This Wednesday (21 January 2015) Assembly Members will debate the Enterprise and Business Committee’s report into tourism in Wales. Last week the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism responded to the Committee’s report, accepting all but 2 of its 28 recommendations, with the other 2 being accepted in principle. This work in the Assembly followed a recent inquiry by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, whose report into the international representation and promotion of Wales by UK bodies reached some similar conclusions.
During the Assembly inquiry the Committee met key stakeholders formally in the Senedd, including the Wales Tourism Alliance, Professor Annette Pritchard of the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, the Deputy Minister for Culture Sport and Tourism and the then Minister for Culture and Sport. It also held three focus group sessions throughout Wales: at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Oriel y Parc, St Davids; and Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The Welsh Government’s target (in its tourism strategy Partnership for Growth) is to grow tourism earnings in Wales by ten per cent in real-terms by 2020. In order to achieve this aim, tourism earnings will have to grow by, on average, about 1.4 per cent in real terms each year: current growth is outstripping this target.
Figures released by the Welsh Government last October for the first six months of 2014 show the total volume of trips to Wales, as well as associated expenditure, both higher than the same period in 2013. Both sets of figures for Great Britain as a whole showed a decline over the same period. Witnesses welcomed the recent growth in tourism in Wales, whilst highlighting a number of areas where they felt the Welsh Government should do more.
Tourism businesses and academics said that Wales needs a stronger tourism brand to make the most of Wales’s huge tourism potential. Professor Pritchard told the Committee:
Brand Wales is at a tipping point. It needs greater clarity, stakeholder buy-in and consumer and media resonance.
The Committee welcomed the recent branding work undertaken by the Ashton Brand Consulting Group for the Welsh Government, but said that this work must be accelerated so that Wales has a clear and coherent tourism brand. It also felt that tourism businesses must be involved in this process so that all stakeholders – from Visit Wales to tourism SMEs – can work together to grow tourism in Wales.
A number of witnesses questioned whether the Welsh Government invested enough money in the tourism industry. The Committee heard that marketing spend on tourism in Wales was roughly equivalent to that of Glasgow, and also that money spent on tourism marketing often achieves a significant return on investment. The Committee therefore called on the Welsh Government to reassess whether it is spending enough money promoting Wales for tourism.
The Committee was concerned that VisitBritain (the UK Government’s tourism development agency) is not doing enough to promote Wales as a distinct destination within the UK, and has called on the Welsh Government to work with VisitBritain to establish challenging growth targets for VisitBritain to increase in tourism Wales. The Committee welcomed the fact that similar conclusions were reached by the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee during its recent inquiry, and called on VisitBritain to implement the recommendations of these two reports.
The Deputy Minister addressed all of these issues in his response to the report. For example, on the subject of establishing challenging growth targets for VisitBritain to increase tourism in Wales, he noted that the Welsh Government has called for this, both in its written evidence (the Minister then responsible for tourism, Edwina Hart AM, declined an invitation to appear in person) to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s inquiry and the UK Government’s recent triennial review of VisitBritain. The results of these calls, however, remains to be seen.
Given the recent growth in the sector, much of the Committee’s report calls for the Welsh Government not to significantly change the direction of its tourism policy, but to accelerate and improve the work it has underway. This Wednesday Members will have a chance to find out in more detail how the Deputy Minister plans to do this.