FEARS ANTI-TOURIST SIGNS WILL RETURN TO HAUNT N.WALES
And even if holiday makers return, will there be businesses left to greet them?
FOR much of the year, Welsh tourism has been involved in a delicate juggling act between local sensibilities and cross-border visitors.
The welcome was still warm, but in all senses of the word. For desperate businesses, arrivals were greeted with genuine enthusiasm. At times, however, the reception was heated, even incendiary.
Marketing bosses had their heads in their hands as fourletter-word billboards sprang up alongside roadsides and on promenades.
On social media there were mutterings of racism as English tourists – and the occasional travel writer – were impolitely asked to not visit.
Travel bans, check points and border closures have fanned the flames further. Nationalism could even be found in poo, with analysis of waste water indicating the importation of Covid-19 into North Wales from Merseyside.
In many places the fear was genuine and the reaction understandable. In the face of a looming pandemic, with the devil at the door, the logical response was to hunker down and ride out the storm, safer in small rural communities without outside interference.
The reaction wasn’t antiEnglish, just anti-Covid. Even so, will there be a lasting legacy for the tourism sector?
As the industry gropes through the grimmest of winters, most operators are focusing on survival rather than revival and questions of “community consent”.
Tantalisingly, however, the end of the rainbow is in sight, with bookings looking good for 2021, lockdowns permitting.
For those businesses who make it to next Easter, there is a genuine determination to press the industry’s reset button and tackle local tensions that have long been there but which were brought to the surface by Covid-19.
Jim Jones, chief executive of North Wales Tourism (NWT), is confident the sector will rebound (“the region has not become less beautiful”) but he believes local concerns must be addressed too.
Crowded seaside villages, parking deserts and littered landscapes have fuelled fears of over-tourism in areas worried about the impact on local infrastructure, from housing to medical provision.
Lighting the touchpaper this summer were the shocking scenes of indiscriminate parking on Snowdon.
“We really need to have plans in place to deal with these sort of things,” said Mr Jones.
“On Snowdon after lockdown ended there was no plan. Visitors ran riot, causing a lot of conflict. Doing nothing is not an option, otherwise it will happen again.
“Snowdonia National Park has now developed a plan, which is welcome, but we really need to see its implementation as soon as possible.”
For some, the them-and-us idea of tourism versus community is misleading and unhelpful.
So important is the industry to North Wales that they cannot be treated as separate entities. Often they have shared interests and common ambitions, culturally and financially.
“There is one hotel in Bala employing 51 local people,” said Mr Jones. “A hotel in Betws y Coed has 151 staff. “If these were to close, wh e r e wou ld these people get jobs?
“It’s important that everyone understands just how vital the tourism sector is to North Wales communities.”
Better infrastructure can improve the tourism offer and ease local concerns. This doesn’t necessarily mean more parking: issues of sustainability will require lateral solutions, from bicycle provision to electric charging points.
There are other, potential fixes that can be mutually beneficial, according to NTW chair Chris Frost, who runs Manorhaus Ruthin and Llangollen with partner Gavin Harris
He wants to see the jam spread more widely among local communities by rethinking the way signature attractions are marketed – and by creating new icons.
In turn this would help ease the pressure on so-called honeypot sites.
For him a local example is Moel Famau, a magnet for hill walkers despite lying within one of the highest concentrations of Iron Age hillforts in Europe.
The main difference between them is that Moel Famau has a car park.
Mr Frost is not advocating more car parks, just a different perspective.
“How often do we see marketing images of Wales that feature the top of Snowdon?” he said. “No wonder people want to climb it.
“In its tourism brochures Japan tends to show Mount Fuji in a way that encourages people to have their pictures taken with the mountain in the background, not on it.
“Perhaps we need to promote the best places to have your picture taken with Snowdon in the background?”
In parts of Wales, additional frictions have arisen out of the second homes crisis.
In the spring some second home owners caused a flap by apparently sneaking into Wales at night to avoid detection.
In Gwynedd and Anglesey the issue is huge .and growing but, according to campaigners, links with tourism are superficial.
Unlike holiday homes, which tend to employ local people, source local produce and encourage visitor spending locally, the economic benefits from second homes are marginal.
Campaigners have no beef with tourism, where it is done sensitively. Second homes, on the other hand, are a different matter.
“The problem tends to be focused on coastal areas but I would argue it’s a national issue,” said Nefyn councillor Rhys Tudur.
“These areas are Welshspeaking heartlands and anything that threatens to marginalise the country’s language and culture should be treated as a national crisis.”
After the go-home banner waving of 2020, how long will English memories last?
Not long, suspects Conwy glampsite owner Huw Jones, judging by the state of next year’s bookings.
NWT expects some bridgebuilding will be needed next year but Huw is confident of a quick rebound once things get back to normal.
“How long that will just guesswork,” he said.
“But even if we get a vaccine I can’t see huge numbers of people flying off on foreign holidays straight away.
“The staycation market looks very strong and most of the visitors here will be from places like Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool.
“There’s been talk of trying to push domestic tourism but I can’t see someone from, say, Anglesey, wanting to stay in Conwy.”
Even if the tourist hordes do return, there’s a chance there may not be many businesses left to greet them.
That’s certainly the feeling at North Wales Tourism, where Jim Jones has long lost count of the number of anguished emails and phone calls he’s taken from frantic business owners.
For the tourism sector the Covid crisis is like a Channel swim in heavy swells, albeit with more troughs than peaks.
Battered businesses through according take is and exhausted, have struggled on choppy waters: to a NWT survey, 17% of firms have staff to stay afloat.
Now, tantalisingly, they can see the other side – but they are running out of strength and Easter might as well be a million miles away.
When a potential life rope was thrown to them, it was cruelly snatched away: NWT’s survey found that three-quarters of North Wales tourism companies missed out on the latest Economic Resilience Fund when the application window closed unexpectedly after just 24 hours.
Now they need said Mr Jones.
No sooner had the Welsh firebreak ended, the month-long English lockdown began.
By December tourism and hospitality businesses in some parts of North Wales will have been without income for over two months.
“We need much more clarity,” said Mr Jones. “For example, will the border re-open when the English lockdown ends, so that visitors can enjoy Christmas mini-breaks in Wales? No one can tell us.
“It is the uncertainty which is killing the sector. Do businesses restock bars, order in food and take bookings, only to come up against another lockdown? “All the while build buildings still need to be heated. Wifi, electricity and insurance bills still need paying – all with no income coming in.”
New figures just published by Visit Wales put the value of Welsh tourism at an all-time high. Last year it generated £3.6bn, up from £3.3bn in 2018.
This is a sector which needs to be cherished, said Jim Jones.
“Ministers must get the right balance between lives and livelihoods,” he said. “We need support and empathy from the Welsh Government and from Visit Wales. Otherwise our tourism industry will suffer huge damage and will take years to recover.” jettisoned a lifeboat,