Written evidence submitted by Jim Jones, CEO, North Wales Tourism Ltd (TOU0006)
Tourism is vitally important to the North Wales economy. It brings in £3.6bn of income to the region each year, supports over 45,000 jobs (STEAM 2019) and provides the lifeblood for many small businesses. I believe it can make an even greater contribution in future and is a sustainable sector which, properly managed, will continue to thrive for generations to come.
This is too important to be left to chance. If it is to achieve its full potential, then all involved in tourism need to agree where it is heading and work to a common agenda. That should also be the purpose of promoting Wales, North, Mid, South, internationally.
If you compare Wales with overseas countries, you’ll see there is a significant difference. Wales has c34m total overnight stays. France and Spain have 433m and 471m total overnight stays. They are more popular destinations; their demand is on a far greater scale, and they offer completely different products.
Tourism in Wales is heavily weather dependent between April and October. It costs more to get a train from London to North Wales than to fly to Spain. Not only are we not likely to recover overseas visitors anytime soon, but domestic visitors are also more likely to choose Spain or France, or, if a tax is introduced, the Southwest or the Lake District over Wales.
North Wales Tourism is one of the UKs leading tourism organisations, supporting businesses for over the last 30 years, predominantly marketing North Wales as a dynamic tourism destination to our domestic markets, and branding North Wales as the adventure capital. However, over the last 6 years we have been involved in some very interesting work internationally. Our aim is to grow and maintain a prosperous and sustainable tourism industry in North Wales. We represent over 1500 tourism & hospitality businesses, including accommodation providers, attractions, activities, food and drink, retail, event operators and suppliers to the tourism industry.
There can’t be many places in the world with so many World Heritage sites in one small geographic region – and so much more besides, including the breath-taking beauty of our natural assets, a plethora of world first and world class adrenaline fuelled activities, including zip-lining and inland surfing. North Wales has an incredible variety of landscapes contained in a small area, a distinctive world heritage offer and culture, an unrivalled scope of activities, an improving food and drink offer, a large population on its doorstep, and an experienced tourism industry.
After all the trauma we’ve all been through over the past couple of years, this is a new beginning that heralds a brighter future for North Wales as a region. North Wales is heaven on earth and if we all worked together, we will be world leaders in tourism on the international stage.
However Internationally there is primarily a lack of awareness of Wales the country and all that it offers, compared with somewhere like Ireland, we are not in the same league. There is not enough targeted destination marketing in place or infrastructure within the UK with the ease of connecting visitors to remote areas of Wales. This was highlighted in the Last Mile best practice report, which included a case study from North Wales Tourism.
We don't believe the Wales brand is internationally strong, but it could be, and there have been pockets of good examples. The Rugby World Cup in Japan propelled Wales into the international spotlight. More could be drawn out to promote Wales the country within the UK, foreigners don't appear to understand the national structure of the UK. Examples given on hearing many visitors from the US refer to travelling to Wales in England.
The Welsh Government has staffed offices throughout the world, predominantly to promote trade links but also in some cases to promote tourism. North Wales Tourism have been actively engaged with the office, based out of the British Embassy in Japan. This has enabled North Wales to not only raise its profile in Japan but demonstrate increased visitor numbers and spend. Creating targeted deep meaningful relationships and embracing the powerhouse of outbound tourism in Japan (JATA) campaigns – (2015 - Top 30 most beautiful towns and villages in Europe, 2017 Top 20 most beautiful roads in Europe) have resulted in the increase of international visitors, shown below. Also, the twinning between Conwy & Himeji castles received coverage across the whole of Japan. This relationship will flourish on all levels once things get back to normal.
Supporting campaigns. Twinning ceremony, Himeji-Conwy
The same approach we took with Japan, we will be looking to replicate with the following Countries, India, China, Spain, Germany, France, Japan. We recently secured funding from Visit Wales Inbound grant, to prepare for the inbound market.
The investment went on multilingual web side upgrade, high-end itineraries, translated brochures, translated videos and social media campaign in the target countries. All this work was turned round in less than 6 weeks.
Himeji/Conwy Video - https://youtu.be/naXKgO8ZiU0
North Wales voice over videos.
In addition, on the 30.2.2022, a trade delegation from Llandudno will be attending a signing ceremony to twin Champery in Switzerland with Llandudno in North Wales.
Post-pandemic marketing and branding of Wales the country should be referencing – Wales is Open for business, draw on the positives of how Wales continues to offer access to unlimited space, the great outdoors, clean air and an abundance of lifestyle activities to promote good health and well-being.
On the subject of a tourist tax, this will create a whole new layer of bureaucracy that will impact adversely on businesses struggling to survive. It will mean there will be less money for businesses to invest in improving their infrastructure. Remarkably the Government have not produced an impact assessment of a tourist tax that considers the costs and the benefits. Nor has it considered the complexity of introducing a tourist tax. The only certainty is creating more bureaucracy.
The myth of ‘over-tourism’
Sadly, much of this has been driven by the myth of ‘over-tourism.’ This has been muddled with the lack of affordable housing and second home ownership. There are probably no more than 10 weeks a year when North Wales is busy and on some of those days it will be possible to get photographs of people queueing at the top of Snowdon. That is not surprising as it is the policy of the National Park to encourage people to go there rather than the rest of the National Park. The issue is visitor management not over tourism.
A tourism tax will do nothing to address the issue of affordable housing. In Barcelona and Berlin, both cities note, it has been used in combination with other policies to increase the availability of the private rented sector. North Wales is not Barcelona or Berlin.
It appears that the government considers the pandemic to have had no impact on the tourist industry; no loss of income; no emotional toll; no on-going levels of stress; no debts; no worries about meeting the ever-increasing costs of doing business.
As the Welsh Government reminds us; the pandemic has not gone away. We are living in a world of increasing uncertainty where any investment carries with it a considerable risk.
Some of the language and messaging on the tourist tax implies that the industry is not part of the community. We live and work in the communities. Tourism employs more people than any other in the private sector - people that live in the community and depend on it to support their families. Tourism in Wales is not controlled by remote multi-nationals; it is primarily small and medium-sized businesses, many of them family run. This would be a tax on all of them.
Most accommodation providers are now in debt. Many are teetering on the edge of survival. Many other businesses across the supply chain depend on their survival. Be in no doubt a tourist tax will be a deterrent to visitors that will reduce incomes across the community and reduce the tax take.
"We want to promote tourism in a sustainable way by increasing the spend which will create jobs and create prosperity.”