months of lockdown and restrictions, with people missing out on essential human contact, the care and attention the industry provides will be a big part of the holiday experiences we offer. 

The Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award recognises an individual working for a tourism business who excels in their role and deserves to be applauded for their work and commitment to the industry. This is a non-entry category and the winner will be selected by a panel of judges and announced at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021 celebration event on February 24.