Ymadawiad Arthur: How tourism can strengthen Welsh heritage
Tom Giffard MS – Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport.
If you care about Wales, our history and our heritage, you should care about Welsh tourism.
Tourism supports 1 in 7 Welsh jobs; that’s over 150,000 peoples’ livelihoods. Overnight visitors, who spend up to 14 times more in the local economy than day visitors, spend money with local businesses that can then be reinvested back into the economy. This supports pubs, cafes, restaurants, retail shops and a myriad of other local firms.
As Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, it’s been a privilege to get to meet so many of these fantastic businesses, who contribute so much to the economic lifeblood of Wales. In whatever field, these are talented entrepreneurs who are passionate about Wales and everything she has to offer.
As a politicians, our jobs should be to enable these local businesses to soar as high as their talent and potential will take them. Knitting together these integral sectors – culture, tourism and sport – to create a dynamic, world-leading visitor experience should be one our great policymaking priorities. But promoting tourism is more than just an economic good.
Conflated with the debate on second homes, there’s an unfortunate tendency by some to think that encouraging tourism in Wales is somehow a “threat” to Welsh identity or culture. That somehow the idea of commercialisation leads to some kind of dilution of our values. I strongly disagree.
Boosting tourism is integral, not just to promoting Welsh culture and heritage around the world, but as an opportunity to discover more about our own national story.
By building a cohesive national picture of Wales and our history, placed within a wider British context, we won’t just have a more vibrant “brand” to sell internationally, but the proceeds will help us to preserve more of that offer and widen scholarship on the more under-explored aspects of our country.
The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Select Committee report on Welsh Tourism has highlighted the need for us to make more use of Welsh history in boosting our tourism offer across the world.
They particularly highlight the legend of King Arthur, a name that inspires awe and fascination across the world, and has provided the basis for a myriad of books, films, television series and stage plays.
Of course, the legend of Arthur is an authentically Welsh one, and while his historicity is doubted, his origins are more than likely based on real historical figures. A figure resembling Arthur is accounted for in Welsh Bardic traditions.
The writings of Gildas refer to a Romano-British general named Ambrosius Aurelianus, thought to be an inspiration for the Arthur legend, who is supposed to have halted the Saxon advance at the Battle of Badon Hill.
Arthurian ideas as we know them today were romanticised by the medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legends eventually adopting a shared Anglo-Welsh character after Edward I sought to emulate his image.
The world of Arthur, both real and legendary, is one we should be bringing vividly to life to attract visitors not just from across the British Isles, but from all around the world.
So how can we capitalise on this? The Welsh Affairs Committee report shows the way forwards; to involve the best experts from academia and business to craft an authentic and appealing offer.
In their evidence, Professor Dorothy Yen, Dr Ana Canhoto and Dr Liyuan Wei, marketing experts from Brunel University London, highlighted the opportunities of presenting Wales as “the first and only destination that tells the legendary stories of mythic dragons and King Arthur”.
They further suggested that such changes could be bolstered by a museum dedicated to dragons, or dragon walks around towns and coastal lines, as well as theme parks or organised tourism activities that make reference to major films, including “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, a popular children’s film that was partly shot in the country.
By combining all these Welsh strengths – locations, landscapes and media, led by experts in their fields – we have the basis of an approach that could reap dividends. Edmund Burke famously said that society was a contract between those alive now, those past “and those yet to be born”. The need to cherish our history, and preserve it for generations to come, is vitally important – and the tourism sector is a key ally in fostering this.
Through Cadw’s preservation of historic buildings, working together with the countless local attractions and guides right across Wales, we can bring our history and legends to life for us and for visitors internationally, with the proceeds reinvested into safeguarding buildings and artefacts for the future.
By doing this, by making clear that Welsh tourism isn’t just about amazing places and experiences, but also represents a clear through-line to our rich and colourful history, we can maintain that bond Burke’s past, present and future generations, and keep our national story going.
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