Curious County prompts online interest

Friday, 2 November, 2012

Would you describe Suffolk as “curious”? Do you want Suffolk to be known around the nation as the “Curious County”?

Well, the “Curious County” is one way of projecting Suffolk to the outside world. Web-based advertisements due to be run next Spring by Visit East Anglia, our region’s tourist authority, have ruffled feathers. Mine included.

An Ipswich advertising agency has come up with the idea that being curious is a good thing. They think it means being interesting or surprising.

But for the average person “curious” means something entirely different. Curious implies something strange or odd. In my view, Suffolk is extraordinary and it is unique. But it is most definitely NOT strange.

So what is going on? I called the Chief Executive to my office in the House of Commons to find out.

The campaign, it turns out, had the support of many local businesses and tourist attractions. “People there understood what we are trying to do, and we are still working on the full campaign. Ultimately, we think we've created something that's good and we stand by our idea” said the ad agency.

Someone said to me that if the “Curious County” is the start of a wider campaign then they couldn’t imagine what might follow. “Baffling Bury St Edmunds”? “Inscrutable Ipswich”?

The good news is that the campaign will only be on the web (Facebook, Twitter etc). It is not designed to rebrand Suffolk permanently or be a long term campaign. Rather, it is being tried out to generate business for summer and autumn 2013.

Visit Suffolk (a sub-division of Visit East Anglia) has come out in support of the campaign. Their manager commented that “the curious nature of the campaign will inspire and provoke a response, hopefully leading to a visit.”

Provoking a response is one thing. Attracting tourists to Suffolk is another. I have expressed my initial concern that painting Suffolk as an oddity will not encourage visitors.

To that, the professionals’ answer is simple. As a result of the controversy spreading from the pages of the East Anglian Daily Times to the national press, there have been over one quarter of a million hits on the Visit East Anglia website as a result. That’s a lot of interest.

The aim of the campaign was to raise Suffolk’s profile in the UK using social media. The campaign appears to follow the old adage that all publicity is good publicity. Those keen on social media have had their interest piqued, it seems.

Yet many local people felt the use of curious was misplaced because there are so many positive aspects of Suffolk that could have been extolled. Suffolk is a county with plenty to offer any would-be tourist.

Yes, advertising campaigns need a ‘hook’ to get people interested in what they are trying to sell. But “curious” hardly puts you in mind of picturesque Suffolk villages that are without equal in the United Kingdom.

For music lovers, Suffolk is about the Aldeburgh Festival, started by one of England’s greatest and best-loved composers, Benjamin Britten. For those who love rock music there is the Latitude Festival.

Suffolk has an awe-inspiring variety of attractions on offer. From the great English seafronts at Southwold, Orford, Aldeburgh, Felixstowe and Lowestoft to winding country lanes that you can walk or cycle along to thriving market towns which are as yet unspoilt by modern sprawl and congestion.

What about John Constable country in the south of Suffolk? He dedicated his life to painting stunning local vistas that are iconic works of art, famous the world over. The Hay Wain shows a typical rural scene by our River Stour.

Newmarket is the international home of horseracing. Nothing beats the thrill of watching racing thoroughbreds at the gallops or meeting people from around the world who congregate for the sales and the meetings.

William Cobbett the essayist and traveller called Bury St Edmunds “the nicest town in the world”. Bury St Edmunds is a bustling town. St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds – Suffolk’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ – has seen exponential growth in visitor numbers since the superb completion of the Gothic tower. You can also tour the iconic Greene King brewery if you fancy sampling the local brew. Great? Yes. Curious? Not really.

These are only a small sample of what Suffolk has to offer any prospective tourist.

What’s not in doubt is there has been much talk in the media about the trend for holidays in the UK, or ‘staycations’. The tourism industry has benefitted from a renewed interest in traditional British holidays and East Anglia is well placed to take advantage of this.

VisitEngland figures show that in 2009 there were 10.6 million domestic overnight trips to the East of England which generated a total spend of £1.4 billion. This accounted for 10% of total domestic tourist visits in the UK. In comparison London had 11% of total visitors and the South West had 20%.

It is salutary to think that attractions such as Needham Lake and Nature Reserve attracted over 300,000 visitors. The impressively revamped Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket I expect to attract ever-increasing numbers of tourists.

These positive figures came long before marketing agencies decided that Suffolk’s image needed to be called “curious”.


East Anglia benefits financially from tourism and we should encourage it at all costs. The “Curious County” campaign has, admittedly, attracted 250,000 plus “hits” on a website.


The jury is still out - as we will have to wait till next year to see if the “Curious” campaign has resulted in more visits.


Let us hope it does not reduce the number of people who seriously consider Suffolk as a holiday.