Why Wales should rebrand as ‘the land of dragons and legends’ to increase tourism
Dorothy Yen, Professor in Marketing, Brunel University London
The Welsh government wants more foreign tourists. So much so, that they recently put out a call for ideas about how to attract them.
The solution that my colleagues and I have put forward is simple – Wales should embrace their dragons and their legends and use them as the nation’s unique selling point. Wales should become “the land of dragons and legends”.
As someone with a Welsh family on my husband’s side, Wales has always been one of our most cherished holiday destinations, especially when my son was young. From its rich culture and history, dynamic cities and scenic landscapes to its beautiful coastline, Wales has so much to offer as a holiday destination. I still remember the big smile on my son’s face when he finally managed to pull out a gigantic crab after hours of crab fishing in Aberystwyth.
But, despite Wales’ rich tourism offering, it is unlikely to attract deep-pocketed tourists from the likes of the US, China or Japan, as the country lacks a distinctive association with tourist landmarks or cultural symbols, in the mind of international tourists.
What are Wales’ cultural attractions?
Britain’s cultural attractions are the top visiting motivation for international tourists, followed by the variety of places on offer. Unlike, for instance, London – with Big Ben, the Tower of London and the British Museum among other landmarks – or Scotland – with Edinburgh, the Highlands and the Loch Ness monster – Wales is less well known, due to its lack of distinctive features that are exclusive to it.
Spending by tourists in Scotland pre-COVID generated around £12 billion while in Wales generated £3.4 billion.
Yet Wales does have its unique cultural and historical heritage. Wales is one of the only two countries in the world that has a dragon on its national flag – believed to possibly be the oldest flag still in use The other being Bhutan. Wales’ attachment to its dragon, the Y Ddragi Goch (the Welsh red dragon), is pretty strong. Over the years, various stories have been told about the red dragon with the earliest dating back to AD655.
In Historia Regum Britanniae, written between 1120 and 1129, Geoffrey of Monmouth, one of the major figures in the development of British historiography (the study of the writing of history and of written histories) and the popularity of tales of King Arthur, connected the dragon with Arthurian legends. One such connection includes Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, and another to the prophecy by the warlock Merlin of a fight between a red and white dragon, symbolising the historical struggle between the Welsh (red dragon) and the English (white dragon).
Today, the Welsh red dragon symbolises the fierce pride of the Welsh people.
None of the other UK nations can claim such a legendary cultural symbol as the dragon. Similarly, the legends of the powerful warlock Merlin are also exclusive to Wales, as well as many Arthurian legends. Wales’ dragon and the connection to Merlin present a unique selling point to brand and differentiate Wales against other UK nations when promoting tourism to international tourists.
Following the success of fantasy and adventure movies and TV series, such as Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings, many places have been put on the map. And these are bankable connections – just think how enthusiastically New Zealand draws on its connection to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Tourist numbers shot up 40% in the five years after the first Lord of the Rings film and the franchise continues to be a huge draw. In fact, tourism around The Hobbit Trilogy accounted for US$772 million of international tourist receipts (£628 million) between 2013 and 2014.
This highlights an opportunity for Wales to capitalise on its existing association with dragons and legendary figures. Wales would be wise to use these legendary cultural symbols to brand Wales as “The Land of Dragons and Legends”. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed and would position Wales as the first and only national destination brand that is strongly associated with the stories of mythic dragons and legends in the world.
Tactics to increase the connection
This is not an exercise that needs to start from scratch. References to Wales’ Red Dragon, the great magician of Merlin and the famous King Arthur are already being made by Visit Wales, although their visibility should be further improved.
For example, by creating a specific landing page dedicated to dragons and legends under Visit Wales and by promoting the tagline of the land of dragons and legends in all its tourism promotion and marketing activities, both online and offline. These include tourism websites, social media campaigns and hashtags, such as #IloveWales, #Landofdragonsandlegends, tourist information brochures, posters and signage around tourist information centres and tourist resorts. Promoting the same message in all its tourism activities helps strengthen the association international tourists’ have of Wales as the land of dragons and legends.
Future tourism development could also gear up towards the promotion of dragons and legends. For example, by curating and dedicating museum exhibitions on dragons; by organising dragon walks and Merlin’s trails around towns and coastal lines, which would link cultural and natural tourism offerings in one.
Also, creative theme parks or organised tourism activities could refer to popular movies or TV series, offering unforgettable experiences. For example, the BBC series Merlin was partly filmed in Wales in spots including the Brecon Beacons National Park, Castell Coch, Caerphilly and Chepstow Castle. The show could be used to appeal to children and families through offerings such as magic workshops and potion lessons in these locations. Similarly, films such as First Knight, which was shot in Gwynedd, North Wales, could be used to promote jousting experiences or tours connected to the Arthurian legends in locations they were shot.
In this way, when international tourists are planning where to go on holiday, they recall Wales as a land of dragons and legends, with multiple tourism values on offer, on top of its beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventures.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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So a historic Disneyland then? It’s cute that we are thought to have a lack of distinctive featues exclusive to it when we can match EVERYTHING on that list Big Ben – just a clock – Machynlleth town square clock Tower of London – Caerphilly Castle, Caernafon Castle, Beaumaris Castle, Harlech Castle, etc etc etc Scottish Highlands – ERYRI Loch Ness Monster – The hounds of Annwn Stonehenge – Cader Faner, Bryn Celli Ddu, Mynydd Portref Also Worm’s head; Gower Peninsula; Blue pool; Afon Mellte waterfalls; Brecon Beacons national park, any number of historical towns, sites of special scientific interest… Read more »
Also “parts of Merlin were filmed in Wales”?
It was all filmed n Wales. It was produced BY BBC Wales.
There just weren’t many Welsh people in it, because BBC viewers don’t like Welsh accents in their “historical dramas” unless they are poo shovellers or interloping ne’erdowells
Well said. To designate our history as myth and legend does our nation a great disservice. Cadw are great at pumping money into the vast monuments of our oppression, but do little to preserve our Welsh history. They do not even know where many of the ancient sites are and so they are not listed. This makes it easier to turn our hills and mountains into windfarms. How many people know there were two Arthur’s who are actually recorded, one in Roman times and the other in Saxon times. Their lineage is recorded and they were real historical figures.
Arthur English ? Doesn’t anyone know that his “core business” was fighting the Anglo-Saxon(i.e English) invasions of his time ? Possibly Romano-British, or indeed Irish-Welsh, but definitely not English. Only question that arises is whether “Arthur” was his name or title.
The English cultural appropriation in their reverence for Arthur is a constant source of amusement to me.
If those who promoted our tourism did their job & research properly would realise that besides having stunning scenery, actors, industrialists and inventors of note, also have a vast littery history spanning nearly 1,700 years that is second to none, a history that’s influenced so many famous writers like J RR Tolkien, JM Barrie , CS Lewis , Terry Pratchett , G R R Martin, etc… Our country is the true home of the Arthurian legends. Welsh scribes & scholars like Nennius & Geoffrey of Monmouth documented those figures from Welsh mythology that could be celebrated and promoted. We should… Read more »
I don’t think tourists will spot too many dragons. That sounds like the Friday five o’clock nutter on the phone to Visit Wales. How about concentrating on the landscape, especially the coastal path?There are loads of other choices unlike in Uxbridge where the author is based.
Walking is good for you.
Beth am dysgu ychydig o Gymraeg ar y ffordd?
Y Ddragi Goch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What does she know when she can’t even spell Ddraig correctly?????
Haven’t you heard of the famous Dragi before ? It was spawned or evolved out of an English attempt at pronunciation while on holiday in Klanecklee many years ago.
I think she’s referring to Ifan “Dragi” Tomos from Cidweli, famous for refusing to fix the broken wheels on the cart he used to pull his turnips and swedes to market…
2019: Year of Discovery | Business Wales (gov.wales)
Covid ended this campaign which contained all Prof Yen says and much more.
Visit Wales has always been underfunded, a few weeks advertising on regional TV sites, a Destination Management Plan which produced a brochure but no follow-up material in the country, closing down Tourist Information Offices. People across the world who follow football and rugby know about Wales’ cultural symbols, not sure about the “dynamic cities” though.
That will sit nicely with the Land of Unicorns over the border…
The Mabinogion is world famous but not yet mentioned, the Land of Song and the International Eisteddfod is renown across the globe so is Clogau Gold and the Dolgellau Gold Belt. The Great Little Trains of Wales and the slate industry another gem, the reservations book for the new Premier Inn in Porthmadog must be worth a look. Portmeirion was made famous when I was a kid, who remembers ‘The Prisoner’and the No 6 Festival-millions of people. These are all world renown iconic things just in my back yard… Not to mention all the artists like Richard Wilson and John… Read more »
Time for a tourist tax to pay for all this promotional puff then!
Whilst i think a lot of what this Professor is saying nonsense she does have a point. The Welsh Govt need to do a lot more to promote Wales to tourists abroad- Wales is unheard of in a lot of places and many times when ive been abroad and been asked were i am from the usual reply to me saying Wales proudly is “is that England? I am heavily involved in the Welsh Tourist trade and can vouch that the number of people i see from abroad visiting us is tiny. When we do attract Americans for example they… Read more »
From abroad, I can tell this is really what happens here: it’s not that Wales lacks distinctive features, of course. We just never hear about them, we don’t know they exist! I discovered it and got charmed by accident by a song (Datblygu, not that song everybody mentions, by the way). But fact is that that simple hooks and imagery work better to make them curious, first. People come to Italy thinking of gladiators and paintings and scenery fat cooks making pizza while singing opera. Well. Many of us wished to visit Scotland and Ireland because of lake monsters, banshees… Read more »
Wales is not a play area like Disney land encourage tourists by all means but with true history not some commercial myth
How about better facilities for tourists (and us) such as public toilets that you don’t have to pay to use, more regular buses – and more routes – and trains that are not a rip off.
Bad public transport is a huge problem for foreign tourism to Wales.
Of course, it is a superficial theme like all tourist branding. But I actually agree. We need to stake our claim to some iconic characters and images. Arthur, Merlin, Macsen Wledig, Blodeuwedd and of course our draig goch are not a bad starting point. Bring it on.
Oh my good God!