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  • Writer's pictureFranck Banza

Reframing Wales's Visitor Economy: Listening to the Locals and Learning from Global Peers

The stark figures from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) underscore a pressing need to revitalise Wales's visitor economy. But beyond the data, the voices of local residents reveal the nuanced challenges and untapped opportunities within our tourism sector. A conversation with a resident from Penclawdd, for example, sheds light on specific concerns that exemplify broader systemic issues, offering a critical lens through which we can envision a more vibrant future for Welsh tourism.

Residents of Penclawdd, a picturesque village known for its stunning estuary views and rich cultural heritage, have voiced concerns that resonate across Wales. They highlight deteriorating road conditions that deter visitors and diminish the overall tourist experience. Facilities such as playgrounds near the estuary, which could serve as focal points for family activities, are in a state of neglect. Moreover, despite the influx of visitors, especially those staying in holiday cottages, there's a palpable lack of engaging activities. "People come here, but there's just nothing for them to do," one local remarked. "They walk around, visit some ruins, but we are missing out on showing them what Penclawdd, what Wales, is really about."

This feedback underscores a critical gap in our tourism offering: the need for immersive, interactive experiences that truly reflect the local culture and natural beauty of Wales. It also points to infrastructural and support issues that, if addressed, could significantly enhance the appeal of Welsh destinations.

Wales, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty, stands on the cusp of a transformative opportunity in the visitor economy. However, these recent data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) paints a concerning picture. In 2022, Wales experienced the largest drop among UK regions compared to 2019, with visitor numbers plummeting by 33% and spend by 24%. This decline is not just a statistic; it's a clarion call for urgent change to harness the full potential of Wales as a premier destination, particularly for regions like Gower.

These figures are stark: only 686,000 inbound visits were recorded in 2022, a significant decrease from pre-pandemic levels. Even as travel restrictions lifted, Wales struggled to regain its foothold in the international market, lagging behind Scotland, London, and the rest of England in both visits and spend. This trend underscores a missed opportunity in promoting Wales's unique identity and the comprehensive experiences it offers beyond the conventional tourism staples of castles and heritage centres.

To reimagine Wales's visitor economy, we can look to countries with similar weather conditions that have successfully positioned themselves as unique tourism destinations. Take Ireland and New Zealand, for example, both of which have leveraged their natural landscapes, culture, and local experiences to draw visitors worldwide.

Ireland has capitalised on its rugged coastlines, historic landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene to create a compelling tourism narrative. From the Wild Atlantic Way to the cultural hub of Dublin, Ireland offers a mix of outdoor adventure and cultural immersion, all wrapped in the warmth of Irish hospitality.

New Zealand, known for its diverse ecosystems and Maori culture, offers everything from adventure tourism in Queenstown to cultural experiences in Rotorua. Despite its remote location and variable weather, New Zealand has become synonymous with stunning natural beauty and adventure, supported by a robust infrastructure that makes its natural treasures accessible.

Drawing inspiration from Ireland and New Zealand, Wales can similarly build on its unique identity to offer diverse and engaging tourism experiences. This involves:

  • Enhancing Infrastructure: Improving road conditions and facilities to make Wales more accessible and welcoming for visitors.

  • Developing Interactive Experiences: Beyond historical sites, Wales can offer activities that allow visitors to engage with the local culture, nature, and arts. This could include guided nature walks, cultural workshops, and adventure sports that make the most of the Welsh landscape.

  • Supporting Local Entrepreneurs: The Welsh Government and Visit Wales should provide more robust support for local businesses to develop tourism ventures. Reducing bureaucratic hurdles and offering financial incentives can empower locals to create unique visitor experiences.

  • Strengthening Community Engagement: Encouraging local communities to be part of the tourism narrative ensures that visitors get an authentic experience. This could be facilitated through local tourism boards or community groups.

The feedback from residents like those in Penclawdd is a vital piece of the puzzle in understanding how to rejuvenate Wales's visitor economy. By addressing specific local concerns and drawing inspiration from countries that have turned similar challenges into opportunities, Wales can redefine itself as a destination that offers unique, memorable experiences. As an advocate for this transformative vision, I am committed to championing the necessary changes that will not only elevate Wales on the global tourism stage but also bring tangible benefits to our local communities. Together, we can unlock the full potential of Wales's visitor economy, creating a legacy of prosperity and pride.

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