Support for Wales’ rural tourism industry must be included in a positive national growth strategy. The raft of new multiple fiscal and regulatory measures must be reviewed, input costs such as energy and employment need to be better managed, and investment must be encouraged both in a refreshed approach to planning consent and in incentivising capital commitment. These are just a sample of messages which emerged from the Senedd Cross Party Group (CPG) on Rural Growth, in the first formal inquiry into rural productivity in its session focusing on rural tourism. CLA Cymru acts as the secretariat for this Group.
Chair, Sam Kurtz MS, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs took expert evidence from Suzy Davies, Chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance (WTA), Roy Church from the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (WAVA) and also Director of Tourism in the Swansea Bay Trade Association, David Chapman from UKHospitality Cymru, Sean Taylor, founder and President of Zip World, and Avril Roberts, CLA Property & Business Advisor.
The session heard that rural tourism businesses feel abandoned and victimised by the Welsh Government as an unintended consequence of its policies to reduce the number of second-homes, increasingly intense cultural protectionism, and the need to find new ways to raise public revenues from tax. “It’s as though the government doesn’t take the sector seriously,” one witness said.
Rural tourism businesses were challenged in recovery from the pandemic lockdowns – notably since their capital reserves are so low, the “staycation” trend has subsided, and holidaymakers’ expectations have changed. The industry is experiencing a post-Brexit skills crisis as fewer migrant workers are available from the EU. Alongside agriculture, tourism must be seen as one of Wales’ foremost industries.
Witnesses called for a holistic solution to support the industry: part of the problem being that while the sector is managed by a Deputy Ministerial portfolio, the fortune of the sector is really controlled by the work of senior ministers in the departments for Climate Change, Economic Development, Finance, and Rural Affairs. Visit Wales – the government agency created to support the sector within the Economic Development department – should be separated from the Welsh Government. It should have a clear remit, budget and the benefit of direct representation from the sector.
How new taxes and regulatory measures: the proposed visitor levy, statutory licence, 182-day threshold for Council Tax – will impact on the industry and what effect this will have for UK and wider competitiveness – must be assessed and mitigated.
Speaking following a full and robust debate, CPG Chair Sam Kurtz MS noted that the impact of proposals to change the duration and schedule of school holidays need to be understood.
The final session of the CPG examines the vital role farming, food production and its supply chain plays in the Welsh rural economy. This takes place in the CLA marquee at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 25 July.