‘Welsh’ Tourism: Game Lost, Or Thrown?

I have always argued that Wales gets the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to tourism. Being a low wage activity, tourism drives down wages in other local industries. Leaving ‘tourism hot-spots’ poor areas where locals Self-cateringhave to compete in a distorted property market with people who liked the area so much as tourists that they want to settle, or buy a holiday home. Finally, the vast numbers of tourists put a massive strain on all manner of services such as hospitals and ambulances, the road network, litter clearance . . . for which we, who get no benefit from tourism, have to pay. Making tourism, for the vast majority of Welsh people, a lose-lose situation. And I haven’t even mentioned the cultural damage and the environmental degradation.

I made some of these points in a letter to the Wasting Mule last month. I argued that Wales could make just as much money from far fewer tourists, while also creating more jobs, if we closed off some of the avenues to holidays on the cheap. My letter was answered in Friday’s issue by ‘Alun Davies’, who gave us a little travelogue on what he claimed was his recent visit to Pembrokeshire. It’s a cleverly written letter that pretends to answer the points I made, but doesn’t. He tells us that Sir Benfro was full of continental visitors, while making no mention of English tourists, before wandering off to discuss, among other things, public lavatories!

The point to be made here is that if tourism is the economic activity we are told, then the priority has to be maximising the profit. Those overseeing tourism in Wales have only known one way of doing this – by increasing the numbers of low-spending tourists from over the border, with all the attendant problems I list above. Worse, I cannot recall anyone involved in tourism ever wondering out loud whether there might be a limit to how many tourists parts of Wales can cope with. Quite amazing that in 2013 sustainability should be such an alien concept.

The reason I bring this up again is that I’ve just run across some fascinating figures on global tourism (click to enlarge) on the BBC website, put out by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. France gets more foreign tourists than any other country on earth, but the spend per head of $646 compares badly with almost all other countries, as the table on the right will show. (For neighbouring Germany, the figure is $1,253.) The explanation suggested by the BBC is given below, and it makes fascinating reading, very relevant to Wales.

Tourism countries
Click to Enlarge

“Some 83% of France’s visitors come from other European countries, which may explain the relatively low amount spent per head. A lot of them come from neighbouring countries and often choose to camp and buy food from supermarkets, rather than filling the coffers of hotel and restaurant owners.”

The BBC website could have added, ‘Coming from neigbouring countries they may even bring food with them rather than buying in French supermarkets, thus further reducing the amount they will spend’. Even without this, what it does make clear is that tourists who are camping – and this includes caravans and other forms of self-catering, including of course, holiday homes – will spend far less per head than tourists staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts and other serviced accommodation. Self-evident, surely? That being so, why is Wales awash with ugly caravan sites? Why do we eulogise over sites like the Bluestone chalets?

There seem to be linked and unavoidable truths at work here. They can be expressed thus, almost as a syllogism:

1/ The further away your tourists come from, the more money they are likely to spend.

2/ To maximise the tourism income a country will keep to the minimum opportunities for low spend, self-catering holidays.

3/ It follows that the most economically beneficial tourists will come from far away and stay in serviced accommodation; they will also hire cars, they will eat in restaurants, they will create employment, etc.

So why is it that what passes for ‘Welsh’ tourism can think no further than Brummies and their caravans on Cardigan Bay? Or Mancs and Scousers on stag nights in Llandudno? Weekend breaks for Londoners in Pembrokeshire? This is not a tourism strategy, this is not any kind of strategy, it is simply a form of surrender, allowing things to continue as they have in the past. Unwelcome, undesirable and indefensible.

Tourism in Wales developed with the spread of the rail network in the nineteenth century to serve England’s needs not Wales’s interests. Over that we had no control. Yet now we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century and the second decade of devolution, surely time we had a tourism industry serving Welsh interests. Not least because the continuing failure to serve Welsh interests will only make more people suspect that attracting millions of English tourists to Wales every year serves an agenda that has little to do with economics.

21 thoughts on “‘Welsh’ Tourism: Game Lost, Or Thrown?

  1. dave brooker

    We went to West Wales for the weekend a couple of weeks ago and saw tourists from all over Europe, seems odd that you’d not want tourists and the revenue they provide??

    1. I have never said I do not want tourists and the income they bring. What I want is tourists from all over the world, spending more per head than is currently the case, with the money they spend supporting Welsh-owned businesses, creating jobs for Welsh people, and the taxes paid to a Welsh Government.

      1. dave brooker

        We stayed at a Premier Travel Inn, eat at Pizza Express and filled up at Tescos before heading home, although we did visit some attractions that were not part of a bigger chain. This is the way of the world though, wherever you go in the UK you end up the same. All the staff seemed to be Welsh and welcoming and hospitable too, clearly plenty of jobs for the Welsh. I’m not sure what sort of Wales you want??

        1. I said it in the comment before yours: “What I want is tourists from all over the world, spending more per head than is currently the case, with the money they spend supporting Welsh-owned businesses, creating jobs for Welsh people, and the taxes paid to a Welsh Government.”

          1. Dave B

            Well that’s how it is, but lovely as Wales is, it’s never going to be a world class destination as it’s not very big and not really that different from anywhere else in the UK. Nice enough for a weekend away or a beach holiday, but not for someone coming from the other side of the world.
            I have to say some Welsh people seem awfully inward looking and over paranoid – you live in a lovely place, with hardly any other people, houses are cheap, the air is clean and clear, and you’re free of the ratrace lifestyle that many in England find themselves in – cheer up!

  2. Ieuan Wyn Jones (holiday home owner in France)

    I’ve no shame in being called a sheep shagger, as I only shag the sheep for english consumption and am quite content to know that some thief is in some way is consuming my pei hufen.
    However I do get pissed off when someone purchases a property for holiday use and pays the same rate of stamp duty as some poor bastard who wants to use a home to live in and raise a family. Homes are zero rated for V.A.T to make them more affordable, so why are effluent people allowed this V.A T. exemption when they buy a home as an investment/ D.I.Y holiday?

    1. Jac

      Typical ‘Playground Wales’ tourism. Crass and insulting. It would be interesting to learn if these buggers have ever had public funding.

      1. It would be interesting. That would be like finding someone has shit on your doorstep & then knocked the door to ask for toilet paper!

        I think that the name of the site is enough to warrant a letter to the race relations board. If calling a third world country ‘Bonga-Bonga Land’ is racist then surely publicly calling a nation ‘sheep shaggers’ is.

  3. Ant Farwol

    This is the best validation I’ve seen to ban all those white plastic and fibreglass 35mph “working-welsh-man” baulking” wobbly, unsafe contraptions from being driven past Offa’s Dyke.

    Just a year’s depreciation alone would validate a £75 a night spend in a proper civilised human type habitation and an Aberystwyth B&B. Just the annual insurance and MOT cost on a wannabe Winnebago would pay for a week in Portmeirion – GET A GRIP and leave them at home!!! Remember relaxer…I am trying to get to work – so out of my way and don’t look so scared driving what you foolishly bought!

    1. Jac

      For a while now I’ve thought that one option would be to ban touring caravans, and camper vans, from the roads from 7am to 7pm.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s been a bone of contention of mine for years. They should be BILLED & made aware of the consequences of their stupidity (which is often attitude rather than stupidity). I even notice that the visitors to my town here in Aberaeron (who are not normally your ‘water sport or mountaineering’ types) actually display an attitude when they don shorts, flip-flops & sun tan lotion. They dawdle in the middle of the road & won’t move to the side when they hear a car coming! It’s an attitude – very much like the lager lout football hooligan attitude of Ing-er-land supporters abroad. They believe that they have dominance of their surroundings, regardless of where they are, because they are “British” (English).and once ruled the world under the flag of the empire.

      I also wholeheartedly agree with your socialist ‘Plaidie ‘ remark. For them it’s a “workers of the world unite” mentality – rather than a patriot’s responsibility for his nation. It’s the cancerous disease that has ruined a Nationalist Party. They feel more aligned to their socialist connections rather than their Welshness.

  4. Let’s also think of all the morons that come here and end up being rescued by our mountain teams, helicopters, ambulances, police and fire services after deciding to climb snowdon wearing flip flops in the fog. Kayaking out to sea, having BBQs inside their tents, picking up adders or going diving in a quarry notorious for drownings and people getting the bends.

  5. Interestingly, this was the subject of Oliver Hide’s Morning Call programme today on Radio Wales.

    FINALLY some are noticing that our sea side towns are becoming dumping grounds for the inner cities of England.

    It never ceases to amaze me how slow people are to recognise these things. Over a decade ago it was taboo to even mention the word “dumping ground” in this context. Now that we’re up to the stud with these low life (over the border city) ‘immigrant’ sections of society in our ruined towns, the population suddenly wakes up to the problem – now that it’s too late. Even worse, they seem to think it’s a recent development.

    If Plaid had woken up when I flagged the problem (when I was a vice president of that party at the turn of the century), with my observation that Wales was becoming a dumping ground for oddballs, social misfits & society drop-outs, the new ‘home’ for the sick, lame & lazy, the situation could have been addressed at the right time. Instead what did they do? Treat me as a racist pariah, disowned me and then hounded me out of their party. The ironic thing was, the majority of the grass root membership agreed with my views at the time, but didn’t have the backbone to support me.

    It takes a lot of restraint not to shout “TOLD YOU SO you half baked, spineless clowns!”.

    1. Jac

      One problem here is that too many of those you criticise are socialists. For whom housing an English problem family, or a drug addict, is the right-on thing to do. They may even see it as striking a blow against a cruel ‘system’, or some such bollocks. Then there’s the Guardian readers to consider . . . For too many in Plaid Cymru the survival of Welsh national identity is of less importance than getting a pat on the head from people who don’t give a fuck about Welsh nationhood.

  6. Tigi-dwt

    Spot on, Jac. A young man I know wanted to set up a scheme to attract American visitors to North Wales, using local hotels, restaurants and hired transport. He applied for help from North Wales Tourism (NWT), who thought he would be much better advised to cater for the ‘home market’, i.e. English visitors. He objected, as he did not want to attract anyone who might take it into his/her head to buy a house here. He also wished to show the Americans the aspects of Welsh history that the tourism industry, through ignorance or servility, tends to avoid.

    Despite paying a fee to NWT, he won no business through them. Whenever he phoned their office, the person at the other end of the phone was unable to speak Welsh, or pronounce Welsh place names!

    Also, a contact with a representative of the Welsh Assembly in America proved to be absolutely useless – this in the year that Wales was the main feature of the Smithsonian Festival.

    1. Jac

      The excuse for not advertising overseas used to be that this was the responsibility of the British Tourist Authority. Since we’ve had devolution this excuse cannot be used. So what’s the reason now?

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