Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 219 - 239)




  219. Good morning. Thank you for coming this morning. We have quite a lot of questions for you because we see the BTA as having a lot to do with what we are looking at on this issue. Perhaps you could begin by introducing your team and saying a few words about what the BTA does.

  (Mr Quarmby) Thank you, Mr Chairman. Bori Da. Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. I am David Quarmby, the Chairman of the British Tourist Authority. Mr Chairman, I bring abject apologies for the absence of my Chief Executive, Jeff Hamblin, who I am afraid is lying in bed at home with a very severe back problem. He is very sorry not to be here today. May I introduce on my right Mr Bill Ishmael who manages the BTA office in South Africa—I think you all met him last night—and Bernard Donoghue, who is our Government and Corporate Affairs Manager, on my left. BTA has 27 offices overseas through which we promote the three countries of Britain—Wales, England and Scotland. We provide consumer information, services by telephone, e-mail, print, we service over 6 million enquiries every year and something like 9 million visitors visit our web site every year. We run advertising campaigns for Britain and different parts of Britain. We run extensive PR and editorial promotions. We have upward of 2,000 journalists visiting Britain arranged by us to write about Britain back in their home broadcast media or newspapers and magazine. We do trade promotions, trade missions and we bring back market intelligence for our strategic partners, the national tourist boards of Wales, Scotland and the consortium that markets England, and of course for UK trade. BTA is proud to promote Wales overseas. We have a strong co-operative relationship with the Wales Tourist Board and we are currently working with them to explore how BTA can best support them in meeting the challenging targets that have been set for them in their new tourism strategy Achieving Our Potential. Mr Chairman, you have a number of questions which we will be pleased to take. Perhaps before I do that I could ask my colleague Bill Ishmael to say a few words.
  (Mr Ishmael) I just want to add a personal word of thanks to you as a Committee for organising this meeting in Wales in Llangollen here. As I explained, I have been working abroad for over 20 years now in promoting tourism for Britain in general but in particular for Wales. I and my family have always felt that Wales is our home and it is excellent to have an opportunity to come home once again, so I would like to thank you wholeheartedly.

  220. Can I thank the Chairman for standing in this morning at such short notice—
  (Mr Quarmby) It is my great pleasure.

  Chairman: And just to apologise that we are now a bit thin on the ground, but the reason for that is a major piece of legislation going through the House and practically all our Committee was put on the Standing Committee of that Bill. We decided to go ahead with a happy few. Can I bring in Mrs Williams.

Mrs Williams

  221. Most of our witnesses up until now really have pointed out the fact that Wales does not enjoy as high a profile as we would wish overseas and that the perception of Wales, the image of Wales is often distorted, stereotyped and not the accurate image that the people of Wales would want others to have. I would use the word "stereotyped". This has gone on for many years and maybe by today that image is not quite up-to-date, that is it is out-of-date. Do you agree with that opinion that has been given by some of our witnesses up until now and what role do you have in raising Wales' profile abroad?
  (Mr Quarmby) Chairman, I think I would agree that Wales does not enjoy a very high profile abroad but it is nevertheless a very distinct profile and it is different from the rest of Britain.

  222. Why does it not enjoy that high profile?
  (Mr Quarmby) Because it is part of a country, a nation which has many different aspects that people know about and it is a fact, I think, that people tend to know more about London and perhaps parts of England and Scotland and they will know some things about Wales but taken overall Wales, I would agree, does not enjoy the profile that you would like and we would like too. But, if I may say, your description of it being traditional and antiquated, I genuinely do not think that is how Wales is seen abroad. That is certainly not how we project it. Our research does not show that that is how Wales is seen. Wales is seen as being very green, a natural country with wonderful and quite distinct landscape. It is seen to have a very distinctive culture, music, singing, poetry, passion I could say generally in its culture. It is known for its sport, particularly as a result of the Rugby World Cup. It has achieved a huge profile particularly in the English speaking world around the world. Our research also shows that Wales is particularly known for friendliness and the welcome that its people give. I do not recognise and accept that it has that rather out-of-date image abroad. I wonder if Bill could add something to that because he knows how South Africans see Wales for example.
  (Mr Ishmael) In South Africa as a result of the World Cup especially, but it goes further back than that to a tradition of our relationship with Wales for many years, the people of South Africa think of Britain as England and Scotland and Wales, and Wales is a familiar name for the people of South Africa because of the rugby. I agree with what my Chairman has said as well about the antiquated image of Wales. It is not perceived as that in South Africa. They expect tradition, yes, but I think the whole nation in South Africa—I do not think there was one television set that was off when they were playing against Wales. At that time they saw the singing tradition which was apparent in the rugby game but they saw it all taking place in the newest best stadium possibly in the world, so they see the traditions being kept but in a different way.

  223. Do you form your opinion on the rugby image and what rugby portrays abroad? If I can just add on to that question maybe to ask the Chairman if you could remind us what the figures are of people from South Africa who visit Wales compared possibly with the figures of those from America?
  (Mr Quarmby) You know the South African figures, Bill.
  (Mr Ishmael) I think we had 4,000 visitors last year. 80 per cent of the visitors from South Africa to Britain came to Wales so that was nearly double the number over the whole of the world who actually come to Wales. But it was rugby I think which introduced the idea of Wales. I am not saying it is just rugby because it only took place over one month, and that one month could not have caused the doubling of figures of visitors from South Africa to Wales, but I think the fact that the eye of the world was on Wales, we had one television company that came over to film in Wales and to write about Wales and they have created an increased awareness about Wales, not only in rugby but in Wales in general.

  224. Can I just follow on from that. Does the BTA possibly put too much emphasis on rugby and depend too much on that particular image because it is not just for singing and rugby that we want the people to see Wales.
  (Mr Quarmby) Chairman, I do not want to imply at all that rugby is the only thing that we promote about Wales. At the beginning I did say that what Wales means in the minds of people who have participated in our research is the natural landscape, the beauty of the countryside, the distinctive culture of Wales—and that is not just male voice choirs, although that is part of it clearly—the friendliness of its people, and sport.

  225. Can you tell us what your perception as Chairman of BTA is of this Welsh culture?
  (Mr Quarmby) What my perception of the culture is? I think it is the tradition of singing and music-making, which of course is very much represented by what goes on at the Eisteddfod here too in July.

  226. Which Eisteddfod?
  (Mr Quarmby) The International Eisteddfod, and poetry as well and the use of the Welsh language to support this. But that is not only what the culture is about. Culture is about other things too. It is about the built heritage, it is about the performing arts generally, it is about dance, it is about participative music, it is about literature. We promote Britain and Wales as a cultural destination as well as a destination for sport and a destination for shopping as well as for landscape and coast, but we project different images to different segments of the market. So it is right to talk about Wales as a sports destination to many people in South Africa, but we would not focus on Wales as a sporting destination for most Americans. We present different images of Wales to East Coast Americans and young Americans and so on because they look for different things.

  227. I would like to pursue this one. Do you consider that the images which it prompts of Wales are sufficiently powerful and, if not, what would the BTA consider as the correct image for development?
  (Mr Quarmby) You have to build on what is there; you cannot build on what is not there. I believe that these four or five building blocks of what makes Wales distinct—the landscape, the coastline, the culture, the heritage, the sport, the friendliness of its people—and the contemporary interpretation of those are the building blocks for the promotion of Wales abroad and that is how BTA does it. That is absolutely in line with the brand values, if I can use that phrase, that the Wales Tourist Board has developed and which we take from them and we work with them in promoting those in all the different markets abroad.

  228. Yesterday, for instance, we heard that somebody set about getting a video produced about Wales to promote Wales and it was discovered by somebody in tourism that those people had never visited Wales and they were sitting in London about to set up a video promotion not having visited our country at all. Could I ask you as Chairman, and I will not be personal and ask you how often have you visited Wales—
  (Mr Quarmby) I am delighted you should ask me.

  229. But who do you consult in Wales about these images that we have been talking about?
  (Mr Quarmby) I must emphasise how closely we work with the Wales Tourist Board. For example, yesterday in our office in London we were meeting with Roger Pride, the Marketing Director for the Wales Tourist Board, the Marketing Director of the Scottish Tourist Board—

  230. Was that to brief you before you came here?
  (Mr Quarmby) It was not anything to do with us being here. It was one of the regular meetings where BTA plans its marketing strategy and we take input from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland and from the English marketing consortium (we can speak about that in a moment) to guide us in the preparation of our marketing strategy. This is part of the regular business that we do with the Wales Tourist Board and the other national tourist boards. The answer to your question: I am proud of the fact that my wife and my family and I have over 25 years spent 95 per cent of our holidays in this country. I spent time in Pembrokeshire in the early 1960s. A friend of mine lived there. We brought our family to West Wales when they were young. My wife and I were in Beaumaris only last summer. I go to Cardiff frequently.

  231. I do not wish to have a personal go at you but I am just interested.
  (Mr Quarmby) I am proud to tell you that I do know Wales and I have been here many times. I have been to Llangollen three times on a canal boat on the Llangollen Canal.

  232. You have not quite told me what I asked you about. Are the images sufficiently powerful? If you do not think so what do the BTA consider as images for development? You consult the Wales Tourist Board but do you not think there should be more consultees?
  (Mr Quarmby) We work through the Wales Tourist Board and they bring other people for us to talk to like the regional tourism companies. We also from time to time, as BTA, will reach out with the Wales Tourist Board to talk with the trade. For example, in two weeks' time I am bringing the BTA Board for the second board meeting in two years to Wales. We are meeting in Newport and we are holding an open trade meeting in the afternoon alongside Philip Evans. I think the mailing list is 2,000 or 3,000 people—they will not all come of course—but we have invited any members of the Wales tourism trade who are members of the RTCs to come and meet the BTA for an afternoon and for us to hear what we can do for them and what they would like us to do to promote Wales better for overseas visitors. So we do engage not only with the Wales Tourist Board but through the Tourist Board with the trade here and with the RTCs.

  233. Is that a new venture?
  (Mr Quarmby) This is the first open trade meeting we have had in Wales.

  234. That is what I mean.
  (Mr Quarmby) As I say, it is the second board meeting that we have had here and we meet the whole of the Wales Tourist Board for dinner, we have discussions with the executive team, we take the opportunity to meet key industry figures. This is the first time we will have had an open Board meeting and this is in South Wales. I have said when we come to Wales again we will hold an open board meeting in North Wales and later in West Wales too.

  235. Do you agree that if you do not do that you will be accused of what we have heard so often that Wales is Cardiff-based, M4 corridor-based?
  (Mr Quarmby) I believe it is extremely important that we in BTA should not only know the country that we are promoting—and I like to think that I do—but that we should be seen to be listening to what the trade and our partners want to tell us about overseas promotion. We have to go not just to the capital city. For example, in Scotland we have been both to Edinburgh and to Inverness and it is very important that we listen to what the Highlands have to say. In the same way we go to different parts of England. I am looking forward to going to North Wales which I actually know quite well because I was born and brought up in the north of England and we tended to have a lot of holidays on the North Wales coast.

Mr Caton

  236. How do you set about overcoming the central obstacle, identified by the Wales Tourist Board, that for many consumers abroad "Britain" equals "England"?
  (Mr Quarmby) There are some parts of the world where Britain does equal England, I agree with you. It is very important for us that we counter that, firstly, because part of the BTA's objective set for us by my Secretary of State is to promote, if you will forgive this slightly awkward phrase, regional spread. It is part of our objective to promote overseas visitors to travel to the rest of Britain beyond London and that means not only England but it means Scotland and Wales too. We do this in a variety of ways. For example, in Germany last year and the year before we had an advertising campaign that we did with the Wales and Scottish Tourist Boards called Britain: A Nation of Three Countries and we used that campaign to present very distinct and different characteristics of England, Wales and Scotland. For example, in all our literature, on our web site, in all our print production we emphasise very clearly that Britain is more than England. For example, in our Belgian main guide—and we have a copy here if, Chairman, you would like us to pass it round—in the geographical section there are four pages on London, two pages on England, two pages on Wales and two pages on Scotland. I think that begins to enable us to tell the potential visitor that there is an awful lot more to Britain than just London or to Britain than even just London and England. In our gardens map—this is our new campaign for Britain's gardens—out of 100 gardens here we have got ten in Wales. You will all know them very well including quite a cluster in North Wales and Chirk Castle, etcetera. So in everything we do we make the point that we are talking about Britain and not England. Bernard, is there anything you want to add on that?
  (Mr Donoghue) Only that we believe in the promotion of Britain that we have major distinct "products", if you can term a nation a product. We have a distinct product in terms of Wales and the product of Wales in marketing terms provides us with a huge diversity of things we can sell—essentially all the things David has already mentioned—but it does depend on the market to which we are selling. For example, Wales will have a distinct appeal in Ireland which it may not have in South Africa or it may have an understanding and awareness and profile in Japan which may be different to that of the United States. We try and market Wales to the market that we are selling it to, but also we try to project the diversity of the country as well.

  237. Can I ask you a couple of supplementaries to that really coming out of the meetings that we have held over the last 24 hours or so. Indeed, this morning before we came here we met with some of the people involved in the tourism industry here in Llangollen. One person there, a hotelier, is based on the A5 and he gets passing trade. People turn up and come into the hotel, spend a couple of days and then say, "We went to London, to Warwick, to Chester, to Stratford-on-Avon and then we heard Wales was quite attractive so we thought we would pop over the border", and they are gobsmacked at how wonderful Wales is. So clearly something is going wrong if Wales is this closely kept secret which makes me wonder if we do not need better co-ordination between those people selling or pointing out the attractions, particularly in the West of England and here in Wales, and in the devolved world that we now live in, including in tourism promotion, is there a role for the BTA in helping that sort of co-ordination?
  (Mr Quarmby) Very definitely there is. We work with tour operators abroad to help them develop tour products which go beyond London and go beyond the staple destinations that so many go to beyond London, like Bath and Stratford and Stonehenge and Chichester and so on. We do this in a variety of ways. We bring travel agents over on familiarisation trips and we take them all over the country. We bring tour operators over. At the British Travel Trade Fair, which is the main Britain trade fair which takes place in March in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, BTA brings hundreds of buyers from all over the world and BTTF features very strongly Wales and Scotland and England. Of course, that is done by the Wales Tourist Board and that is an opportunity (among others) to make sure that tour operators know about Welsh products, know what it is that is different about Wales. We run "fam" trips as they are called—familiarisation trips—before and after these trade fairs. Perhaps the most important thing that happened recently to put Wales on the map in the way that you describe was the Society of American Travel Writers' Conference that took place in Cardiff last October. 420 journalists and broadcasters from North America, the United States and Canada will generate a legacy of articles and programmes and pieces about Wales of the like that none of us has ever seen before. That was a Wales Tourist Board-led but very closely BTA-supported effort to get the SATW to take their conference out of North America for the first time for a very long time. There is no simple answer. It is doing a lot of those kind of things to make sure that the people who reach the public—and after all we have very little resource with which to advertise—we use PR, we work through the trade, we use tour operators and we have our web site, and we use every means that we can to remind people that Britain is this nation of three countries.

  238. I am grateful for that. I am interested in what you are describing where you work with tour operators.
  (Mr Quarmby) Yes.

  239. Again, coming out of our discussions over the last day and a half or so, something that came up is people wondering whether we could get tour operators to restructure the holiday package so that instead of going first to London and then going to the regions of England or Wales, we could get them to go to the regions first, particularly at the moment when it seems so expensive to come to Britain. If you go to London first you have got the impact of even greater expense whereas if you could get them out to the regions that would benefit places like Wales but it would also give them a better impression of Britain.
  (Mr Quarmby) That is a very important point. The port of entry into Britain is a very important determinant of where people go. That sounds obvious but we need to say it and BTA has been very active in helping Manchester Airport to promote itself as an international destination. One of the marketing consortia that BTA has helped put together covers the north of England and Manchester Airport is a key player in that. We know, and anybody in the trade knows that a lot of the international visitors into North Wales and Mid-Wales via Manchester Airport. I would say Manchester Airport has done some truly excellent work to develop inbound tourism. They have developed onward transportation like the rail network. You can now get to a very wide range of destinations in North Wales and the North of England directly from Manchester Airport station. There are coach services that run out of there too. I think they have done more than any other airport in the United Kingdom to make it user-friendly for international visitors coming into Manchester and going onwards by a variety of means of transportation. We are very supportive of what Manchester are doing. It is that that has helped to build the volume of international flights that now come into and out of Manchester. I think Manchester has the second highest number of international flights after the London area group of airports.
  (Mr Donoghue) I returned yesterday from a trip to our offices in Chicago and New York and I met some of the travel writers who had been over here in Cardiff. It is anecdotal evidence but it is true. A couple of things they told me entirely bear out your question. One is that they would much prefer to come to destinations other than London for two reasons. One is they hate Heathrow. It is an untidy, cluttered, in their view, stressful airport and they would much rather come somewhere else, for example Manchester. The second is that the impression they get of British guest house accommodation from London is appalling. Honestly, if we can get them out of London as quickly as possible so they do not experience the kind of accommodation particularly at the lower and middle end of the markets, then all the better for us. We were struck by the fact when we have undertaken research in the last couple of years that 30 per cent of all overseas visitors to Wales only go to Wales. That is striking for us—it takes account, of course, of the traffic coming through from Ireland—because what it tends to suggest is that the number of people who come to Wales usually on the second or third visit only want to come to Wales because of their experience of Wales the first time round. If that can be repeated and promoted then we have got a win/win situation.

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