North West Wales

Gwynedd's tourist offices to be run by community

Gwynedd council confirmed they 'hope to be able to secure a new use' for Caernarfon's tourist office Image copyright Google
Image caption Gwynedd council confirmed they 'hope to be able to secure a new use' for Caernarfon's tourist office

With millions visiting Gwynedd every year, the tourist industry is worth nearly £1bn to the local economy.

But council cuts have meant the tourism offices in some of the county's most popular towns are closing.

And campaigners fear it will have a detrimental effect on tourism.

Residents are now fighting the closures by re-opening the offices as community-run schemes with hopes Barmouth's will be open by Easter and plans for Porthmadog and Caernarfon to follow.

In 2014, Gwynedd welcomed 6,847,000 visitors. Caernarfon Castle alone had 200,000 visitors in 2015.

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Media captionTour guide Emrys Llewelyn called the closures "ridiculous"

But "severe cuts" to council budgets meant the three tourism offices across the county were closed with six people losing their jobs. The closures were widely criticised.

Now residents are stepping in to save the service.

Heather Brown, of the Barmouth Publicity Association, said her local office was "too important" to close.

"The market is changing - bed booking is now done mostly by the internet. But people still need to see where they want to go," Mrs Brown said.

"It is vital to Barmouth. The new centre will offer most of the services it offers now - and we hope it will be open in Easter next year."

Staff will be specially trained to help visitors, and information will be on display.

Part of the conditions of the lease mean the new tenant, a letting agent, will also sell train tickets.

'Ludicrous'

The closures of the tourism offices have also been criticised on the other side of the county in Caernarfon. Tour guide Emrys Llewelyn called it "a ludicrous decision".

North Wales was recently voted one of the best locations in the world to visit in 2017 by the Lonely Planet travel guide.

The annual tourism economy across the whole of north Wales is estimated to be £2.8bn, with nearly £1bn coming from Gwynedd according to North Wales Tourism.

And with Caernarfon set to welcome a new £3.3m redevelopment for the Slate Quay, Mr Llewelyn said it was a strange time to deprive visitors of information.

"Over 130,000 people came to see the Weeping Window World War One exhibition in the castle - and most of them went to the tourism information," he said.

"We've been fighting to keep it open. The staff are wonderful, and we also have the picture gallery and exhibition upstairs.

"You accept that any council these days are struggling. But when will it end? We'll have nothing."

North Wales Tourism's managing director Jim Jones admitted cuts were "decimating" tourism infrastructure.

He recently told the BBC tourism centres were "fundamental basics".

"We are disappointed by this, although we do realise that councillors have had to make some very difficult decisions on budgets," Mr Jones said.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Porthmadog's centre could stay open by collaborating with the neighbouring community centre

"Tourism is vitally important to the economy of north Wales and our members provide employment for a great number of people, and so it is essential we ensure that visitors get the information they need, in the format they prefer."

Barmouth town councillor David Clay said that, increasingly, communities like his were having to provide tourism services themselves.

In Dolgellau, the tourism office is currently being run by volunteers.

"These cut backs are so severe," Mr Clay said. "But in Barmouth we realised that we couldn't reopen the centre as a voluntary organisation.

"We needed a more full-time operation, with staff that could support the tourism offer."

Now this combination of business investment and community action is being put into action across the county.

Llais Gwynedd councillor Jason Humphreys from Porthmadog said he was "hopeful" the town's centre would soon reopen, with the community centre potentially collaborating to share resources and costs.

"We are in discussion with a third party who will hopefully run the centre for the benefit of the community," he said.

"I think the third sector working together could provide more benefits."

And in Caernarfon, discussions are taking place over whether a private company or franchise will take over the building.

"How it will reopen we don't know - but it won't be shut forever," said tour guide Emrys Llewelyn.

"If it has to be community or privately led, so be it. This decision, as with many others, needs to be rectified."

Image copyright Google
Image caption The community say Barmouth's tourism information office is "vital" for the town

Gwynedd council confirmed it was working to secure a "new use" for the Caernarfon and Porthmadog offices that could "include an element of information for tourists."

And North Wales Tourism's Mr Jones said he was hopeful that, by the new year, visitors to the three towns would once again be able to use the centres.

"In principle, Gwynedd council are working with ourselves to see if they can come up with a solution to be able to offer visitors information," Mr Jones said.

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