FUTURE tourism strategies should move away from attracting sheer numbers of visitors to ensuring that local communities benefit to the greatest possible extent, council chiefs have suggested.
With a report warning of an “over-dependence” on low paid jobs within tourism when compared to other industries and areas of the UK, concerns were raised that the county cannot cope with “unsustainable” visitor numbers as seen in parts of North Wales last summer.
Despite tourism contributing over £1.35bn to the Gwynedd economy before the pandemic – employing over 18,200 people with 7.81m visiting annually – councillors also concluded that a sustainable industry was only possible with the consent of local people.
But with covid-19 meaning that foreign travel continues to be impossible for most, the council leader conceded that the massive surge in visitors last summer had resulted in negative impacts on both the local environment and the perception of many locals.
While 2020 showed a drop of between 50% and 60% in the value of tourism to Gwynedd, more and a “different type” of visitor was said to have converged on the county within a much shorter window than previous seasons.
In light of such “unprecedented” visitor numbers to Snowdon and resulting in traffic safety concerns due to dangerous parking along busy highways, the council leader told Tuesday’s Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee meeting that such “unsustainable tourism” could not continue to be accommodated.
Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn went on to say:
“Setting a new direction is vital and I believe that the industry itself sees the need to be more reflective of our society generally
“I’ve been personally accused of being anti-tourism despite growing up in a home which was let out as a Bed & Breakfast, and it’s right that we remember it’s an important industry for us.
“But the pandemic has perhaps shown we’re almost wholly reliant on tourism in rural areas such as Gwynedd and have very little choice, which drives us to create a much more varied economy rather than all our eggs being in one basket.
“We’re told that £1.3bn is generated from tourism yet still have some of the lowest income levels in the country, how do you reconcile that?
“We need a hospitality industry that offers good careers and good salaries, and we need to work on improving the quality of the industry in Wales as a whole.”
Committee members heard that the authority was continuing to lobby the Welsh Government on the potential of a modest “tourism tax” on overnight visitors, but despite concerns that “tourism imbalance” was placing more pressure on the main “honey pots,” one member also urged caution on placing too much emphasis on last summer’s extraordinary circumstances.
Cllr Edgar Wyn Owen said:
“I think there’s a danger that we overreact in such circumstances.
“We had issues before Covid that need solving, but once most people have had their jabs they will be jetting off to Spain as before.
“I can’t foresee us getting such numbers again.”
Cllr Beth Lawton added:
“There are many people in my area that don’t want to see visitors return, or certainly not in the numbers seen last summer, with a mindset that the local area wasn’t always respected.
“But when you push out such a message, something also has to be done to try and change the mindset of local people to show that we are dependant on people visiting and spending their money.
“At the moment not everyone is looking forward to the return of tourists and I’m not sure how we achieve that balance, but things will change after Covid.”
In response, economic development portfolio holder, Cllr Gareth Thomas, said:
“With many people dependent on tourism for their livelihoods, most tensions arise when local people don’t feel their areas are being respected.
“But by placing the people of Gwynedd at the forefront and them being able to see the benefits, it has a resulting beneficial effect on the visitor experience.
“We want an economy that’s a win-win for everyone, which is the kind of tourist sector that we want going forward.
“Tourism has always been discussed in terms of visitor numbers, but the quality and how much visitors spend and stays locally is the major point for me.
“We need to move away from this idea of absolute numbers to looking at what positive benefits are realised for the said communities as a result.”
With the authority planning to hold a summit of all members of the council and national park on March 2, the feedback will go towards establishing a new Gwynedd Sustainable Visitor Economy Plan by the summer.