Not enough foreign tourists visiting Wales, says academic

Wales tourism

Wales is not reaching its full potential in attracting high-spending international tourists, a leading academic has said.

Prof Annette Pritchard, director of the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said the country was "underperforming".

Meanwhile, figures show 14 tourist information centres (TICs) in Wales have closed in the past five years.

But Economy Secretary Ken Skates said the future was digital.

Prof Pritchard said despite some encouraging figures, Wales was still not doing well enough in key areas, and the impact of budget cuts had seen the closure of tourist information centres across Wales at a time when the industry needed growth.

"We are not doing as well internationally as our competitors, we're getting about 3% of visitors and about 2% of spend," she told BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme.

Image caption Prof Annette Pritchard says Wales needs to attract more overseas tourists

"We've got about 5% of the population so really we need to be aiming for that 5% mark from the overseas tourism."

Visit Wales spent less than Visit Scotland on marketing in 2016.

This year its budget has increased but according to Mr Skates, money is not always the answer when it comes to tourism marketing.

"Many critics will say 'well you just need to spend more on newspaper adverts, more on TV adverts in order to get more visitors in'," he said.

"Well that's not necessarily the case in the 21st century - the way to market a country, a product is to actually make sure that it captures the attention of billions of people through social media and to do that you have to have an innovative approach - you have got to have a creative approach."

Last year, Wales attracted more than one million overseas visitors while Scotland welcomed 2.7m overseas visitors over the same period.

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Wales' coastline is also a big draw for visitors

Research by Week in Week Out revealed a decline in the number of tourist information centres run directly by councils, with the closure of 14 in the past five years, including five in Gwynedd.

Two - Porthmadog and Caernarfon - have been taken over by North Wales Tourism, but they do not have the funds to open on a regular basis.

Ambra Burls, who works at the Porthmadog centre, said: "We've had some 3,000 people through the door here in Porthmadog alone since Easter.

"Considering we're only open at weekends between 11:00 and 15:00 - that speaks volumes really as the amount of people that would come in through the week. "

Image copyright Cadw
Image caption Caernarfon Castle in Gwynedd is popular with visitors to north Wales

Ian Spindley, marketing manager at the Royal Sportsman Hotel in Porthmadog, added: "Each week we would probably get five guest room recommendations and referrals from the TIC and dozens and dozens of recommendations for diners to come and eat with us - and that stopped over the last 18 months when the centre was closed."

Gwynedd council said severe budget cuts had resulted in them no longer directly running TICs but added they were working with tourism groups to maintain the service.

Mr Skates said changing times called for a change in attitude when it came to attracting - and informing - visitors.

"We have to respect the fact that the local authority budgets are under immense pressure and so sometimes difficult decisions have to be made but we also need to make sure that the economy itself is preparing for the 21st century way of doing things and the fact is - based on evidence that was gathered in Swansea - that only 1% of visitors to Swansea accessed information through Tourist Information Centres," he said.

"We need to be looking into the future rather than the past and the future is digital."

  • Week In Week Out is on BBC One Wales at 22:40 BST on Tuesday, 11 July.

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