Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Wales Tourist Board

1.  INTRODUCTION
  (a)  Never before has the importance of tourism to the economy of the United Kingdom, particularly to the economy of Wales, been more apparent. Never before has the industry been so much in the forefront of the news and never before has the future, the core and the infrastructure of tourism been so thoroughly under threat.

  (b)  Tourism is one of the largest and most important industries in Wales and contributes £2 billion—over 7 per cent—to the GDP of Wales. Ten per cent of Welsh jobs are associated with tourism—over 100,000 jobs in over 10,000 businesses throughout the country.

  (c)  Tourism is critical to the success of the economy of Wales. The economy of rural Wales could not exist without it. The impact of foot and mouth disease has been felt throughout the tourism industry in Wales, in town and countryside, but the impact has been hardest in the rural inland areas of Mid and North Wales in both infected and indirectly affected areas.

2.  BACKGROUND
  (a)  The domestic (UK) market remains the biggest source of tourism business for Wales and in 1999 generated an estimated 92 per cent of overnight visits, about 81 per cent of all overnight spending.

  (b)  Awareness of Wales in many overseas markets remains variable and Wales attracts approximately 3 per cent of all overseas visitors to the UK. The overseas market however is relatively high spending and has strong all year round growth potential compared with the more traditional UK customer base.

  (c)  Promotional priorities in our five key overseas markets of the USA, Germany, France, Ireland and Holland, are twofold. Firstly, we seek to raise awareness of Wales as a distinctive holiday destination through effective communication of our brand positioning. Secondly, we seek to consolidate effective partnerships with key travel trade operators to improve the conversion rate of enquiries into actual bookings.

  (d)  The WTB continues to be closely involved in the British Tourist Authority's advertising campaigns in all primary markets to ensure additional coverage for Wales.

3.  THE IMPORTANCE OF OVERSEAS VISITORS TO WALES
  (a)  In 1999, for the first time ever, more than one million trips to Wales were made by overseas visitors, staying on average 7.2 nights and spending a total of £269 million.

  (b)  The WTB is committed to growing the percentage of the UK overseas market from 3 per cent to 3.4 per cent by 2010, predicated on a growth rate of 4 per cent per annum—more than 0.8 per cent higher than that estimated by the BTA over the same period.

  (c)  Despite the strength of the pound and other factors, the WTB was confidently predicting modest growth in its overseas market share during 2001.

  (d)  This is no longer expected. Indeed, we predicted that the core of each overseas market will be lost and the figures for visits, number of nights and spend will all drop significantly.

4.  IMPACT OF FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE ON THE TOURISM INDUSTRY IN WALES
  (a)  There is, as yet, very little detailed statistical analysis available of the impact of foot and mouth on the industry. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that the market for overseas tourism has been decimated over the past two months.

  (b)  Anecdotal evidence, coupled with the first statistical evidence (both prior to, and during, Easter) shows that overseas visitors to Tourist Information Centres are dramatically down on last year. Attraction operators and hoteliers report far fewer overseas visitors than in previous years.

  (c)  Responses to the WTB's survey of 250 businesses over the Easter period revealed that turnover across all sectors fell an average of 31 per cent compared with 2000.

  (d)  Those who reported their figures in visitor numbers, however, showed a slight increase of 9 per cent year on year, suggesting that tourist attractions (those most likely to report in visitor numbers) had held their ground and attracted the majority of visitors who came to Wales but who avoided rural and inland countryside activities and pursuits.

  (e)  Other operators listed the percentage change year on year and this averaged a fall in performance of 27 per cent.

  (f)  Operators were also asked how many people were employed in the business compared with the same time last year, for all sectors combined, a total average of 15 employees last year had fallen by 7 per cent for Easter 2001.

  (g)  Commenting on the effect foot and mouth had on their business overall, 46 per cent answered that business was down, but that they were confident about the longer-term prospects. Seventeen per cent replied that their business was down to the extent that it would be under threat in the next 12 months and some 11 per cent were in serious danger of going out of business within the next three months. The remainder claimed that foot and mouth had not yet had an impact on their business.

  (h)  Further, more comprehensive information should be available by mid May to assess the situation more fully.

  (i)  Activity holiday operators, especially those specialising in walking and cycling, report the worst losses to date, either because they are based in an infected area or because the footpaths their customers frequent have been closed. Such operators are more likely to depend on active European holiday-makers seeking fresh air and the great outdoors and thus have been hit from all sides.

5.  MARKETING CAMPAIGN
  (a)  The WTB reacted immediately in the face of worsening news about the foot and mouth crisis and after its board meeting in early March drew up a promotional campaign, appointed an outside agency and galvanised those who represented the countryside to sign a Tourism Charter and approve guidelines for those visiting the countryside and for those looking to provide holidays in a responsible manner to visitors to Wales.

  (b)  The Board's marketing team has one objective:

  To persuade visitors from the UK that Wales is open for Easter and beyond and to book a holiday here.

  Messages will:

    —  reassure potential customers that Wales still has many treasures for them to enjoy—even while the crisis continues;

    —  provide reasons to visit; and

    —  provide a platform from which individual businesses can communicate their product to potential visitors.

  (c)  So far, some activity under the banner of the "Two Hours and a Million Miles Away" campaign has already taken place before the crisis struck:

    —  300,000 mailing to previous enquirers on WTB database;

    —  two million inserts distributed in magazines and newspapers;

    —  advert in Radio Times Christmas edition, two page advertorial in Radio Times week commencing 27 March, full page in Readers Digest.

  (d)  From Saturday 31 March there was:

    —  a radio advertising campaign on regional stations in Wales, North West, West Yorkshire, Midlands, M4 corridor and London;

    —  large advertorials (paid-for editorial) in 25 regional and national press titles week commencing 31 March;

    —  advertising on Teletext;

    —  a direct mailing to 100,000 of the current year's enquirers and an e-mail to further 30,000 enquirers with messages of reassurance and guidelines for travel;

    —  pro-active PR campaign targeted at regional and national media;

    —  extension of the Advantage Campaign—there will be further subsidised advertising opportunities for the industry between May and July in national press and on Teletext with savings of up to 74 per cent off rate card;

    —  a Tourism Charter and Visitor Guidelines have been produced and are now available on the Wales Tourist Board's website. All mailings to visitors will refer to Visitor Guidelines and give details of the Internet address and freephone helpline.

6.  PROVIDING ACCURATE AND TIMELY INFORMATION
  (a)  Informed customers and potential customers make informed choices. The WTB's aim on launching its dedicated foot and mouth website was to provide daily updates of what's open and what's available to tourists.

  (b)  As the next phase in gathering information the Regional Companies were charged to prepare a regional picture which in some parts of Wales was augmented by highly organised Local Authority tourism departments. This system (together with direct contacts from individual businesses) is still the system that is supporting the database of 1,018 (as of 20 April 2001) "things to do" that are listed on the website and on the database circulated across Wales and to the BTA.

  (c)  The decision was made early on to make use of existing channels to provide a free information and booking service for visitors. This was done by using the existing marketing campaign number 08080 100000 and the technology at our distribution house to redirect calls to the most appropriate of the three regional information lines. The initial use of this service clearly demonstrated that the majority of enquirers were seeking clarification as to what was open and reassurance that a holiday in Wales was still a suitable option.

  (d)  As the concept of the pre-Easter marketing campaign developed, it was recognised that there was a need to augment the service. Changes to the service proved very effective in terms of offering the reassurance message. This meant that more time could be spent with the callers who were put through to the regions. In addition to this it was recognised that some callers had very specific queries that needed a local response and thus TICs in each marketing area were integrated into the system, with calls being redirected from the distribution centre to them in the same way as the redirection to the regions.

  (e)  The number of calls to the service has varied between around 90 a day at the start up to almost 300 a day in the immediate run up to Easter. In addition to calls coming through the 08080 100000 the advertorials also featured the key TICs across Wales (ie one per Marketing Area) and this generated considerable responses with TICs reporting substantial increases in calls most of which were seeking reassurance or else details of open attractions, etc.

7.  INTERNET
  (a)  Since the outbreak of foot and mouth the focus of all website developments has been on integrating information about foot and mouth and what is open, both for the visitor (www.visitwales.com) and the industry (www.wtbonline.gov.uk).

  (b)  The first development was the inclusion of a "what's open" database in a new area entitled "This week" which was accessed from the splash page. As the extent of the situation developed so the section became the main route into the site, replacing the standard intro pages. The "This week" section now comprises sections on special breaks, attractions, activities, events and general information contacts. New sections to enhance these areas are being developed, focusing on more detailed information about activities as well as new approaches in line with the new marketing campaigns.

  (c)  The WTB online section has been used to provide up to date information to the industry about the extent of foot and mouth, the impact upon tourism in Wales. Sections include: marketing opportunities, the tourism charter, news, press release, FAQ, open attractions, media information and general information and contacts.

  (d)  WTB officers maintain all of WTB web sites directly and as soon as information is available it is published. Indeed, the system was monitored and updated as required over the Easter period.

  (e)  The industry has been given a number of opportunities to utilise the Internet site (at no cost)—these include: free banners to their own sites, access to the offers section by them providing information on any offers that they are offering, and direct links from database listings (for accommodation and attractions). Whilst full reports of usage of all sites is only available on a monthly basis, it is already apparent that the visitor and the corporate sites have received increases in usage during the foot and mouth crisis and especially during the run up to Easter.

8.  CONCLUSION
  (a)  The issue of financial recompense is a critical and incredibly complex one: the Wales Tourist Board has lobbied the National Assembly of Wales since the outbreak of foot and mouth to bring its influence to bear on banks and insurance companies in dealing with tourism businesses and welcomes the £12 million business rate relief announced by the Assembly in early April.

  (b)  More support is now needed for those who are suffering directly. The WTB strongly supports the idea of low cost loans to businesses directly hit and forced to cease trading as a direct result of the foot and mouth crisis. These loans could be repaid over a long time frame and repayments would only begin once the business was fully operational once more.

  (c)  Although the impact of foot and mouth has been severe, we should not underestimate the influence of both the strong pound and VAT levels on the underlying trends in overseas visitors. A recent survey by the Wales Tourist Board indicates that value for money was a key disappointment for a majority of overseas tourists, an impression enhanced by the strength of sterling during 2000. This evidence was further strengthened by the comments of the European tourism industry leaders on a recent visit to Wales where these issues were mentioned as factors gravitating against visiting the UK well before the issue of foot and mouth greatly exacerbated the situation.

April 2001


 
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