‘Let’s Shape the Future’ - Wales Tourism Alliance Response to Wales Tourism strategy-making for 2020 and beyond
We need a new plan and we support the proposal, albeit a more flexible, dynamic one as we suggest further on. Without a new Development Plan the industry is in danger of losing a sense of direction as various interests start to pursue their own divergent agenda and place in peril the cohesiveness of the sector. The fragmented nature of tourism within Wales needs a mechanism that promotes "togetherness". An annual progress report on progress and targets should be a given, for the industry as a whole.
The Brand-led approach is working. Visit Wales has done a great deal of excellent work over the past ten years to build a genuine quality brand, indeed we have even seen other destinations aping much of the original look and feel of these campaigns. This should be the core of Visit Wales work. It is not something we as a fragmented industry can achieve on a national basis and is a good use of some of the tax that our industry contributes to the Welsh Government via the exchequer.
One thing we would like to see more of is that future campaigns should establish how the use of the brands for the ‘year of…’ campaigns and other work can be more easily accessed and used by businesses, without of course compromising, in areas such as copyright, data protection and the quality of the brand.
It should not be seen as a work plan for Visit Wales. Past plans, whilst released with good intention have rapidly been viewed by the industry as work plans for Visit Wales (and possibly even by VW itself). The Welsh Government holds the resources that underpin the plan and relatively quickly it can become seen by some as simply a means to access funds. The sector needs to clearly understand its role if it is to benefit from being part of it.
As a rule, any new plan should be constructed for easy application, so that the industry can engage whatever the size of the business. With attention paid to ensure that whatever plan is reached enables true sustainable integration across both the industry, wider business community beyond purely ‘tourism’ businesses. Whatever is agreed upon it needs to build on quality assurance whilst taking into account the changing way in which we work as an industry (flexibly, electronically remote and part time). This need to be recognised as a strength not a weaknesses.
We need something more integrated and dynamic. Preferably easy to access on line. That enables engagement, be it in the provision of live data for research purposes, the use of resources such as the material generated from VW Campaign work, tool kits, etc. Much is already available, it just requires reviewing, updating and refitting.
Any plan now needs to be much more flexible and updatable than previously in order to be able to make quick and dynamic shifts to meet the ever changing vagaries of the market given the huge changes in political context, means of communication, consumer demand and increasing environmental awareness.
The OTAs need to figure more prominently in the overall plan. They are without doubt holding much of the tourism asset and not just in Wales. Recent visits to the HQ of Airbnb in London only served to demonstrate to us their potential. We recognise change has occurred beyond anything imagined ten years previous. How we deal with this change is fundamental to everything to do with tourism as present and is possibly the biggest single issue moving forward as an industry. We would like to discuss this further with Visit Wales.
Taxation Policies which promote the Competiveness of the Industry In common with the rest of the UK, the industry in Wales is penalised in comparison with near European countries by the current rate of VAT. The WTA calls upon the Welsh Government to continue to press the UK Government to reduce the rate to a more competitive level for the industry and to increase the levels at which thresholds are set. This needs to be part of the plan as much as marketing initiatives and would truly integrate businesses. There needs to be greater creativity with regard to encouraging new business activity through local tax breaks, particularly for wet weather activity. This should be alluded to in the new plan.
We will though not support a Welsh tourism tax as we do not believe it will be disaggregated for local use or be fair in terms of the businesses that will be targeted. This may mean that Visit Wales moves away from control of funds internally and looks to work more creatively with other funders.
Financial Support for Capital Investment and Product Improvement by Business. The current level of Welsh Government support for capital investment in the industry from all its various support schemes has been running at around £10 million annually. The industry’s capital investment is overwhelmingly supported from its own retained profits and bank borrowing, but innovative new tourism businesses will not get off the ground without some government support. There have been good examples in recent years of such support, modest in scale, being crucial to the success of the development of new tourism businesses. We therefore propose that post Brexit the industry should have a specific allocation of funding linked to the Development Framework to support capital investment and product development in tourism businesses.
The scheme rules should reflect the fact that the industry is mainly composed of micro businesses and SMEs, mostly owner managed. An earmarked, easy to access development tourism fund of double the existing annual spend would not be out of place bearing in mind the £2.7 billion contribution of the industry to GDP and its further growth potential.
However, whilst we still see the need for capital investment, we do understand that public sector resources are set to continue diminishing and that someone has to pay. There needs to be a move toward more creative partnerships based on destination business plans which truly identify the product available (i.e. no of beds; tickets, etc) and establish what is required to build a ‘tourism community’ product and sell it.
Ensuring Key Tourism Infrastructure. We want to see Wales stay abreast of the latest technological advancements, starting with completion of the superfast broadband programme and ensuring its reliability alongside the future introduction of 5G. There is a danger that key tourism infrastructure and services provided by local authorities are disappearing because of financial pressures. In addition the WTA looks to the plan to develop the steps needed to facilitate the speedier introduction of tourism signposting in support of both individual tourism businesses and clusters.
Overseas Markets - The continued fall in the value of the pound should makes us a more attractive destination to overseas visitors while the increase in the cost of overseas holidays may persuade more UK residents to holiday at home. However, this is not being borne out by the most recent year on year IPS data. The WTA looks to Visit Britain to work with Visit Wales to develop key markets for Wales overseas including those markets now served by international airlines using airports in close proximity to Wales. Visit Britain and Visit Wales need to continue to coordinate their marketing campaigns and support for trade missions in key markets for Wales, but again be creative in the way it accesses content from small and micro businesses. The national campaigns, as well as supporting the marketing of new tourism products, need to raise Wales’ profile in traditional overseas markets as a matter of urgency.
Tourism Training EU nationals play an important part in some sectors of the industry in Wales, as elsewhere in the UK, and they will continue to be needed. Our colleges and universities are playing a vital role in training for the needs of the industry and to cover the shortfall. There should be closer liaison with tourism businesses to maintain the relevance of the courses on offer and to develop programmes specifically tailored for the needs of the owner/managers of tourism businesses.
Funding support is still needed for training programmes to fund widening gaps in the industry. But, whilst important, we also need to reach out beyond the traditional ‘tourism’ roles. We need other sectors to engage with the industry. Specialist builders, environmental scientists and electronic engineers for example. The post Brexit implications of EU funded programmes like Erasmus need careful consideration and consultation with the industry. The tourism industry is still not seen by the young as something to aspire to and any new plan needs to aspire to this as perhaps its main aim.
Finally, industry engagement, more resource needs to be set aside for Industry Communication to gain greater engagement with the sector. There has not been any dedicated industry communication officers at Visit Wales for some time. Is it time that a new plan made the case and set aside dedicated resource to assist Visit Wales.
Wales Tourism Alliance May 2019