Wales needs better weather: Jones
Published 21/05/2013 | 15:47
Wales needs better weather if its tourism industry is to prosper - says the country's own First Minister.
New figures show there has been a sharp drop in visitors to the country in recent years. According to statistics from Visit Britain, North American holidaymakers to the Land of My Fathers have fallen by 40%.
First Minister Carwyn Jones insisted his government is doing all it can to boost Wales' image abroad via a fervent marketing campaign. But the qualified barrister was met with laughter from the opposition benches after he blamed the weather for the downturn. He said: "More than anything else, on top of the marketing support we are putting in, we need to make sure we have better weather than we have had over the past few years. It has not helped."
Tourism is worth around £4 billion a year to Wales' economy, with its capital Cardiff being the biggest contributor. But despite being given a boost to its profile thanks to Premier League football club Swansea City as well as global superstars such as singer Katherine Jenkins and actress Catherine Zeta Jones, concerns have been expressed about its tourist trade.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams raised the issue during First Minister's questions in the Senedd, Cardiff. She said: "In 2012, your government spent an extra £850,000 on tourism promotion. What exactly did taxpayers get for that investment?"
Welsh Labour leader Mr Jones, who last year embarked on a series of trade missions to the USA and China, replied: "What have we been doing? Selling Wales around the world. We have committed many millions of pounds to marketing Wales around the globe."
The First Minister's performance during his weekly question session was later described by the BBC's political journalist Tomos Livingstone as "surreal". During the hour-long Q&A, Mr Jones mocked the Tories over reports senior party members called activists "mad swivel-eyed loons". In a reference to the Prime Minister, the Welsh Labour leader said it was fitting the phrase was an anagram of "Slowly Demonise Dave". He later claimed a £21 million dormant business park in Anglesey was being held back because of archaeology issues. Mr Livingstone commented via Twitter: "Surreal #FMQs. So far we've had the FM controlling weather, archaeology holding back a business park and now anagrams of 'swivel eyed loons'. Am I dreaming?"
Tourist boss Ashford Price, who runs national showcave centre Dan yr Ogof in the Swansea Valley, said Wales's rain played a part in the downturn. But he said the principality's main problem was its poor image both in the UK and abroad.
Mr Price, who last year threatened to sue forecasters amid claims bad weather predictions were ruining trade, said: "Officials have not quite got their marketing strategy right. When you talk about Scotland to people abroad they think of bagpipes or whisky, but the best people can usually think of Wales is just the rain. We really need to develop a unique selling point. One way of doing this is having a tourist body at arm's length from government. In the tourism industry you need risk takers, and you're not going to get that with people who are working for the government."
Mr Price said other factors were the ongoing recession as well as the high cost of petrol. He added: "We used to get asked how much our prices were, but now the most common question is how far away we are from a certain place. However, this situation has been building up for decades. When I first started out in the industry 40 years ago Wales employed 90,000 people in the tourist trade. Four decades on and that figure is only 100,000 more."