Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)




  300. Last Tuesday we took evidence from the BTA and it may well be that I should be addressing my remarks to them. Last Thursday I went to Olympia to a travel and tourism exhibition. I found a huge stand for Ireland, taking up an enormous area, half that size was a Scottish stand and nowhere was there a stand for Wales. I asked at the desk and nobody was there, not even bed and breakfast advertising from Wales. I do not know whose responsibility that was, probably I am not addressing the right people, but I should like to know your opinions of that.
  (Mr Howie) I do not know whose responsibility it was either, but I should be interested to look into it. It is very disappointing. It is very important that Wales should be represented because it has so much to offer. I cannot understand that was the case.

  301. It does not matter how good the literature is if there is none there.
  (Mr Howie) Absolutely.
  (Mr Murphy) I share your disappointment. If there was a big exhibition like that, it is a singular omission that Wales was not there.

  302. We may have to address that to the Wales Tourist Board.
  (Mr Wilson) May I just refer to the Scottish experience? This discussion could be replicated in Scottish terms. We share the same sense of frustration about how few visitors to the UK as a whole actually make it to Scotland. We share the same problems of how to get them beyond London. I was recently in Tokyo and I visited the BTA there. I can confirm that a lot of work is going into trying to devise packages which take people out of London and get them round the regions of England and also into Scotland and Wales. In spite of the icons we were talking about earlier, most people associate a visit to Europe, a visit to Britain, with London; that is where they want to start. It is difficult to get them beyond that. It may well be that it is something the Celtic nations should work on together and try to get packages together which are actually attracting them on that basis. I am a very strong believer that what we want to do is sell the difference. We want to sell the cultural difference and the image difference and that in a world where increasingly sophisticated travellers are looking for something that is different, then that is the strongest asset we have to sell.

Mrs Williams

  303. The tourist boards also told us that their limited budgets mean that they must target their resources on those areas where they will have the greatest return—those countries from which a number of Wales's foreign tourists already come. We are told, for example, that there is only one WTB officer based in North America. What can be done to open up new tourist markets for Wales? If we do not, I feel we are doomed.
  (Mr Howie) More and more, things are turning towards the internet and more people are getting information from that so actual offices are perhaps less important than easily accessible information from the internet. I know that WTB has representation in Ireland, France, USA and the Netherlands. In these five places, it already has a presence. We need to speak with the British Tourist Authority and see whether they can come to any further arrangements for joint working with the Wales Tourist Board.

  304. Would you agree that has been lacking?
  (Mr Howie) It is not lacking in the evidence I have had myself. We have had no complaints from Wales Tourist Board saying that they are not getting the service they want from BTA. As I mentioned earlier in the context of the BTA review, they were happy and said that they had value for money from the BTA. We must keep our options open and be prepared to see how much further we can promote Wales.
  (Dr Howells) May I try to contribute to this discussion? It is actually to do with ideas, is it not? That is what it is to do with. Mr Livsey's constituency has some of the most beautiful waterfalls you will ever find on the British mainland. There may be one, I do not know, but I do not recall that there is an equivalent to the Alpine guide system, for example, where you can turn up, or telephone, or book through the internet, and book yourself a guide who will take you as part of a package of visiting a teahouse, staying at a small hotel or bed and breakfast, take you around a collection of the waterfalls and there it is as a package. I guarantee you that if such a service existed, you would have a constant flow of people wanting to visit that site. What they have done in Scotland—somebody mentioned the genius of golf—is trade on that. It is marvellous. They understand that more deals are done on golf courses by rich businessmen than probably anywhere else, even worse than the Millennium Stadium in that respect. The fact is that they realise there is high value added to that kind of tourism. They target it very precisely. I am glad to see that we are trying to beat the Scots in attracting the Ryder Cup and I hope we win. But even if we do not win, we have to start realising that it is precise targeting which is going to lure people where we want them lured.

Mr Edwards

  305. I am sure Mr Wilson and Mr Howie would like to support Wales's bid for the Ryder Cup as well. Seriously, is there a role for your Department in this? I have tabled a Question to the Secretary of State for two weeks' time on this.
  (Mr Howie) A role for . . .?

  306. For your Department in helping to attract the Ryder Cup to Wales in discussions you may have with the Assembly?
  (Mr Howie) Yes, there is a role for our Department. I would not be involved myself, so I am not quite sure to what extent we would be able to influence this, but I am sure that people in my Department will be working on it.
  (Mr Wilson) It is a classic case of friendly competition between different parts of the UK. The important thing is that the UK as a whole is a winner, no matter what the final outcome is.

Mr Llwyd

  307. Mr Howie's response is quite interesting. Therefore can we extrapolate from that, that there is also a role in connection with the Scottish bid? Have we a conflict of interest, which we have been talking about all morning?
  (Mr Howie) I am not the right one to ask. Perhaps I should not be saying. I do not know the answer.

  Mr Llwyd: I do not want to push unnecessarily, but you knew the answer in connection with the Welsh question but you do not seem to know it in connection with the Scottish question.


  308. May I couch it in different terms? Would you say there is a possibility of conflict within a single UK department when you are getting an outside international bid or making a bid for an outside international whatever? I think the answer is probably yes, is it not, otherwise you would have answered the question?
  (Mr Howie) It is something we would have to look very carefully at. Obviously we want to avoid any conflicts.

Mr Livsey

  309. There is no hesitation in my constituency about communication between Scotland and Wales. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews has given money to extend Palleg golf course at Upper Cwmtwrch in my constituency from nine holes to 18 holes and it has given us a six-figure sum to do that and we are very grateful to them. They are really good at promoting golf and it is going to be a very successful venture because it is right on the boundary of an open cast site which has just been closed down.
  (Mr Wilson) To help Mr Howie, may I say with absolute certainty that the Scottish bid for the Ryder Cup has been run entirely by the devolved administration. I would expect the same to be true in Wales. There is nobody at a central point trying to push it one way or another. It is classically something for different parts of the UK to compete for on equal terms.

  310. Not that I in any way doubt what you have said, Mr Wilson, but could we possibly ask Mr Howie to have a look at the response he gave and then give us a written response to the question? That is a bit fairer.
  (Mr Howie) Absolutely; yes, I shall check.

  311. I have no doubt what Mr Wilson is saying is right anyway but it would be interesting.
  (Dr Howells) I was at the launch, as was the Secretary of State, of the London end of the bid for the Ryder Cup to go to Newport. I have rarely seen a worse presentation in my life. When the fancy video was shown, computer aided, I said to the gentleman standing next to me that there was something wrong, it looked as though it had been recorded through a sock. He said, "No, no, no. I'm sure this is artistic". Then Serbo-Croat started to appear on the screen and then it just went phut and that was the end of it. It was unbelievable let me tell you.

  312. I shared that experience.
  (Mr Murphy) Let nobody detract from the importance of the bid which all of us heartily support. It is only five miles from where I live. I am sure the DCMS will reply to you in writing in a tone of absolute neutrality.

  Chairman: I am sure and I hope that the bid is dealt with in the same way.

Mr Caton

  313. Last week we were in North Wales and we visited Snowdonia and we came across a debate there which is happening in environmentally sensitive areas across Britain about wanting to promote tourism on the one hand and then being concerned about environmental damage and the effect on the quality of the product you are trying to sell. What is the Government doing to promote sustainable tourism, particularly in those sensitive areas?
  (Mr Howie) The Government is very aware of sustainable tourism and it is very keen that the pace and the way that tourism is developed is alert to the effects on the environment. Ministers in Government got together for a tourism summit last March and another is planned for this March, at which sustainable development was discussed. It is being looked at across all Government Departments to see how each can contribute in the form of transport and tourism and how policies can integrate.

  314. In some parts of our wonderful country it is becoming fairly critical. It sounded as though it is not being treated with quite the urgency it perhaps should be by having a few meetings and discussing how we go forward. We really need some action very soon.
  (Mr Howie) Action is taking place following these summits and it is just the bringing together of the Ministers I was talking about.

  315. Can you give us some examples of action, of initiatives, of good practice?
  (Mr Howie) In the Lake District where there is a large number of tourists, action was taken to stop the noise of motorboats spoiling the environment. That is something which springs to my mind.
  (Dr Howells) As somebody who has climbed in Snowdon since 1963, may I say that I have seen an incredible deterioration of that landscape? It is amazing what has happened. In Mr Livsey's constituency, the path which runs from the Storey Arms to the summit of Pen y Fan was a tiny sheeptrack when I first went up there. It is now like the M1. The point I want to make is that we have quangos dealing with this. I know. There are councillors from all the local authorities in Wales who go along to National Park quangos and they are supposed to sort all this out. If they have not been sorting it out, what is the point of having them. If the Assembly feels that it has to take this seriously, they had better start very quickly because there are problems, there are very serious problems with the deterioration of some of our finest assets in our landscape. You are quite right. We have certainly got to learn from other parts of the world who are facing very similar things because tourism is such a hugely expanding industry. It has damaged the landscape in my lifetime very seriously.

Mr Livsey

  316. I back up totally what Dr Howells has said. You can now see with the naked eye from ten miles away, which you could not see 20 years ago, the huge scar going up the side of Pen y Fan, which is the highest point in South Wales in my constituency. It is very serious indeed. I should like to ask Mr Howie this. The Council for the National Parks is now setting up an office in Cardiff, in fact the National Park Officer for the Brecon Beacons National Park has been appointed there as the chief of that operation. Is he going to encourage the British Tourist Authority to market the National Parks in a much more aggressive way than formerly? The visitors to Brecon Beacons National Park have gone down in the last ten years; not up, they have gone down. We are addressing that locally by promoting them like blazes to try to ensure that everybody knows where they are and what fantastic attractions they have in terms of landscape. Clearly tourism now is going on the internet in a big way. What are you doing with information technology in the British Tourist Authority to promote National Parks through the internet? People go half way across the world to see the kind of scenery we have.
  (Mr Howie) That is right and these things are on the internet. You will find them in the website that BTA has. Similarly Britain's gardens, including ten in Wales, have been featured on the internet because that is of specific interest to people too. Perhaps I might come back to you on the sustainable development. The BTA are developing sustainable tourism strategies and action plans so that tourism activity can be sustained over the long term. Just to tell you that these things are going on actively just now.

Mr Caton

  317. Are they being developed or are any in existence?
  (Mr Howie) They are being developed at the moment.

  318. We should not just talk about National Parks, we should talk about our other environmentally sensitive special areas. As the representative of the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country, our AONBs, which everybody accepts are on a par with the National Parks, should also be promoted and recognised, but also protected.
  (Dr Howells) It is not often I get a chance to do this about Wales these days. May I say that I think Mr Caton is absolutely right? We are so frivolous with the way we treat our landscape in Wales. I shall tell you one of the very worst offenders. As a child I was able to walk to the top of Craig y Llyn above Hirwaun and look in any direction and see only wilderness. I look in any direction now, I see white windmills. I am all for sustainable power, but I am not for wrecking our landscape and our heritage for future generations. That sense of loneliness and wilderness is one of the great attractions of those areas you have mentioned, not just inside the National Parks, but outside the National Parks. We have to be much more sensitive. I notice they do not put windmills on Hampstead Heath and they do not put them on the North Downs in Surrey, they do not put them on lots of other hills near the Home Counties. There is plenty of wind around there. They do not do it of course because they regard them as rather sensitive areas. They are the last of our little green areas around London. Maybe we ought to be a bit more sensitive about the way in which we desecrate our hillsides in that way too.

  Chairman: Speaking as Chairman, I could not agree more. You are absolutely right. How are we going to sell Wales as a tourist destination if it is covered with windmills from top to bottom. Ludicrous.

Mrs Williams

  319. During our two-day visit to North Wales last week, I heard a comment made on the radio asking whether Wales actually needs more tourists. This was a radio presenter. Representing a constituency which has a very high percentage of tourist attractions I was quite appalled to hear that presenter making such a statement. I put it to you. Does Wales actually need more tourists, or could economic growth be promoted by encouraging those who do come to spend more, for example by targeting higher-spending niche markets?
  (Mr Murphy) I certainly think there is no question that we need more tourists in Wales. It is also interesting to note that areas which were never tourist areas are becoming them and that the valleys of south Wales in particular are now becoming tourist destinations in themselves. In my own constituency Big Pit, for example, is important in ensuring that people are aware of how conditions were when people went underground all those years ago—not that long ago in fact in terms of Big Pit. Obviously it is important to continue to attract people to our main centres of tourism, whether in north Wales or in west Wales or wherever. However, there are other parts of Wales which are equally interesting to tourism from different points of view. There is a huge potential still there for us to attract as many people as possible and to ensure that there are more jobs going into the economy which are associated with tourism. We forget at our peril the many, many hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who depend for their livelihood on the tourist industry.
  (Dr Howells) We have a huge capacity to soak up a lot more tourists yet. The point Mrs Williams makes about targeting tourists is very important actually. In a sense we want to attract the right kind of tourists, namely those who are going to spend lots of money in Wales. Mr Caton's constituency is a classic. That Swansea/Gower environment is extraordinary. A visit to Swansea market, out to the Gower to see some of the most spectacular coastal scenery anywhere in the world. What could be better than that? It would be wonderful if it were presented properly.
  (Mr Murphy) The other important aspect of Wales as a destination for tourists is the diversity in such a small country. That is the biggest selling point we have, that within a matter of a few days, if you want to, although it would be unwise, you need to spread it much more than that, but if you wanted to, within a week the variety of places you could see and experience in Wales is probably the greatest variety of any part of western Europe or indeed beyond. That is what we have to ensure that we develop over the next decade or two. Coming back to the Assembly, the activity of the Assembly in this regard, together with what the British Government are doing as a partnership is the best way we can achieve it.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001