For over 20 years the responsibility for tourism has been devolved to the Welsh Government.
Hence, now might be an appropriate time to review just how successful the Welsh Government has been over these years and analyse the latest results for the 2023 season.
Within a few years of the Welsh Government taking control of tourism the Wales Tourist Board, which included representatives from the tourist industry was abolished. This was followed by the closure of the four Regional Tourism Partnership’s throughout Wales, which again had tourism operators’ involvement.
Following these closures everything is now controlled centrally by Welsh Government with the following results: –
The number of overseas Visitors to Wales has dropped by a third in the last three years, and the amount that tourists spend on their visit to Wales has also dropped by a massive 24%.
Of the 41 million international holidaymakers that came to Great Britain in pre-Covid times only I million of them eventually visited Wales i.e. just 2%.
However, 20 years ago Wales was already getting I million overseas visitors so in the last 20 years Welsh Government has increased overseas visitor numbers by 0%!
1 million overseas visitors to Wales; Scotlandby comparison gets approximately 3.46 million international visitors a year.
G.B residents took 2.788 million leisure day trips in 2022. However, again Wales only attracted 6% of this total.
A strong brand/image of a country is vital to encourage tourism to Wales especially in our modern social media era.
When you think of Scotland and Ireland the following springs to mind- e.g. Tartans, Guinness, bagpipes, Irish dancing, scenery, lochs, shamrocks, Irish pubs, Leprechauns, New Year’s Eve celebrations, Loch Ness Monster, golf, fishing, etc., etc.,
However, the present brand image of Wales in a recent visitor survey was – rain, sheep, rugby, poor roads network. Hardly inspirational reasons to visit Wales.
However, why do we not promote our amazing 600 castles, coastal pathways, the Dragon flag, historic legends, spectacular landscapes, etc., etc.?
The question also needs to be asked if Welsh people really want a thriving tourist industry?
If the answer is yes, the whole Nation and the Welsh government, needs to back Welsh tourism as in some parts of Wales tourism is the only economic driver, and if tourism is allowed to decline there is nothing to take its place.
There has also been too much anti-English rhetoric from our Welsh Government which does not help the ‘friendly image’ needed to attract much needed new industries into Wales and helps to promote tourism.
What is the Welsh Government doing to assist Welsh tourism at a time when there is a cost-of-living crisis?
The answer sadly is not a lot. The ‘’staycation holiday’ era is a thing of the distant past, and millions of holiday makers are now reverting back to their traditional overseas holidays.
A Welsh tourism tax is on the way that could add another £50 to your bill if you holiday in Wales. It is not generally recognised that Welsh people will also have to pay this tax if they take their holidays in Wales.
Visitor numbers to Welsh Association of Visitor attraction sites between January 1st to August 31st, 2023, compared to the same dates in 2022 revealed 45% of attractions saw less visitors.
The new Welsh Governments 182 day booking law requires all self-catering operators in Wales to book their premises for 182 days a year. For the majority 182 days of bookings is simply unobtainable especially in rural areas.
On top of this many operators are also reporting that they have had a poor year.
In the most recent self-catering survey 42% of operators have placed or are considering putting their self-catering businesses up for sale. In the same survey only 25% of self-caterers think they will hit the 182 days of bookings required to stay in business rates this year.
Caravan and camp sites in Wales have also had a poor summer with 48% of providers seeing fewer visitors.
The activity sector in Wales noted that 62% of their members reported a reduction on last summer’s figures.
Welsh serviced accommodation and hospitality were also 39% down on visitor numbers when compared to last year.
The 20 MPH law is already causing tourism issues, and this law now covers 34% of all the roads in Wales. No one can argue that a speed limit around schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc., is a good idea, but a blanket Wales coverage?
Reports in the national press/TV indicate that for many English visitors the ‘perceived thought’ of driving around at 20 MPH is putting them off from visiting Wales.
Caravan visitors, and rally organisers are also reporting that with so many hills to contend with on our roads towing a caravan means they cannot travel in second gear but are having to go down to first gear, and this is leading to long tailbacks, and presumably a huge increase in emissions.
The Welsh Governments proposal to reduce the school summer holidays from the traditional 6 weeks has been criticised by one of Wales largest attraction operators, whose companies employ over 800 people. These vital summer 6 weeks account for over 55% of his company’s yearly tourism turnover, and this situation would apply to many other attractions in Wales.
Finally, what should also be causing alarm is that 25% of all tourism businesses are not confident, or not at all confident, about running their businesses profitably this year, and two in five (40%) of Welsh tourism businesses say they had fewer customers this summer than in the same period last year.
Owing to the proven resilience of tourism operators in Wales they will stand up to these challenges.
However, if more anti-tourism laws are forthcoming, then it would be appropriate to compare Welsh tourism to a patient in an intensive care ward with Dr. Drakesford standing by to administer the last rites!
Ashford Price has been involved in Welsh Tourism for over 50 years and runs the largest showcave complex in Northern Europe. He is the Chair of Dan yr Ogof, the National Showcaves Centre for Wales
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