From the quayside - Robert Smith talks tourism on the North Norfolk coast

Wells Harbour master Robert Smith. Picture: Ian Burt

Wells Harbour master Robert Smith. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

In his latest column, Robert Smith, harbourmaster for Wells-next-the-Sea, explores the subject of tourism on the North Norfolk coast. 

The North Norfolk coast has been considered, by many in its town and village communities, as a hidden gem. Over the last few decades, the area has gained in popularity and that perception has gradually changed, as the Norfolk coastline has been discovered as a tourist destination.

Tourism is a very emotive subject for many living in our coastal communities and opinion is divided as people either love it or hate it.

But the visitor to the Norfolk Coast is nothing new and as far back as the late 1800s and early 1900s, the aristocracy began to frequent this coastline, escaping the smog-filled cities for some fresh sea air and freedom.

People gillying by the quayside in Wells-next-the-sea.

People gillying by the quayside in Wells-next-the-sea. - Credit: Aaron McMillan

During the 1950s and 60s, the middle-class British holidaymaker started to flock to the coast. Following the decline of coastal shipping, fishing and the automation of farming, tourism has become the main economic driver of many seaside communities.

But more recently, since the pandemic and the staycation holiday, visitor numbers to our coastline have grown at an alarming rate, with the population in seaside towns like Wells seen to quadruple during the holiday season.

This brings many challenges which frequently raises the question - is tourism sustainable?

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Is it positive or negative for those people who are the backbone of the seaside communities?

These people who work, live and take a pride in their way of life - are they benefiting from the tourists who arrive en masse?

Blakeney scored highly for its incredible scenery.

Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast - Credit: Archant

Some would argue that the number of visitors brings more challenge than opportunity, with anti-social behaviour, litter-strewn streets and constant traffic problems that create havoc on a coastline without the infrastructure to cope with the seasonal influx.

But is this all the fault of the tourist or is it a lack of planning and management from local authorities and businesses?

If the local authorities ensured that their decision making was more informed by listening more to the views of people that live and work on the coast, perhaps a more sustainable outcome could be achieved.

But others would argue that tourism brings benefits to seaside communities like Wells, Sheringham and Cromer, that without the visitors, we possibly would not have the thriving independent shops, restaurants and holiday accommodation that employ so many locals.

No matter which view you support, there is one thing we all have in common - we realise that we are privileged to live and visit an amazing part of the world and what comes with that is a responsibility to protect the heritage and natural beauty of this unique coastline.