Autumn tourism bonanza as Wales nets a new set of travel planners
by David Williamson, Western Mail
A BOOM in the Welsh tourist industry this autumn is being driven by internet-savvy holidaymakers with a taste for spontaneity, experts said yesterday.
English tourists in search of a mini-break are avoiding the security queues at airports and coming to Wales.
Meanwhile, international visitors are venturing beyond London in search of a distinctive holiday.
According to Government data released yesterday, three out of four tourist operators across the nation reported the number of visitors this autumn as being higher (40%) or at the same level (35%) as last year.
Turnover was also up according to 40% of respondents and holding steady for a third.
Visitor numbers at the National Botanic Garden of Wales jumped 41% year-on-year last month.
Tourism expert John Wake said, “A lot of it is to do with spontaneity. You have people in Middle England, they can drive to Mid Wales or Cardigan Bay within an hour and a half.”
He said the west of Ireland had improved its image and become a destination for international tourists and that North Wales was putting the lessons into practice.
“Llandudno has got its act together over the last couple of years,” he said. “They have painted the seafront hotels and it’s looking great.”
Mr Wake had recently spoken with Russian and Brazilian agents who wanted to give their customers the opportunity to travel outside London and enjoy unique experiences.
He said, “The Welsh language is the thing that makes us different when they come.”
Val Hawkins, chief executive of Tourism Wales, said Government-sponsored Visit Wales television advertising had been “very important” in raising the nation’s profile as a destination.
“It’s vitally important businesses build on that,” she said.
She believes Wales must banish the “myth” that it is one of the wettest parts of Britain.
“There’s this misconception,” she said. “It’s a lot drier than other parts of the UK.”
A major source of the buoyancy in the industry, she said, came from the internet’s influence.
She said, “There is a growth in the number of independent travellers sourcing information themselves.”
This has allowed small operators to publicise their accommodation and attractions.
She also considered prestigious events such as the Brecon Jazz Festival of huge importance to the industry.
The survey data found optimism about the winter season had picked up, with 16% of interviewees claiming to be “very confident” and 47% “fairly confident”. A third said they were “not very” or “not at all”.
Respondents who had done as well or better than the corresponding period last year attributed their performance to better weather (26%), their own marketing (14%), recommendations (13%), events in the area (13%) and repeat business (10%).
Accommodation operators were also asked about their investment plans – with more than three out of four claiming that they would be upgrading rooms and facilities (40%) or maintaining them at the existing standard (36%).
Operators of attractions reported that their investment priorities for 2008 would include improving existing features (30%) installing new features (21%), increasing capacity (14%) and carrying out more marketing (12%).
Tourism Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas said, “I am happy that the autumn season held up for the majority of operators who have remained remarkably cheerful and determined despite a very poor summer.
“I hope that they have already felt some of the benefits of the Visit Wales autumn advertising campaign, which at £1.3m is about twice the cost of last year’s, and that business at the shoulders of the season will run on for them.
“I am also heartened by the investment plans of so many operators, indicating that they are keenly aware that quality is the touchstone to sustained success.”