Tourism: In Wales, Not Of Wales

The Welsh Government has just received ‘2020’, a new report on the future of tourism compiled by the Tourism Sector Panel. I’ve been taking an interest in tourism for quite a few years and I’ve read a lot of such reports; this one, I’m afraid, was just another off the same production line. Summed up by what is grandly called “A new vision and ambition” Which says . . .

Like I say, I’ve read a lot of such documents over the years and this one is just another mish-mash of platitudinous bollocks and pious hopes. What does the ‘vision’ say? In essence: ‘In the next decade tourism in Wales will carry on much as it has for the past century. It will serve England’s needs and to hell with the lack of economic benefits accruing to the Welsh and the social and cultural damage incurred.’

For that’s always been the bottom line of ‘Welsh’ tourism – it was always English tourism taking place in a scenically more attractive, adjoining country that happened to be called ‘Wales’. Because it takes place in our country we Welsh are then expected to be proud of the fact that so many people – the vast majority of them English – want to come here. With the added joy that many more wish to move here permanently, for tourism is the main driving force  behind English colonisation.

I won’t deny that in the early days of tourism, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Welsh people did benefit, but those days are long gone. What we have now is tourism run by strangers for strangers. You know how bad things are when there are English mountain guides in Wales! (Can you imagine going climbing in the Alps and learning that your guide is Jeremy from Reading! Sorry, I’d want somebody who’d been born and bred there; could read the weather . . . and the names of the streams and other features.)

Perhaps worse, our treacherous and incompetent politicos, devoid of ideas and energy, take advantage of tourism and present it as an ‘industry’, the ‘economic salvation’ of rural Wales, no less. These politicos pretend they put a lot of work and money into making tourism what it is today. Rubbish! Tourism in Wales would carry on even if the Welsh Government ignored it. Day-trippers would still infest the resorts of the north coast. Brummies would still flock to their mobile homes along Cardigan Bay. Walkers and climbers would still come here because we have the scenery and the topography. Nothing would change because we have no real control over it. It is, I repeat, English tourism that just happens to take place in Wales.

It needn’t be this way. It’s done differently in Scotland. If the political will was there we too could have a tourism industry that served us, without the destruction of our identity and despoliation of our homeland.

Before making direct comparisons, let’s familiarise ourselves with the figures for Scotland in 2010. For a start we see that Scotland earns only slightly less from English visitors than from Scots holidaying at home, £1,471m against £1,002m. In 2010 the ‘domestic markets’ provided 84% of Scotland’s tourists but only 65% of her income. A fuller breakdown of Scotland’s  markets and spends can be found below. Curiously, Wales is half way up the table in numbers of visitors, but nowhere to be seen in the ‘spend per head’ column. (Surely there can’t be that many Cardis going to Scotland on holiday!)

Where Scotland scores heavily, and what shows up the real difference between the two countries’ (see table below), is in income from overseas visitors. Wales’ figure of 879,000 overseas tourists is dwarfed by Scotland’s total of 2,341,000, almost three times what Wales sees. Translated into hard cash, Scotland earned, in 2010, £1,444m against Wales’ £328m a year later. With the spend per head figure for overseas tourists in Scotland £616 to Wales’ £373. Not good, is it? And remember, most businesses in Scotland catering for tourists are owned and staffed by Scots. Another unfavourable comparison.

From whichever angle one looks at it, it soon becomes clear that Wales is simply being used by England to provide cheap holidays and breaks. The slogan might as well be: ‘Come to Wales, you won’t be expected to spend much’. Because this is so we have to encourage more and more low spending English tourists just to stand still . . . with all the attendant cultural and social damage already referred to plus the sheer numbers at certain times of the year slowing traffic and in other ways damaging the wider economy; bringing added expense to local authorities and similar agencies; plus adding strain to already stretched  health services.

Let us be honest. If Wales was starting out today to develop a tourism industry to benefit Wales and Welsh people it would be a lot different to what we are now suffering. You don’t need to be an economist, or even a nationalist, to realise that Wales should be targeting overseas tourists for all sorts of reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Overseas tourists spend more money per head than ‘domestic’ tourists; over twice as much in Wales and nearly three times as much in Scotland.
  • Overseas tourists are more likely to want serviced accommodation (hotels, etc.) or quality self-catering, thereby creating jobs.
  • Overseas tourists are less likely to want to buy a holiday home, or to settle here, so they will not inflate property prices and place excessive demand on our housing stocks.

Of course the defeatist argument will run, ‘Ah yes, but Scotland can attract more overseas tourists because she has a higher international profile than Wales . . . whisky, golf, kilts, Braveheart . . . ’. Agreed. And mightn’t one way of remedying foreigners’ ignorance of Wales be to attract them here first as tourists? If Bangor University can attract so many students from China in such a short time why can’t Gwynedd attract their parents as tourists?  Why don’t we at least try?

The new publication is yet another afraid or unable to think outside the box or challenge the orthodoxies that prevailed when Rhyl was still a vibrant tourist resort and Coney Beach was filled with miners. An ugly combination of anglophilia and economic illiteracy – ‘More tourists good; fewer tourists bad’. (Even when it could be fewer tourists spending more money!) The Tourism Sector Panel does not dare articulate it, but nevertheless believes that Wales’ only real function is to serve as a destination for low-spending English tourists. All the while refusing to even consider that there might be downsides to tourism in Wales.

Low-spending tourists result in second-rate facilities, low wages, and a race to the bottom. For a country becoming poorer year on year this ‘strategy’ is not only unhelpful, it exemplifies perfectly the lack of ambition to be found in those who rule us and those who advise them. Left to the likes of these, in ten or twenty years time Wales will be receiving food parcels and old clothing from Albania and Bulgaria. But don’t worry, for Wales will by then be an even cheaper destination for English tourists.

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