I wish to first point out that this blog was written about a month ago and not published initially and then the coronavirus really began to affect us in the UK and it's publication postponed again.
Now we're all at home and looking for something to pass the time, it seems the right point to let it loose.
Cheap at half the cost
If I read another comment online that moans about boat hire on the Broads being expensive and that you can get cheaper holidays elsewhere, I think my blood will boil dry.
A quick look at some Norfolk Broads Facebook groups and Broads forums will quickly unearth people moaning about the cost of hiring a boat. The very same people might revel in a £4 take-away coffee, but when comparing the cost of a Broads Boating Holiday with, say Orlando and they’ll blow a gasket.
Let’s first put a few things straight. The Broads is the cheapest 125 mile stretch of navigable waterway to hire a boat on in the UK. It might even be one of the cheapest in western Europe. For sure, a boating holiday is more expensive than some other holidays, but it can also be a whole lot cheaper too; never forget, when you hire a Broads Cruiser for, say, six people, you are paying, perhaps £1200 in high season (more if you want) and you get accommodation and travel for six people; the price is not per-person which travel-package-hotel stay holidays inevitably are. Look at it per person and it’s £200 per person per week or just £28.57 a night per person; less than a B&B.
The Broads is the largest inland river network in the UK on which to take a boating holiday. There is no competition in terms of navigable distance without entering the canal network. And if you begin to look at narrowboat costs, you’ll quickly find that the Broads compares very favourably. If you have not already read my blog last week, I would recommend taking a look, as the Toll for Puddle Marchers will give you a bit of background into the taxes charged for using the river (a bit like road tax).
A statement of fact
So, my statement is “The Broads is the cheapest waterway in the UK on which to hire a boat for a holiday”. There is no need to take my word for this, you can do this look up online for yourself.
It is fair to say, though, that direct comparisons are becoming more difficult these days as the availability of cabin cruisers on other navigations is dwindling. There are lots of narrowboats for hire, but only The Thames, Caledonian Canal, Cambridge Ouse and Broads seem to offer cruisers now. Of these navigations, the Ouse is limited to two holiday hire operators; Bridge Boats in Ely and Purvis Marine in Huntingdon which has only one narrowboat and one Broads DC30 cruiser. There are a few day boat operators too which I will come to shortly. There are just two cruiser hire bases on the Caledonian Canal and four or five on the Thames.
Direct comparisons can be made with two boats from Reading; chosen only because both Freedom and Caversham boat operate similarly sized fleets with a couple of identical boats.
So, let’s take a look at the smaller one first; Lady of Freedom and Caversham Monarch.
Lady of Freedom for a week from Saturday 25th July 2020 will cost £1042
Caversham Monarch for the same week will cost £1445.
That is £403 more expensive. Expressed another way, that’s almost 39% or over a third more expensive. Whichever way you view this, it’s significantly cheaper in Norfolk and, remember, this is a direct like-with-like comparison: same boat model, same dates, including fuel deposit, including damage waiver.
Let’s try comparing Caversham Emperor with Absolute Freedom. Again, the same boat with exactly the same layout; the only key difference is the soft furnishings and galley finish: £2379 against £1499 for Absolute (and anybody following our facebook page will know that Absolute is having new upholstery right now among lots of other work).
Even parking is substantially more: £15 at Freedom for the week and £35 in Reading. That’s over double.
I take absolutely nothing away from Caversham Cruisers here; I selected this operator because both fleets are similarly sized and have direct like-for-like vessels to compare.
Why the cost difference?
Last week’s blog, Toll for Puddle Marchers, examined the river tolls for the Broads and discussed the differences between Norfolk and other navigations. The point I made was that the Broads river tolls are much lower than elsewhere and the toll for Caversham Monarch is on the Thames is eye-watering in comparison. I have little doubt too that rent and rates in Reading are painful compared with the Broads and I would anticipate wages are higher too. All these fixed overheads play a key role in the prices operators have to charge.
Peaks and Troughs
Remember too that holiday demand for boats is entirely seasonal and the season is quite short. Tourism’s problems are exacerbated by the government policy of fining parents who take children out of school during term. This makes all such businesses very dependent on school holiday periods of peak demand which always leads to parents and grandparents blaming holiday operators for the higher costs during school vacation periods. However, you need to stop a minute and analyse this. Let’s start with a joke:
“Not sure when the school holidays start? Just take a look at the Centre Parc’s price list for clarification”.
Now, let’s set this joke in a different scenario,
“Not sure when the morning rush hour is? Compare train prices before and after 9:30am”.
This illustrates the issue rather better; it can help focus on the real reason holidays are more expensive during school holiday times: demand.
Back to trains and the biggest demand for travel is to get people to work (note that it is not to get home). Most workplaces begin between 7 and 9am so the greatest demand on the travel network is to ensure that people are able to travel with the aim to arrive in time for work. This is when the rail network has the heaviest demand; when it needs to run longer trains, more frequent trains and ensure uninterrupted service. In short, this is the most expensive time of day for a rail operator and hence the most expensive time to travel.
After 10am, demand drops significantly and trains are less frequent, probably shorter too and the fares are considerably lower.
If demand for the rail network was roughly even throughout the day, then the supply of trains would be even and the costs would be evened out too. We can say this with almost 100% certainty because if travel before 9:30 cost 50% more than travel after and nobody actually needed to travel earlier, who in their right mind would travel early? It would be too expensive and those trains would be comparatively empty and maybe not cover their costs.
Leaving the rail analogy in the sidings of explanation, a large number of traditional holiday destinations have suffered from the government’s school policy which serves to exaggerate peaks and troughs in tourism businesses throughout England.
But it’s not just crusier hire; day boats are cheaper here than elsewhere too. We’ll start with Stratford Upon Avon. I take this example as I visited the town last year and noticed the costs of a dinghy with an outboard being £35 for an hour for up to five people. In Norwich, £35 will put five people on an electric Bishy Barney Boat for two hours. So, Stratford is not only 100% more expensive but you get much less a vessel, a very small cruising area, and you’re also burning petrol whereas the Bishy is pure electric drive and comes with a canopy. In Windermere where the Bishy boats were purchased from, 2 hours will cost £70 for five people. Again, this is 100% more expensive than in Norwich.
Over the pond
Comparing a boating holiday with travelling to Orlando is hardly reasonable either; unless you are going to Orlando for a boating holiday; though I am entirely unaware that any such thing exists. Is it even possible to hire a live-aboard river boat in America like you can on the Broads or Thames? I’ve looked today and found nothing that seems remotely similar.
You might say “yeah, but it’s still cheaper to fly out to Orlando for a week in a hotel than hire a boat”. It might be. It’s cheaper too to buy cox apples than blueberries; they are both fruits but where else is the correlation? I did a quick search here: I got the headline
Now, I am not sure I know anybody gullible enough to believe the headline price, so I clicked. The best price I could find quickly was £1295 which was for two people sharing a self-catering room in a hotel (along with over 700 other rooms), flights and car hire in June. Add a teenager and the price jumps to nearly £2000. Add another and you’re on the wrong side of two and a half thousand pounds. That will get you one of the most expensive boats on the Broads and have money left for a carvery or two.
Take a long hard look.
It might be that if somebody looks hard enough, they might be able to find boat hire in the UK cheaper than the Norfolk Broads. I’d truly like to know as I have looked and compared quite a lot as this is my line of work. If someone finds it, please comment below.
For now, I am happy that my assertion that Boating Holidays on the Broads not only remain extremely good value, they are positively cheap. Maybe not quite half the price of similar boats elsewhere, but so much more affordable to make me comfortable about the title of this blog.