Wales must scrap visitor’s tax and ‘take a Harry Potter approach’ to attract international visitors

Wales must sell its mythology if it wants to conquer the post-Covid international tourism market, believe three academics. The country should rebrand itself as ‘The Land of Dragons and Legends’, promote its links with King Arthur and draw inspiration from the Harry Potter books, they told a Welsh Affairs Committee hearing.

Otherwise Wales could face a declining staycation market without a big name to attract overseas visitors, say marketing experts from Brunel University London. Dorothy Yen, Ana Canhoto and Liyuan Wei all hail from different countries and said they have since “fallen in love” with Wales.

The idea was rejected by North Wales Tourism, which said the country did not need to “reinvent itself”. Few countries in the world have so much to offer in such a small package, and efforts to increase the “inbound” market were already underway, he said.

READ MORE: Three things you can do in North Wales this weekend without breaking the bank

In a report to committee MPs, the three academics questioned the wisdom of a tourist tax until Wales had cemented a real foothold in the international market. The report concludes: “Introducing a tourism tax could increase government revenue in the short term, but is likely to have a detrimental effect in terms of creating a sustainable flow of visitors.

“Therefore, the timing of the introduction of the levy is crucial. It can be better accepted by international tourists when Wales’ unique selling point is well established and understood in the minds of international tourists.

The Welsh Affairs Committee is looking at what the UK government can do to promote Wales to the world. Inbound tourism is important for countries like Wales, as spending per capita is higher than domestic tourism, which the country has traditionally relied on. Rising overnight stays – always the holy grail of tourism economies – are also helping to promote exports, with Welsh food and drink probably among the biggest beneficiaries.

Lead author Professor Dorothy Yen, a professor of marketing, told MPs Wales has a lot to offer, with a rich culture, stunning scenery and a ‘diversity of experiences’, but these attractions are not were often not registered with foreign visitors.

For many overseas tourists, Wales was seen as ‘relatively unfamiliar’ and a ‘risky use of their limited annual leave time’, Prof Yen said. Unlike London, which has Big Ben, the Palace and the Tower of London, or Scotland, with its bagpipes and the Highlands, Wales “has no distinctive association with tourist sites”, says she.

The exception, Prof Yen said, was Wales’ ties to dragons and legendary figures such as King Arthur and Merlin. “None of the other British nations can recognize these cultural symbols as fairly as Wales,” the report said.

“Following the success of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, magical creatures have become a popular trend not only among children but also among adults. This presents an opportunity for Wales.

Jim Jones, Managing Director of North Wales Tourism in Llandudno

To push this theme, scholars suggest dragon museums and theme parks, as well as dragon walks around cities and coastlines. Tourist activities could refer to popular films such as ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (the opening scene was filmed at Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire).

The Brunel University trio even advocate a ‘National Day of Dragons and Legends’, similar to Visit Scotland’s ‘A Perfect Day’ concept. The idea is to position Wales as a short-stay destination to attract London-based international tourists.

Wales has its Ddraig Goch and Visit Wales is already promoting the Red Dragon alongside King Arthur. But Prof Yen claimed the marketing was racist – she noted few online images used by Visit Wales feature ‘non-white tourists’. The report adds, “Individuals are most attracted to promotional materials that they can identify with in terms of ethnicity or demographics.”

COMMENT: Who is right? Dragons or Deganwy? And is Wales’ tourism marketing too ‘white’? Have your say in the comments below.

As tourism markets begin to recover from the pandemic, Wales is considered vulnerable if it persists in attracting UK-based tourists, according to the Brunel University report. To open up its international appeal, tourism and hospitality businesses need to work with residents and even domestic tourists to market the Welsh Dragon, he said.

UK visitors who share their own experiences via social media will be more effective than traditional marketing, Prof Yen said. She suggests everyone is encouraged to use the #ilovewales hashtag on Instagram.

Go North Wales montage of some of the region's world class attractions
Go North Wales montage of some of the region’s world class attractions

Places like Snowdonia are on many tourists’ to-do lists, but are difficult to reach without a car, according to the report. To counter the problem of geography and remote transport links, sample routes and special tourist passes are urgently needed. According to the authors, this would help international visitors to sightsee more efficiently by reducing the burden of planning local trips.

Special transport tariffs for international travelers could also be introduced. This, the report concludes, “could counter the negative effects created by the proposed tourist tax”.

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What the tourism bosses have said

Over the winter, North Wales Tourism (NWT) has been busy developing post-pandemic marketing campaigns to attract overseas visitors once global tourism reopens. It aims to replicate the success of efforts to attract Japanese tourists in recent years: in 2015 not a single visitor visited Conwy, but in 2019 the town received 4,400 visits from Japan.

The same approach is now replicated in India, China, Spain, Germany, France and Japan. Backed by a Visit Wales Inbound grant, NWT has upgraded its multilingual website and produced premium videos, brochures and glossy itineraries. A social media campaign is underway in the target countries.

Jim Jones, Managing Director of North Wales Tourism in Llandudno
Jim Jones, Managing Director of North Wales Tourism in Llandudno

Northwest Territories chief executive Jim Jones has scorned the idea that Wales should just sell their dragons. “I don’t think Wales needs to completely reinvent itself because we already have more than enough to attract people from all over the world,” he said.

“All we need is an opportunity to show what we have, what we are doing now. Once people realize what Wales has to offer, they are quickly won over. At present, Wales and what it offers is little known, compared to a country like Ireland.

“The country is well-connected to inbound hubs and few places have so many top-notch attractions in such close proximity, mountains, beaches and World Heritage Sites offering adventure activities and a distinctive culture.

“Wales post-pandemic branding should build on the positive aspects of how the country continues to provide access to wide open spaces, clean air and an abundance of leisure activities. lifestyle to promote good health and well-being.

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