North Wales’ top tourism spots hailed with prestigious awards
A railway that came back from the brink of collapse, a zoo that’s attracted eight million visitors and the world’s deepest hotel have been hailed as tourism heroes in north Wales.
The Llangollen Railway, the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay and Go Below Underground Adventures in Eryri were among the big winners at the Go North Wales Tourism Awards.
The annual event organised by North Wales Tourism celebrates the dedication, skill and achievements of the region’s tourism and hospitality industry.
This year the ceremony at Venue Cymru in Llandudno was hosted by ITV Wales journalist Carole Green and the headline sponsor once again was Harlech Foodservice which supplies many of the region’s hotels, guest houses and restaurants.
The popular Llangollen Railway was named Go Attraction of the Year after staging a remarkable comeback.
The heritage railway is now back on track after mounting debts caused by Covid disruptions forced its operating arm into receivership.
It steamed forward thanks to the dedication of the volunteers of the Llangollen Railways Trust who took over the railway’s operation.
Earlier this year the organisation achieved a long-held ambition to open the new £1.25 million station in Corwen, enabling passenger-carrying trains to return to the Denbighshire town first time in four years.
Llangollen Railway Chair Phil Coles said: “It’s been a lot of very hard work over two and a half years with an awful lot of input from visitors and staff.
“Very many people have gone over and above in their dedication to the railway and this award is the icing on the cake for us after going bust in the pandemic.”
Tom Taylor, General Manager, added: “We had to work with the rest of the tourism industry just to survive but we have taken the railway out to Corwen now and we’re already making a big difference to the town there.
“We’re looking towards National Park status now and we need to be a really polished product.
“We need to stabilise, recover and build for the future and the staff have been key to that and this award is for them.”
Honouring the animal magic of Welsh Mountain Zoo with the Go North Wales Service to Tourism Award was particularly timely because the iconic attraction is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
The zoo opened in 1963 after Robert Jackson, his wife Margaret and their three sons, Tony, Chris and Nick moved from their Cheshire home to Colwyn Bay.
Now recognised as the National Zoo of Wales, it has evolved over the years and became a charity in the 1980s.
It now plays a vital conservation role as part of a global movement to conserve and safeguard species from across the world.
The zoo employs a team of about 40 permanent staff – rising to about 55 staff over the summer months – and has attracted more than eight million visitors since it opened.
Rob Jackson, grandson of the founder, Bob Jackson, said: “It’s down to us really being a family business and the local community have been fantastic in their support during lockdown and in the meantime we just do all the normal things we’ve been doing for 50 years.
“In lockdown the animals still needed looking after and we’ve had brilliant support.
“We’ve a beautiful location and that combined with the family ethos here, the wonderful animals, lovely grounds and the views of Eryri.
“It’s fantastic to have won this award and I’m really pleased for my Uncle Nick who has really known no other job.”
Nick Jackson, who retired last year, said: “I’ve been here 52 years and been raised in the zoo.
“It has been a bit of a shock but in our 60th anniversary year it’s been great to win this award.”
The deepest hotel in the world, 1,375ft below the mountains of Eryri, was a double winner on the night, scooping the gongs for the Go North Wales Experience of the Year and Go Resilience and Innovation Award.
The subterranean bolthole is set deep within a chamber of the abandoned Cwmorthin slate mine, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, and can only be accessed via a steep and challenging route through the old workings.
Called Deep Sleep, it comprises four private twin-bed cabins and a ‘romantic’ grotto room with a double bed, a dining area and loo facilities with simple toilets and sinks.
The hotel, which describes itself as a ‘remote-camp adventure experience’ and is run by the outdoor activity company Go Below Underground Adventures based near Betws y Coed.
The off-grid adventure is the latest creation of Go Below’s founder, Miles Moulding, whose underground adventure company already runs tours including zip lining, crossing a waterfall or boating on a lake, all deep below ground.
He said: “It’s great to win this award. We have excellent and friendly staff and they are the people that really make the difference.
“Our visitors come away talking about how good the experience is and how well looked after they have been and that’s the big thing for any company because they are the interface with the customers.”
Jim Jones, the Chief Executive of North Wales Tourism, said: “We are grateful to Harlech Foodservice and all our other sponsors for stepping up to the plate to support the Go North Wales Tourism Awards.
“Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate the best of best in the tourism and hospitality sector.
“The sheer volume and quality of entries this year has underlined why north Wales is a truly world class destination.
“I would like to congratulate all the winners but I would also like to stress that all the nominees are playing a vital role in championing what we have to offer visitors from home and abroad. They do an exceptional job in putting north Wales on the map.
“The priority now is to try to get back up to where we were in 2019 and to increase the spend of the visitors who come here by raising the quality of what we are doing.”
David Cattrall, the Managing Director of Harlech Foodservice, said: “We are delighted to once again be the headline sponsor of this wonderful awards ceremony and it’s very much a vote of confidence in the tourism and hospitality sector which has endured such a difficult time in recent years.
“This is our opportunity to give something back and celebrate the achievements of our core customers.
“That’s also why we have launched our new Trust Our Prices campaign with over 300 popular lines having their prices cut and frozen until January 1.
“The fundamental reasons why north Wales is such an attractive place to visit are still there and will continue to be in demand in future.
“We have amazing scenery and world class facilities so I am sure the sector will go from strength to strength.
“That means that the tourism and hospitality sector can play a big role in leading the economic recovery in north Wales.”
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