Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report



21. Tourism is very important to the Welsh economy as a whole and is particularly important in some parts of the country where it is the main source of income for local businesses.[50] According to the Wales Tourist Board, tourism accounts for seven per cent of Wales's GDP and one in ten Welsh jobs.[51] Overseas tourism to Britain as a whole is worth around £12,671 million per year, of which Wales's share is about £176 million, or just under 1.4 per cent. Its share of the domestic tourism market, on the other hand, is much higher, at around eight per cent.[52] In terms of all visitors to the UK (not just tourists), about four per cent visit Wales, but this falls to two per cent if people arriving in the country by Irish Sea routes (many of whom are just passing through) are excluded.[53]

22. Wales has some of the most spectacular countryside and finest landscapes in Europe. It has three National Parks: Snowdonia, the Pembrokeshire Coast (the only coastal National Park in Britain) and the Brecon Beacons. It also has four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, of which the Gower Peninsula, designated in 1956, was the first in Britain. Together, these seven Parks and Areas account for about a quarter of the territory of Wales. Thirty-six areas are registered as Landscapes of Outstanding Historical Interest, containing a wide range of features of historical interest such as evidence of prehistoric and medieval land use, Iron Age hillforts and Bronze Age funerary monuments, the remains of slate-mining and quarrying, castles, churches and old towns.[54] Wales has almost 750 miles of coastline. Dolphins, grey seals and many wild birds may be seen around its coast. The Ceredigion Coast was Britain's first designated Marine Heritage Coast and there is another Heritage Coasts in Glamorgan. The north coast has four main resorts—Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and Prestatyn—which are popular destinations for seaside holidays. Barry Island and Porthcawl, on the coast between Cardiff and Swansea, offer a traditional mix of beaches and funfairs.

23. It is not surprising that castles were one of the few things that foreigners did associate with Wales,[55] since it has one of the highest densities of castles of any country in the world. Caernarfon in North Wales is a complete medieval castle, originally built by Edward I and still used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales. Harlech Castle, part of the "iron ring" of castles around Snowdonia, is a World Heritage Listed Site. Caerphilly occupies one of the largest sites of any castle in the UK. Conwy, where we held meetings during our visit to North Wales, is one of only a handful of completely walled medieval towns left in Europe and is a World Heritage Site. Historical attractions of more recent origin include the slate mines at Llanberris and the Big Pit mining museum and Blaenafon, one of the centres of coal mining and the production of iron and steel in South Wales during the 19th and 20th centuries, which has recently, like Conwy, been given World Heritage Status. There are numerous modern, purpose-built visitor attractions, including the Centre for Alternative Technology and Celtica (both of which are at Machynlleth), the Sun Centre and Skytower in Rhyl, the Welsh Wildlife Centre near Cardigan, the Oakwood theme park in Pembrokeshire, the Rhondda Heritage Park and Techniquest, the science discovery centre in Cardiff Bay.

24. Wales is home to several major international festivals which attract overseas visitors. The International Eisteddfod is held each year in Llangollen and the National Eisteddfod of Wales has been held since 1880 alternately in North and South Wales. The UK's leading Jazz Festival is held in Brecon each August and the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts attracts more than 50,000 visitors from all over the world. It has launched a sister festival in Italy and will soon be launching one in America as well as a film festival in Hay in 2002. The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society stages two major events a year in Builth Wells: the Royal Welsh Show and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Winter Fair. The Cardiff Singer of the World contest is staged every two years in St David's Hall, the national concert hall of Wales. The Urdd Eisteddfed is the largest youth festival in Europe. The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea hosts an annual festival between the dates of the poet's birth and death.

25. Wales has a tremendous range of cuisine to offer the visitor. The Taste of Wales programme operated by the WDA's Food Directorate promotes standards of excellence in the preparation, presentation and sale of Welsh produce in surroundings which enhance the reputation of Welsh catering. It has also recently started accompanying the Wales Tourist Board to international tourism events. Witnesses from the British Tourist Authority told us that a significant proportion of the journalists they invite to Britain come from lifestyle or food campaigns and they write about the cuisine of the area they visit.[56]

26. At the time of devolution, the public expenditure for promoting Britain overseas as a tourist destination was retained in a single budget which is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The aim was to achieve maximum impact for Britain as a whole, including Wales, by combined effort. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funds much of the promotion of Wales abroad as a tourist destination through the British Tourist Authority (BTA), which is part of a wider DCMS remit to attract overseas visitors to Britain. The Chairman of the Wales Tourist Board is a member of the BTA board. Each year, the work required of the BTA is set out in a Funding Agreement between it and the DCMS. The National Assembly is consulted about that Agreement and, in addition to the general provisions on consultation provided for under the terms of the Concordat, officials from DCMS and the devolved administrations discuss tourism matters at regular meetings hosted on a rotating basis.[57]

27. The First Minister told us that he would never be completely satisfied with the work of the BTA so long as Wales's share of the domestic tourist market was so much greater than its share of the overseas tourist market.[58] We share his concern that Wales, which has so much to offer as a tourist destination, has such a small share of the overseas tourist market. We believe that Wales's poor share of the overseas tourist market is largely due to the country's poor recognition overseas.

The BTA's targets

28. The BTA's overriding target is to deliver maximum returns on public investment. During 2000-01, it aims to generate £30 of overseas visitors' spend for every £1 of its Grant­in­Aid. It has subsidiary targets for quality and improved standards; new market intelligence; increased investment in IT and new media; sustainable tourism and partnership working.[59] Witnesses from the Assembly argued that the expression of the BTA's annual targets in terms of return on investment presented a threat to Welsh interests. The total amount of money spent by visitors to Wales was likely to be significantly lower than by visitors to London, since Wales offered tourists much better value for money.[60] The Wales Tourist Board shared this concern, arguing that if the target were to become the key driver for BTA policy it could be easier to meet the target by promoting established destinations such as London.[61]

29. The BTA has a general objective, though not a measurable target, for promoting a "regional spread" of visitors.[62] When they gave evidence to us, representatives of the BTA were keen to point out the fact that they did a great deal of work promoting the regional spread of visitors to the UK and gave several specific examples, such as the German campaign, "Britain: A Nation of Three Countries" and the specific Welsh segment in their Belgian Guide.[63] We acknowledge the efforts made by the BTA to promote international tourism to all parts of the UK but we share the concerns of the NAW and WTB that an overriding target based on return on investment will, other things being equal, tend to favour the higher-cost and better-established UK tourist destinations. We recommend that the BTA's target for return on investment should be balanced by clear, measurable targets for the regional distribution of foreign tourists.

The Wales Tourist Board

30. The Wales Tourist Board was established by the Development of Tourism Act 1969, which prohibited it from using its own resources to market Wales internationally. In 1992 it was given powers to promote Wales overseas, providing that it first received consent from the Secretary of State for Wales, who was required to consult the BTA. Since 1998, the overseas work of the WTB has been coordinated with that of the BTA and the other British tourist boards under an Overseas Marketing Agreement.[64] We were told repeatedly during our visit to North Wales that the WTB's budget for overseas promotion was simply not sufficient for the task in hand. Their total budget is around £15.8 million (though this is planned to increase to £21.5 million by 2003-04),[65] of which the budget for overseas marketing is £1.5 million.[66] This compares with a total budget for the BTA of around £35.5 million, and a total budget for the Scottish Tourist Board of around £24.9 million.[67]

31. The WTB tries to maximise the return on its overseas expenditure by supplementing the work of the BTA in priority markets for Wales. It is currently active in the USA, France, Germany and the Netherlands (which it considers to be primary markets); and Australasia, Japan and Belgium (which it considers to be secondary markets). However, the WTB has only one member of staff actually based overseas, in New York.[68] Though he was singled out for particular praise by at least two people who submitted evidence to the inquiry, there is only so much that one person can do with a target population of 275 million.[69] The budget for the Wales Tourist Board is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. We record the concern that was expressed to us, that the resources available to the WTB to spend on overseas marketing may not be commensurate with those available to other tourist boards in the UK.

32. The Wales Tourist Board proposes the establishment of four Regional Tourism Partnerships (RTPs) to implement four regional strategies within the framework of the national strategy for tourism, Achieving our Potential. The RTPs will mirror the structures of the four regional committees of the National Assembly for Wales, the four Regional Economic Forums and the four regions of the WDA. The idea is that the WTB will be developed as a national strategic centre of excellence and those functions which can best be executed at a regional level—along with increased resources—will be devolved to four regional groupings of local authorities working in partnership with the private sector. As part of a three-year funding agreement, the WTB would provide pound­for­pound match­funding of local authority contributions towards RTP delivery of the four regional strategies. All local authority monies would initially be ringfenced for their areas, and RTPs would determine their own priorities in terms of area marketing and brands within the context of regional and national targets agreed with WTB. It is intended to establish the RTPs by September 2001.[70] We welcome the proposal to establish four Regional Tourism Partnerships, and in particular the fact that the devolution of responsibilities will be accompanied by a devolution of funding. However, we are concerned that the move from central to regional tourism promotion for Wales will make it more difficult to promote strong "brands" in the international market, and that there is a danger that an element of competition will creep into the relationships between the RTPs. These are factors which will need to be monitored closely from the centre, by the WTB and the National Assembly.

Promoting Wales as a first-choice destination

33. We were also told during our discussions with representatives of the tourist industry in North Wales that many of their customers were second-time visitors to the UK who had visited London and possibly some other destinations such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and the Lake District on their first visit and were looking for somewhere new. Some visitors came across Wales by accident—for example, after hitting traffic jams in Lancashire or Cheshire on the way to the Lake District—but they were invariably surprised and delighted by its outstanding beauty and by the excellent value for money it offered compared with London.

34. Among the people we spoke to in North Wales, opinion was divided on whether it was realistic to promote Wales as a first-choice destination. The First Minister thought that the most promising market for international tourism would always be those on their second or subsequent visit to Britain, or certain niche markets.[71] Officials from the DCMS suggested that, as people made more use of the internet to identify potential holiday destinations, Wales might be able to overcome the barrier of poor recognition and low profile overseas.[72] The Minister for Consumers and Corporate Affairs favoured "precise targeting which is going to lure people where we want them lured".[73]

35. Clearly, one of the problems faced by the WTB and other bodies with responsibility for promoting tourism to Wales is the low international profile which we have already touched upon. Another problem might be the tendency of many international travellers to favour Heathrow Airport as their point of entry to the UK. However, we do not see these as insurmountable obstacles to attracting first-time visitors to the UK into Wales. The targeting of narrow niche markets—those with a strong interest in wildlife, castles, literature, music, genealogy or sport, for example—might be one way to do this. Promoting Manchester as the airport for North Wales, as witnesses from the BTA suggested, might be another.[74] We recommend that the BTA and the WTB should develop a strategy for promoting Wales as a first-choice destination for foreign visitors to the UK. This should involve working with tour operators which bring foreign tourists into the country to try to persuade them to include Wales on more of their itineraries, and working with UK transport providers (such as the train operating companies) to promote the provision of efficient, affordable transport links between Wales and other UK tourist destinations.

50  Ev. p. 150. Back

51  Ev. p. 143, paragraph 1.1. Back

52  Ibid, paragraph 1.2. Back

53  Q. 246. Back

54  Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic interest in Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, et alBack

55  See paragraph 5. Back

56  Q. 260. Back

57  Ev. p. 89, paragraphs 65-67. Back

58  Q. 35. Back

59  British Tourist Authority Business Plan for 2000-01 to 2002-03Back

60  Q. 37. Back

61  Ev. p. 145, paragraph 3.3. Back

62  Ibid & Q. 236. Back

63  Q. 236. Back

64  Ev. p. 144, paragraphs 1.3 & 1.4. Back

65  Wales Tourist Board Annual Report, 1999-2000Back

66  Ev. p. 144. Back

67  Scottish Tourist Board Annual Report and Accounts, 1999-2000Back

68  Q. 202. Back

69  Ev. pp. 135 & 142-3. Back

70  See Roles and Responsibilities: Regional Tourism Partnerships and the Implications for the Structure of Tourism in Wales, Wales Tourist Board, July 2000. Back

71  Q. 35. Back

72  Q. 303. Back

73  Q. 304. Back

74  Q. 239. Back

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