Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. So do you think the WDA are giving their all now or do you think they could give more?
  (Mrs Jones) I think they are giving their all. Our President this year is Sir David Rowe-Beddoe, the Chairman of the WDA so—

Mrs Williams

  181. So you have to say that!
  (Mrs Jones) No, the WDA has been very, very supportive.

Mr Ruane

  182. What about the WTB; what have they given and what could they give?
  (Mrs Jones) The WTB could give an awful lot more. If you look at their main holiday brochures the information on Llangollen is very sparse. It is something that bugs me that I have to pay a membership fee to each of the three regional councils in Wales to have our literature displayed. If we do not pay a membership fee our Eisteddfod cannot be represented. I think that is stupid because we are a catalyst for Wales.

  183. Have you been involved with the Assembly's recent proposals to set up the cultural consortium Cymru'n Creu to bring together the various cultural, artistic and sporting bodies in Wales?
  (Mrs Jones) No we have not been involved at all. Unfortunately, because we were not revenue clients of the Arts Council we have never had any review from the Assembly. We have fallen between two stools. I did raise it with somebody in the Assembly and they said they had gone on the list of Arts Council clients and as we were not an Arts Council client we were not reviewed. We do hope with the Assembly coming here that we will have stronger links with them.

  184. Something we hear from the Welsh Rugby Union and Sports Council is that there are events being organised all around Wales and they have to reinvent the wheel each time to organise these events. If they had one central office who had the expertise and the administrative staff it could ease the burden on those many organisations, many of which like your own rely on volunteers. Do you think that that would be a specific help to you?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes, I think so. For example, this year we are going to have a clash. The International Eisteddfod is going to be taking place here from the 2nd to 8th July and we have the WNO up in Llandudno at the same time. North Wales is small, compact, it does not have a lot of industry for corporate hospitality and sponsorship, which has a big role for both the WNO and myself, and companies cannot be in two places in the one week, and I think we could try and spread and balance the load. We will lose out and the WNO will lose out as well because there are loads of people who work here in the Eisteddfod who would love to be able to go but cannot go because they are working here and the same for Llandudno.

  185. A central organising body would be able to spot those clashes from the outset?
  (Mrs Jones) Exactly, it would be invaluable to us.

Mr Caton

  186. I would like to ask a couple of questions about UK government bodies. Before I do that, just following on the theme that you were taking of the particular value of people from all over the world coming here and talking about their experience here and talking about Wales when they get home, do you make any attempt either directly or through those people to involve the local media in the communities where they come from?
  (Mrs Jones) Sometimes they bring their own media with them but our television company Opus will always provide each competing country with a synopsis of the week and the competing groups' own performance at the end which can be used by their own local television companies. That is something provided free of charge to all overseas groups that compete here.

  187. Is the take-up good on that, do you know?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes the last time I had a list from Opus I was very pleased. We had probably gone to 12 countries. Our biggest problem is that we do not go out in England. Bearing in mind that 62 per cent of our season ticket holders come from England—

Mrs Williams

  188. 62 per cent?
  (Mrs Jones) That is people who come, buy their ticket and stay here for the week in hotels and guest houses. You have got to remember that during Eisteddfod week people who would never do bed and breakfast in their life open up their homes. That is the only way the town is able to absorb the number of people who come. Everybody does bed and breakfast. If you have a spare bed we scrounge it either for competitors or for visitors.

Mr Ruane

  189. Are they given the TV synopsis you do for each country at the end of the week to take away in video form or are there satellite connections?
  (Mrs Jones) We have had satellite connections particularly for the "choir of the world" which is the premier competition here for groups and that has been relayed by satellite if they would request it. That is all done through the television company, not done through us. The Tourist Board has also tried to provide an Internet link so that groups can go down to the Tourist Board and report back to their own countries exactly how they have done in the competitions.

  190. Is there any attempt made to use those 2,000 visitors as ambassadors for Wales when they go back by giving them information leaflets in their own language so they can go back and say, "I had a wonderful time here", and they can give it to their own local tourist board to try and get more visitors here on the back of their visits?
  (Mrs Jones) The Tourist Board two years ago picked out some countries that they considered fitted into their marketing strategy and they invited them down there and gave them some information. I doubt it was in their own language because I think they only have it in three languages. We give them a souvenir brochure to take back. We give them as much stuff as we can on Llangollen to take back.

Mr Caton

  191. Moving on to the question I was going to ask about UK government bodies; you told us in the your written memorandum that the British Council is the only UK government body that you have any association with. Have you approached any others for assistance?
  (Mrs Jones) We have tried BTA but the BTA is such a vast organisation that unless you are prepared to spend astronomic amounts of money and go into their brochures you are wasting your time. You hope that through the Wales Tourist Board you will get a link into BTA. The British Council from the very beginning have had a major role in Llangollen. W S Gwyn Williams and Harold Tudor were the founders and Harold Tudor worked for the British Council in their Manchester office in 1946 and he was instrumental in getting the syllabus we produce distributed. They used to be mailed to London to the British Council and they used to send them around the world because we never invite any group to compete; they have to apply. We depend on the British Council and the foreign embassies' cultural attaches to get those syllabuses around the world for us. Otherwise how do places like Tuva ever get to hear about places like Llangollen? So the link with the British Council is very, very important to us. But everybody seems to suffer from finances these days. In 1992 they said they could no longer do it. So until 1997 we mailed these to their 110 offices worldwide. Now we have got our own web site, which is fine, and the British Council are very much into IT, they seem to do everything by e-mail, so we e-mail all their offices and we say, "The syllabus is up and it is on the Internet, it is on the web if you want it and if you want hard copies we will send you hard copies."

  192. Do you think that modern communications through computer systems can completely replace the brochure that you indicated?
  (Mrs Jones) They can print it. They can download it. There used to be a time when we used to send one leaflet to every BTA office worldwide. They will not take them now because they say they do not have room to store them but they can go on the web and they can reproduce our leaflet. The only thing that worries me is do they remember your web address? I think we are going to end up having directories of web addresses.

  193. An issue that has come up during our investigations, which we would be grateful for your view on, is does it make more sense for Welsh bodies to have a greater role in promoting Wales abroad or could this potentially lead to confusion and competition within the United Kingdom?
  (Mrs Jones) I would be very happy to see Welsh bodies promoting Wales abroad providing they were fully briefed on what Wales had to offer within all sections of its community. Unfortunately, here in North Wales we think that several people think that "Wales" means "Cardiff" and that is what would worry me personally.

  Mr Caton: Some of us in West Wales feel that as well!

Mr Ruane

  194. Do you use the international network of Welsh societies around the world to help promote the Eisteddfod and help fund the Eisteddfod? I think there are something like 300 St David Societies around the world. What use do you make of those, especially using the Internet and web sites?
  (Mrs Jones) To be honest, not a lot because we find that Welsh Societies around the world when they come back to Wales they want to come back for the National Eisteddfod. They want to come back for their culture which they are missing, not the international culture we are providing. Yes, there are wonderful Welsh societies, particularly Toronto and the Dewi Sant. There are two very good Welsh newspapers for North America, the Ninnau and Y Drych and we do run small ads, but the other Eisteddfod has much greater appeal. I think the Wales Tourist Board did a lot in what was called "The Homecoming" for the Millennium.


  195. We are very grateful for what you have been able to tell us this morning. Is there anything that we could suggest that any government body, be it local government, central government, whatever, could do to help promote the Eisteddfod? Money would be a help, but is there anything else?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes, I think that maybe British embassies could charge a lot less for the visas that are necessary for groups to come. If I could ask Keith Hall, our Competitors' Liaison Officer, to comment. Keith has the nightmare of dealing with the embassies and the visa problems. If there was to be a flat fee for groups—When a group coming from Bulgaria has to pay for their visas could be the equivalent of three months' wages.
  (Mr Hall) Good morning. I have not said much this morning so far. I have been doing this liaison job with the overseas competitors now for six years. Just on one point that has cropped up, in fact, on the knowledge side of the Eisteddfod we are more well-known abroad than we are in the United Kingdom because we have twice as many applications to come to the Eisteddfod that we can take on board, so from that point of view our presence abroad is worldwide. Going back to the visa problem, I get involved with visas as we get near to the Eisteddfod. I have a list of competitors sent to me by the various groups and in turn I send these to the British embassies. Normally that is the end of it; they are issued with visas. I do tell the various groups at the beginning that the visa cost is £33 per person and, as Maureen says, that is a lot of money to some of the Eastern European countries and they leave their applications for visas late, I am sure because of that financial impact. They do not want to commit themselves to £33 early on in the year if for whatever reason they cannot come at the end of the day. So we have this last minute panic situation arising where we get these letters from the groups with the list of names which I send on and then for some reason there are some queries. There are two types of queries. Yes, the group will get visas but the interview is two weeks after the Eisteddfod, which makes me a bit annoyed. The other one is that certain key members of the group, for whatever reason, are not allowed visas which means it breaks up the group and they cannot come. There are underlying reasons for that, asylum seekers comes into the question, but generally speaking, as Maureen says, to us £33 is not a great deal but it is a problem and they leave their visa applications so late that, quite frankly, the British embassies have their own timetable in which to process these applications and a number fall outside and beyond the date of the Eisteddfod, so it is very frustrating from that point of view. If they could be helped in any way in this visa application cost that would go a long way towards ensuring that we get the competitors who have been practising very hard all the year. They must be very disappointed if for whatever reason they cannot get here.

  Chairman: That is a good point.

Mrs Williams

  196. This is a copy of the Yrenfys magazine. Do you make use of this? Do you use it to promote the Eisteddfod and, if not, are you considering using it?
  (Mrs Jones) No, I have not used it to promote the Eisteddfod and, yes, we would consider using it.

  197. You will?
  (Mrs Jones) Yes, certainly.

  198. Any reason why you have not so far?
  (Mrs Jones) Because they have never been in contact with us.

  Mrs Williams: Thank you.

Mr Caton

  199. Just going back to the problem that you clearly identified of the lack of focus in England on the International Eisteddfod. From one of your earlier answers you see the media as a potential way of overcoming that. Is there anything else you think could be done? Are there any other agencies that could be promoting the Eisteddfod in England?
  (Mr Evans) It would appear and we believe—and we cannot prove it but we believe—that the problem arises from a perception in England that when you talk about the Eisteddfod you are talking about bards and speaking Welsh and all that. I think we suffer a great deal from that perception. We appear to have a problem even as far as the media are concerned because Opus, who have been doing the televising for seven years, have the same problem that the BBC had for 40 years before that (who used to put our programmes out on sound and television) of selling the programme to England, to the BBC or anybody on a national basis, and they cannot do it. You come to the Edinburgh Festival and that gets coverage anyway and we do not believe we are any different from the Edinburgh Festival. We are different in lots of ways but from a media point of view we are not any different. For one reason or another, and we believe that is down to perception in England—as I say it is Welsh speaking and bards and people dressing up and all sorts rather than what we are here—it is a difficult one to get over, but any way of getting over it, be it the media or any other way or any body that could help us, I am sure we would be very pleased to know about it.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. Before I finish I should have said at the beginning that Karen Sinclair, the Assembly Member, whom we automatically ask to come, is in session down in Cardiff and she rang me up to apologise yesterday. She is a supporter of the Eisteddfod, as you all know I am sure. That is very useful. We will, I am sure, include some of what you have said in our report and thank you for giving your time this morning.

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