Beyond the stereotype: how to sell Wales to the world

David Cornock
Parliamentary correspondent, Wales


How would you sell Wales to the world? MPs on the Welsh affairs committee ("a fairly friendly bunch" according to chair David Davies) have spent the morning grappling with the issue.

What did they learn? Apparently, the world (outside the UK, at least) no longer views Wales in stereotyped terms although the French still associate us mostly with rugby and mining.

Creating and selling the Welsh brand is clearly proving a challenge. Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards said a Visit Britain survey suggested Welsh castles were more popular than Buckingham Palace as a potential destination.

The chair of the Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators, Roger Burgess gave the latest Visit Wales adverts a mixed verdict: "We were particularly pleased at the latest 'have you packed your bag for Wales?' campaign. But, having watched some of the TV advertisements, they create a superb impression, but it's all in Welsh. So if you're trying to attract the English or the French or the Germans there's no subtitling, no voiceover.

"So what was it they were trying to convey? It seems they're almost asking too much of their audience rather than have that that knowledge develop."

Today's star witnesses came from the Celtic Manor Resort, which will host the NATO summit in September. Chief operating officer Ian Edwards and director Simon Gibson didn't hold back in telling the MPs of their fears that Wales would miss out on the economic opportunities offered by the summit.

Mr Edwards told the MPs: "I think the first minister has got to say to the prime minister, 'Look, we are 100 days to go; we've got nothing nailed down in terms of outreach programmes. How are we going to benefit from this?

"If we don't do it now and we don't line everything up we will miss that opportunity."

He said Wales had done well out of the Ryder Cup at the resort, but could have done better. "We've got to learn the lesson from the Ryder Cup and make sure we don't make the same mistakes with NATO."

This is what he said about air transport links: "At the moment it's more viable for us to have an alliance with Bristol Airport to put on an international campaign because they have more routes coming into Bristol than into Cardiff. How shameful is that."

Mr Edwards said Wales wasn't represented at international travel events in Europe. He said it was "ridiculous" that at a travel trade fair in London, Visit Yorkshire had a bigger stand than Visit Wales.

Mr Gibson also criticised UKTI, the government department charged with helping business, for inviting Wales to investment opportunities too late in the bidding process to get a a share of investment from sovereign wealth funds. In one case, up to £13bn in investment was available.

"It's billions. An opportunity like that might have paid for the M4 relief road, it might have paid for the metro, it might have paid for a regeneration project connecting Cardiff airport to the city it could have done all sorts of projects of a large nature but if we're at the back of the queue we're going to lose."

Mr Gibson questioned whether Wales, unlike Manchester, had the pre-packed investment opportunities to take advantage. He criticised the speed of decision-taking in government: "What we need is velocity. Everything just takes too long. Decisions just take too long." He said there was a reluctance and fear of taking decisions.

The executive director of the Wales Tourism Alliance, Adrian Greason-Walker, focused on practical problems. He said many overseas visitors to Wales were reluctant to hire a car and drive on what they saw as the wrong side of the road.

Euro-sceptic chair David Davies assured him the MPs wouldn't be recommending that Wales switch to driving on the right. You can watch the committee session again here.