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Wales doing badly at attracting overseas tourists, say MPs

12 Jul 2023 4 minute read
Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire. Photo by dave-pemcoastphotos.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Martin Shipton

Wales is punching below its weight in attracting international tourists, according to a report from the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons.

The cross-party committee concluded that the country lacks a distinct brand, with efforts to market the nation to international visitors failing.

In 2019, of the 41 million international tourists who visited the UK, only one million visited Wales, and of the total amount spent by international tourists, just 2% was spent in Wales, the report says.

The committee heard that Wales’ lack of profile was a barrier to growing the international market, and was surprised to hear that of those surveyed, 57% of overseas visitors to Wales had not seen any marketing beforehand. The committee argues that VisitBritain lacks the knowledge and expertise to successfully promote Wales, and is consequently not achieving all it can on behalf of the nation – nor is it sufficiently promoting Wales in its marketing materials.

It was clear through evidence gathering, says the report, that Wales lacks a distinct brand, unlike other nations in the UK. Witnesses offered varying suggestions of branding for Wales, ranging from nature to history, myths and legends to the Welsh language, with little consensus. The committee urges VisitBritain and Visit Wales to work together on identifying a brand for Wales that can be marketed effectively. Marketing could be enhanced, the committee argues, if the Welsh Government considers making Visit Wales independent, offering operational independence from Ministers.

Welcome to Wrexham

There has been success in raising the profile – and boosting visitor numbers – through television and film. Disney+’s successful series Welcome to Wrexham, which looks at the rise of the city’s football club since it was bought by Hollywood actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, has had a positive impact on visitor numbers. To capitalise on the series’ success, and to make the most of visiting tourists, the committee recommends more effort is made to promote visitor attractions close to Wrexham.

The committee is disappointed that tour operators fail to incorporate holidays in Wales in their packages, despite 27% of those tourists surveyed saying that they would consider taking longer trips if holiday packages were available. This is a major missed opportunity, says the report, and an issue that could be further set back if the Welsh Government introduces a tourism tax deterring visitors.

A hindrance to tourism in Wales is transport infrastructure. During its visit to the USA earlier this year, the committee heard that Wales’ poor transport infrastructure is deterring US tourists from considering Wales as a potential tourist destination. Major tourist attractions such as North Coast Way, Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia are hard to reach without a car, a journey made more challenging with the poor condition and lack of investment in the Welsh road network.

Punching below its weight

Welsh Affairs Committee Chair Stephen Crabb, the Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said: “Despite Wales’ countless and unique offerings ranging from sandy beaches and blue seas in Pembrokeshire, to the fastest zip line in the world for thrill-seekers in north Wales, the nation punches below its weight in attracting international visitors.

“The evidence our committee received was clear: Wales lacks a distinct brand that can be marketed globally. UK organisations that should be responsible for promoting visits to Wales, such as VisitBritain, routinely overlook it in their own marketing materials.

“Tour operators fail to consistently offer Wales as a holiday destination. The transport infrastructure puts international tourists off coming to Wales, and the poor road network would make travelling to some special locations challenging. Is it any wonder Wales isn’t the global tourist destination it can be?

“These are missed opportunities for visitors to experience the best that Wales has to offer, but also for businesses and local economies that would thrive with increased visitor numbers. We need a more concerted push to promote Wales and to identify its unique brand that can be sold abroad.”


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L'écureuil
L'écureuil
8 months ago

In a town in mid-Wales, at work I get several people from overseas every day coming in, for example from America, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Netherlands, France, Spain, Romania, Canada, Colombia, Israel and many more countries. The statement is less true than anticipated. And to get more people from overseas in, don’t connect Wales and Heathrow! Improve Cardiff airport, build another one in the north of Wales and connect Wales’ north and south by rail!

L'écureuil
L'écureuil
8 months ago
Reply to  L'écureuil

Update: today I met South Africans, Czechs, Greeks and a Russian at work, just proves my point even further.

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
8 months ago
Reply to  L'écureuil

Anecdotal evidence doesn’t trump the broader picture, I’m afraid….

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
8 months ago
Reply to  Ivor Schilling

So where does your evidence come from?

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
8 months ago

A report from the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
8 months ago

It’s hardly surprising is it, all the main transport infrastructure is built primarily to transport goods east out of Wales. The rest of the infrastructure has been pretty much left to rot by being badly underfunded by Westminster for centuries. It going to take a lot more than a couple of decades of Welsh government to rectify the problem and that’s with one hand tied behind its back. Let’s eject Westminster and start on a new path to modernising our transportation system.

Riki
Riki
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

Yeah, it’s almost as if the infrastructure of Wales only ever gets built if it deepens the ties of Wales to England. This fact fundamentally shows what’s wrong with Wales being a part of the UK. Wales will never prosper while remaining within this developmental prison.

Dai
Dai
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

All major road building projects in Wales have been scrapped for environmental concerns. The Labour Government, Lee Waters decided this and were super pleased with themselves. Wouldn’t even consider putting in infrastructure to mitigate against air pollution. At the same time as saying they don’t have enough funding for anything they want to expand the Senedd which will cost us over £150 million….

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago

First the co-owner of AFC Wrecsam and now S Crabb, are we being spoofed here? In 2016 I had never seen so many Europeans visiting Cymru. Did something happen ? I can believe a Britain tourist board leaves Cymru out and Senedd sit on its hands and they don’t give Visit Wales any money and shut tourist offices a while back. Cyngor Gwynedd what say you ?

Riki
Riki
8 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Yep, and the irony is it’s the Welsh who are thee British! The Anglo have monopolised everything British, while leaving the Native British out of it all. Let’s start calling it what it is….Cultural theft!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Riki

Crosby, Pills and Hash* said it in 1970 ‘Teach Your Children Well’

*It was a joke then…

Graham Blunden
Graham Blunden
8 months ago

‘the poor road network would make travelling to some special locations challenging’. If these places were easy to get to they would no longer be special. Look how over tourisim has ruined Pen Y Fan and Yr Wyddfa. The environmental impact of more people visiting Wales most beautiful places would destroy them.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Graham Blunden

Who remembers ‘Fiddler’s Elbow’? It is a nice little lay-by now, like an oxbow lake the river (of progress…much larger cars, vans, buses and lorries and many more of them) has ploughed its way through… The last two miles of the road skirting the estuary to Bermo did not exist, one had to climb up and over Panorama from Bod Owen (the home of ‘Mr Mischief’ (yes I know he is one of the Mr Men), Major Bill Tilman, don’t know who he is…look him up!) However, the attraction of Cymru then was like Ireland, a land time had forgotten…… Read more »

Blinedig
Blinedig
8 months ago
Reply to  Graham Blunden

Having visited some remote parts of Scotland where the roads are much much more challenging, I saw many more visitors [than here] from across Europe in cars, bikes and campers. Maybe we need to promote Cymreictod more to our EU friends? Although on reading the news this morning, a family from Belgium parked outside, Croeso iddyn nhw.

Riki
Riki
8 months ago

This is because they aren’t aware of Wales, the reason? Because we are a part of the UK! And it’s presented to the World as England. Why would they ever visit Wales if they 1. They Don’t know it exist or 2. Worse still, think it’s a part of England so aren’t aware of its distinct culture. The same word in Japan and Korea is used for both England and Britain. The fact Welsh politicians don’t protest this to the “British”, in reality English embassies is ridiculous. How Wales prospers? By reclaiming it’s Britishness from England.

Gisella
Gisella
8 months ago
Reply to  Riki

It is true that most people overseas think Wales a region of England. And also in Italy we tend to say England/English for Britain/British. But speaking of tourism, I believe the biggest problem is that we usually don’t hear of Wales enough to consider it as a destination worth a trip to the UK (while most of us have heard of Scotland and Cornwall as such, for example)

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Gisella

You don’t play Rugby then !

Gisella
Gisella
8 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Fact is 0,01/% of Italians care about rugby. No idea why there’s a team playing in 6 Nations – even though I hear they’re actually slightly improving, can’t understand if it’s true! p.s. however if a few more people have heard of Wales recently is certainly because of football and rugby. But still not motivating enough for more people to choose it for their holidays

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Gisella

They don’t know what they are missing, which is why we are communicating, we are better known among the Dutch and Germans who love our mountains. Re Wales and Italy, we have a strong bond among the ice cream makers of a hundred plus years ago, many still successful Welsh businesses …

Our schools are quite good at teaching Geography plus the Romans made a point of building roads and forts to facilitate stealing our gold etc some time ago…

Gisella
Gisella
8 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Well, I would rather mention generic “beautiful scenery” to attract Italian tourists as people here usually go “there’s no mountains in the UK, just hills!” 😛 (please, don’t get offended – I got a glimpse of Eryri and Bannau Brycheiniog and they’re really very pretty areas that I’m sure many Italians would love. It’s just a matter of promoting things in the most effective way as we have a different scale, let’s say!) Speaking of other things I heard a bit about Italians moving to Wales and got the chance to try Sidoli’s and Carini’s ice creams too! The Romans… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Gisella

Many Italian ex PoW’s chose to remain in Wales rather than return to a war-torn homeland and raised families and built lives for themselves too…

Last edited 8 months ago by Mab Meirion
hdavies15
hdavies15
8 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

…and most of those boys integrated well even learning the language and bringing up the next generation of Eidal-Gymry to speak Yr Iaith too. Arrivals in later decades are put to shame as are many of our own who plead they are Cymry yet never bothered to learn – “it’s too ‘ard see, butt”

Gisella
Gisella
8 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

I would guess that at the time it was more common to hear the language spoken a bit everywhere and therefore feel more motivated to learn it. Also as Italian first language speakers, it takes quite an effort to understand English with British accents anyway, as a lot of sounds we’d expect to hear are not pronounced at all or change every time, while Welsh is more consistent. First language English speakers are less motivated to learn other languages. So they should just learn to speak Welsh as children (without the boring grammar, just speaking and playing). They could still… Read more »

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago

Welsh tourism is not currently geared towards higher-end overseas tourism but towards mass unregulated tourism from within the UK. Since this has led to unsustainable overtourism in the playground areas, it is unlikely that overseas visitors would get full value for money under the present setup, even if Cymru were to market itself in their direction.

lufcwls
lufcwls
8 months ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

This is unfortunately very true 🙁

hdavies15
hdavies15
8 months ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

It’s that “higher end ” product/service that needs marketing. The cheap as chips stuff just sells itself but doesn’t create a robust margin to support decent wages and conditions for those who work in the sector.

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
8 months ago

The report said £28bn was spent in the UK by international tourists in 2019, but only £515m of that was spent in Wales, or just 2%. This is really bad especially when you consider how much Wales has to offer to international tourists. I’m pleased to see its been identified and more needs to be done asap. It makes me wonder about the Welsh Govt proposals re a tourist tax- not sure this will help to encourage them to come.

Gisella
Gisella
8 months ago

We’ve had tourist tax around Europe for years, most of us don’t even notice it when booking (I wasn’t even aware I did not pay any when I visited Wales, until now you mention it)

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago

If Wales could bring the current level of low-yield tourism down to a sustainable level, there would be less need for a tourism tax, which is being introduced to clean up the mess and to repair the damage to the infrastructure. Overseas visitors to other countries do not seem to object to paying a tourist tax. Clearly Wales needs ne right now.

Last edited 8 months ago by Rhosddu
Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
8 months ago

Spend a couple of weeks in Cardiff, as I did very recently, and you will see the problems we face, since Cardiff is likely the first point of arrival and the focus for many visitors. The place is an absolute eyesore, with boarded up shops facing the castle, graffiti everywhere, trash strew about the place, and tatty buildings – even the good older buildings surrounding the castle are long overdue a lick of paint. The place is shabby as hell, hardly an allure to people from some of the most beautiful countries in the world – our European neighbours. There… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Ivor Schilling
hdavies15
hdavies15
8 months ago

“A hindrance to tourism in Wales is transport infrastructure.” Take note Mr Waters and perhaps the left hand may open up communications with its right hand in the Bay bubble.

Mrs Trellis
Mrs Trellis
8 months ago

Well, now that Llandegley International Airport has re-opened, hopefully that will bring a bit more tourism to mid Wales. I think Terminal 2 is where international flights arrive.

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
8 months ago
Reply to  Mrs Trellis

If Natasha and Andrew had their way, there wouldn’t even be a Cardiff Airport to use.

Alwyn Evans
Alwyn Evans
8 months ago

Wow! – Sounds like a case for the Welsh Tourist Board – which Labour’s Rhodri Morgan consigned to his extremely ill-advised ‘Bonfire of the Quangoes’ many years ago. Hands up anyone who thinks Welsh civil servants and Labour Ministers do a better job! No? Thought not!

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
8 months ago

Stephen Crabb has the bloody cheek to state Wales has poor infrastructure when his beloved Westminster neglected Wales road & rail infrastructure for decades in favour of fattening already bloated English infrastructure to the detriment of Wales where hundreds of billions has been spent over the years. I can recall when the Welsh Government asked the UK Government for the devolution of ATD ( Air Tax Duty) seeing both Scotland & Northern Ireland had it devolved. And it was denied when Bristol argued that Cardiff would have an unfair advantage. Remember, this was a regional airport dictating to Wales one… Read more »

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
8 months ago

Fail to agree. Dutch, French and Gremans in numbers around Dolgellau.
Also American, Spanish and others around on the Talyllyn .

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
8 months ago

😀

Last edited 8 months ago by Ivor Schilling

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