THE MONDAY MOAN – A once a week spot for us to moan about the stuff that perhaps we should all be moaning about that little bit more… 

I’ve been involved in tourism in Wales since a teenager, when I was first a tourist to the principality. I began delivering tourist services circa 1993 and quickly became a rising star of Brecon Beacons activity provision. I was well liked by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (that’s how it works, if you’re liked you get the work/publicity) and being on the cusp of general use of internet (it was around but not a go to, the Tourist Information Centres were the thing then) I was well placed. A couple of years later I became the chair of Brecon Beacons Tourism. I have been featured in many a newspaper article, been featured on TV, had links to Activity Wales Magazine, met with the director of VisitWales when campaigning for equity in promotion of tourism business’ and worked alongside Kirsty Williams AM to attempt to raise standards of safety in adventure activity provision in Wales.

What I’m saying is I’ve been around and I do know what I’m talking about 🙂

More recently I’ve been chatting to VisitWales and more about that soon but in doing so I was reminded of the idiocy of the structures of the Tourism Associations in Wales. And I’d like to explain that idiocy, why I think it is as it is and a simple solution…

COST

Wales Outdoors is a Wales wide provider. We therefore require a voice across Wales and promotion across Wales. Here’s an estimate of what that would cost, if Wales Outdoors chose to pay for membership of the individual area associations. I gave up searching as there were so many associations but the final figure is a genuine and provable estimate which in all probability is on the light side:

  • Mid Wales Tourism £145
  • Tourism Swansea Bay £100
  • Tourism Society £120
  • Torfaen Tourist Association Say £100
  • Visit Abergavenny £100
  • North Wales Tourism say £150
  • Visit Carmarthenshire £200
  • Wales Tourism Alliance £500
  • Wye Dean Tourism £150
  • Brecon Beacons Tourism £252
  • Let’s say another 10 (there are more) at £120 = £1200

TOTAL £3015!!!

So, to be fully engaged with tourism in Wales the minimum cost for Wales Outdoors would be £3015. And what would we get for that? Certainly we’d be in the loop with trade news and we’d have some quality links to our website, slightly improving our google search ranking. But would we have our voice heard? And could we maintain our engagement with each association?

PRESSURE GROUP

The Corona Virus lockdown was a distinct opportunity for the tourism associations of Wales to make their mark, to provide leadership and direction and most importantly to pressure government to provide clear direction and a timeline for returning to normality. As far as I have gathered, not one association did this. Being an ex chair of BBT I will focus on that association.

Tourism associations are membership organisations. You pay to be a member and the committee or chair or paid for officer reflects the feelings of the membership. At least, that is how things ought to be.

Firstly, BBT charges double for business’ not based in the Brecon Beacons. So, although I bring in visitors and bed nights to the Brecon Beacons area, because I live in Cardiff I have to pay double for membership! I think that’s pretty outrageous in this day and age…

Throughout the lockdown BBT had ‘Wales is Closed’ as a banner. A rude and harsh headline. People not welcome! When it was announced that the 5 mile travel restriction was to be lifted the headline remained Wales is closed. And then, after I pointed this out, it changed, and I realised what was going on here – BBT were repeating the official line promoted by the Welsh Government through Visit Wales and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. The wording was the same! It seems BBT desired no USP and lacked the inventiveness to come up with a more thrilling and inviting tagline than ‘Visit Wales. Safely.’

I asked many questions of BBT in the guise of a desire to become a member:

  • Why was the BBT site displaying ‘Wales is still in lockdown’ as the main header​ when Wales was just about to open, so why was there no forward planning and encouragement to visitors to begin looking at Wales as a future destination?
  • Why does BBT have blog pages but nobody tasked to blog?
  • Why does BBT act in a protectionist manner with regards to membership?
  • Why when I informed BBT that VisitWales had removed all guided walks providers from their site was there not a full investigation, an outcry even, of this action taken by that Welsh Government Department? Given most come to Wales for the walking it would seem to be of the utmost importance that those who manage the visitor portal are working with and not against the industry? 
  • Where is BBT’s USP? Why is the message on the front page of the BBT .org website the same as at VisitWales? 
  • I would have hoped that the organisation tasked with representing tourism in the Brecon Beacons ought to have been lobbying for the early opening of the countryside and that BBT ought to be holding to account the authorities such as the BBNPA who failed miserably in providing a timeline for just that. This failure I am positive will have led to delays in opening and so bookings and visitor numbers and for some business’ could have been the last straw.

None of these comments were effectively addressed and suffice to say I will not be joining…

CASTLE BUILDING

Why so many tourism associations? Partly it’s geographic, people form local communities believe that they have uniquely shared needs. But I think it’s such a mess because of a desire of a few to castle build, of many to engage in protectionism and of most to make some money or pay for a salary of an admin or officer of some kind. And because of these less than altruistic foundations the numerous and yearly increasing associations are bewildering and lacking in a strong collective voice.

SOLUTION

If you’ve got this far, well done 🙂 If you’ve got this far you are at the most important bit!

If I were a dictator I would do the following:

  • Abolish Visit Wales and share it’s budget equally with four new, free to join for all tourism business’, membership associations tasked with meeting monthly and directing tourism promotion for their region
  • These regions would be South Wales, Mid Wales, West Wales and North Wales
  • Abolish all existing tourism associations in Wales and transfer the existing members into the relevant new regional associations.
  • No paid officers. All work to be undertaken on a voluntary basis and decided at the monthly meetings. The chair can sit for one year only.
  • The day to day business of website design and maintenance and advertising campaigns to be contracted out to Wales located specialists and so making good use of the tourism budget for Wales in Wales.

I’m not a dictator and so I fear this state of affairs will never be reached. There are too many vested interests not the least within the Welsh Government who, it has been proven, have squandered multiple millions over very many years with clearly close to nil returns for the tourism industry in Wales.

SUMMARY

This post draws to a close to my campaigning. I’ve had enough. I know that the management of tourism in Wales is corrupt and I am walking away.

If you deliver any tourism services in Wales and would like to walk away with me I propose not a new association (I’ve been there before) but mutual support and promotion opportunities.

Let’s share each others amazingness and actively promote the best of Wales through our own websites and social media accounts. Reciprocal links and sharing of events attractions and accommodation offers all go a long way to ensuring individual success and is far more effective in the long term than paying for membership of ineffectual tourism associations, Visit Wales accreditation or any form of advertising.

Author

Walk leader @ Wales Outdoors, life model @ Cardiff Life Models and poet @ Self Published

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