The headline of this quarter’s Visitor Tourism Business Barometer is “Quiet Year Continues”. I’m tempted to refer to Conan Doyle’s famous detective’s constipation at this point. All sectors except attractions, which benefited from the rainy weather, reported a greater drop than rise in customer numbers.
Those businesses which have seen better figures than last year cite improvements to their offer/marketing and the loyalty of repeat customers. Never has quality and messaging been so important in managing demand. Messaging is tricky at the moment with media either revelling in negative stories (tax, 20mph) or raising the same handful of Welsh destinations to the top of everyone’s bucket list. Investing in quality is even more difficult with profit squeezed by the need to discount prices at a time of inflated costs to attract customers who are not staying as long and often spending less.
Three quarters of the businesses surveyed for Welsh Government were different types of accommodation provider. Not one of them will hit 50% occupancy for October - December which does not bode well for self-catering’s ability to hit 182 days.
It is important that Welsh Government does not see these figures as a one-off: They point to problems with tourism’s uncertain climate and cannot simply be explained away as due to a bout of bad weather.
The visitor economy faces systematic, longer-term challenges which limit agility to respond to customer behaviour or the ability to invest in improving the offer and marketing. Tourism is a major component of both local and national economies and needs a period of stability to think and plan for a sustainable future. It is populated with entrepreneurs and innovators who are part of their communities and whilst ready to move ahead, are increasingly frustrated by limiting decisions made outside their control.
Whatever the government’s policy aims, it’s in their interests to design the means of delivery in a way that minimises unintended harms. Listening to grassroots tourism providers, taking industry’s advice is a sign of confident government, especially when your own stats show you need to.