First published Friday, April 4, 2014
Over the course of this week I have had the pleasure of a visit to Wexford in South East Ireland and in contrast had to consider the handing down of an announcement from Visit Wales in relation to the future of the regional support structures for the tourism industry in Wales. Both topics have given rise to many questions, some of which will have comparatively easy answers, others perhaps less so.
The visit to Wexford was the second half of an exchange programme instigated and organised primarily by the Fishguard and Goodwick Chamber of Trade and Tourism in partnership with the Wexford Chamber of Commerce. Discussions are in the early stages to explore whether there is an opportunity to develop and progress a project which will have mutual benefit to the tourism trade on either side of the Irish Sea, although that said, there is clearly an appetite to work more closely together wherever possible.
A range of topics were discussed during the visit, from the challenges facing individual businesses to those facing the respective destinations. It was interesting to discover the similarities and differences between the two areas, and gain a greater insight into how the various tourism support structures operate.
It was also interesting to see how the visitor is welcomed and compare this with experiences of similar welcomes here. Various questions arose around how consistency can be encouraged in providing a good welcome regardless of destination, and ensuring that the needs of the visitor are anticipated, met and if possible exceeded. Many of these issues and concerns, whilst initially seeming quite difficult to tackle, may well be resolved through some very simple community led initiatives, encouraging pride in the product and service, and a sense of ownership for all involved.
Other questions around the longer term challenges for tourism both here in Wales and for our Celtic cousins across the sea may take a little longer to answer however. In December last year the Welsh Government launched a consultation in the Regional Structures for Support in Tourism in Wales, putting forward five ‘options’ for the future of regional support, which up to that point had been provided by the Regional Tourism Partnerships.The decision made was to take the provision of regional support back ‘in house’ to Visit Wales, establishing Regional Engagement teams within the body. It is at best a controversial decision.
Of the 134 responses to the consultation, 66 supported maintaining the status quo, for a variety of reasons, with only 21 supporting a move to bring the provision of regional support back into Visit Wales. What is yet to be clarified is what the in-house regional engagement team will be doing, how it will be structured, and perhaps most crucially what funding streams will be made available to replace those being removed by the disbanding of the four Regional Tourism Partnerships.
Throughout the industry in Pembrokeshire, and indeed in other parts of Wales, there are already concerns about the level of engagement that Visit Wales has with the trade, and unless further details about the new structure are announced quickly this ‘disenchantment’ is likely to deepen, making the establishment of effective working relationships more difficult. The industry has been identified as one capable of providing growth, to do so it will require adequate and targeted support, but without excessive interference. Changing support structures at a time when there is still residual uncertainty around the economy, and future changes imminent through various rounds of upcoming elections and potential boundary changes following the Williams Commission recommendations, may not be a sensible move, however time will tell.
It seems that asking questions will be a continuing theme over the coming weeks and months following the announcement of an inquiry into tourism by the National Assembly for Wales (see link below). If you have questions, whether in relation to ways to improve what we offer here in Pembrokeshire, or about the broader structures and support mechanisms for the industry, please do get in touch. Tourism, the visitor economy and the visitor experience are all crucially important to life here in Pembrokeshire and indeed to Wales. We want the best for our members, and for the broader trade, and so will ask the questions that need to be asked, and keep doing so until we get the answers.