AFTER one of the wettest months of May on record, the bank holiday weekend could not have been a more perfect start to summer in Pembrokeshire. With the gorgeous sunshine and blue skies came a throng of tourists and day-trippers into the County.
For many of the families who headed west, it was their first taste of post-lockdown freedom – and they could not have chosen a better place to enjoy a ‘staycation’. Even at 8 o’clock on Tuesday evening, Newgale beach was busy with families still enjoying the sea, the incredible sunset and the outstanding fish and chips from Paul Holmes Mobile Catering.
For the campsites, pubs, cafes and many other businesses which rely on tourists, this half term holiday has certainly been a bumper one after what was a very long and quiet winter.
I have been impressed with the positive and responsible way in which the different public bodies have been promoting our County and welcoming the surge in visitor numbers.
From the County Council’s promotion of ‘dog-friendly’ beaches (dog ownership has soared during lockdown) to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park’s ‘tread lightly’ campaign, which encourages visitors to respect the local environment, there is a recognition of the important role of tourism in our economy as well as a need for some healthy guidelines to protect the incredible natural assets we have here.
Pembrokeshire is entering a new phase in the development of its tourism industry with many more families discovering the area for the first time. Many of these visitors will be from relatively prosperous parts of the UK. The demand for more activities and attractions will increase, as will the number of restaurants and food outlets.
Last week I was given a preview of the amazing new activity park that Welsh Water have created at Llys-y-Fran reservoir. After four years of closure, the facility – when it re-opens next month – will be another excellent addition to the local tourism and leisure sectors.
But we shouldn’t be complacent about this emerging picture. There remain significant challenges for local tourism businesses – not least finding the right staff with the right skills to fill the available jobs. One pub owner contacted me recently to suggest he may not be able to re-open his premises following lockdown due to the difficulty in finding the necessary staff.
Some people say they have been put off applying for jobs in the hospitality industry because of fears that these will be the first businesses to close again in any new lockdown.
Meanwhile, many bosses are pointing to the continuing furlough scheme and suggest that it is holding people back from taking up the new jobs that are being created as the economy comes out of lockdown. Others suggest Brexit has led to the staff shortage with many Eastern Europeans having returned home in the last year or so. There is probably a number of different factors at work. I have heard MPs from many other parts of the UK say that their local businesses are raising the same issues.
Here in Wales, tourism is a devolved issue which means that Welsh Government take the lead in supporting tourism businesses here. But unfortunately, there are question marks over whether it is a clear priority for the Welsh Government. The Welsh Tourism Alliance recently expressed disappointment that the new Cabinet does not have a dedicated Minister for Tourism to champion the sector.
With the staycation boom set to continue, but with tourism and hospitality still in a fragile state, there has never been a more important moment for all tiers of Government to work together with business to see the industry flourish and create good quality jobs and careers for local people.
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