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North Wales tourism chiefs say soaring office costs are “galling” after campaign budget cuts

TOURISM chiefs in North Wales have hit out after financial support for the industry was slashed while the cost of bureaucracy has soared.

Members of North Wales Tourism were told at their Annual Trade Forum and Conference at Venue Cymru in Llandudno that £3.5 million had been axed from the Visit Wales coffers by the Welsh Government.

Delegates heard that in 2018 the budget supporting the tourism industry was £18.5 million with back office costs of around £5 million. supporting 100 employees.

By this year the budget had been reduced to £15 million but it’s estimated that with inflation office costs had risen to around £7 million.

During that time there had been an eight per cent drop in international visitors to Wales when Scotland had seen a 15 per cent increase, with a reduced budget of £47 million dwarfing the funding in Wales.

According to the chair of North Wales Tourism, hotelier Glenn Evans, the swingeing cutbacks had come at time when the tourism and hospitality sector was already struggling to recover from the after effects of the pandemic which had devastated the industry.

At the same time, new Welsh Government policies like the “regressive” tourism tax and the “unpopular” 20 mph speed limit rules were deterring visitors from coming to the region.

He and other speakers repeatedly called for “early and meaningful engagement with policy makers” with the tourism sector, which was a major economic driver in North Wales.

Before the pandemic the industry provided an annual economic boost of £3.6 billion and supported more than 40,000 jobs across the region.

Mr Evans said: “It’s galling that to see that the cost of bureaucracy in Wales is soaring when the frontline budget has been so drastically reduced.

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“We’re finding it difficult in gaining access to Welsh Government which has a range of flagship policies coming down the line some of which are already in place.

“Among them is the 182-day occupancy threshold for holiday lets which is causing challenges for many and some of the highest business rates in the United Kingdom.

“What I also find very challenging is access to Welsh Government in a meaningful way. I was in a room with the Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn, one day and the next day she was gone because she’d been sacked.

“Gaining access to people in Welsh Government is challenging but through North Wales Tourism and UK Hospitality we will continue to lobby really hard to gain access and make sure that we’re not just being listened to but also heard.”

It was a view echoed by guest speaker George Reid, chair of the South-West Wales Regional Tourism Forum.

He said: “Engagement with Welsh Government policy makers is essential if we are to get good legislation that encourages our businesses to grow, reinvest, employ and not just survive but thrive.

“Indeed many of the principles of the policies are supported by the sector – second homes issues, the uneven playing field with thousands of unregulated, uninsured and non-fire risk assessed operators that have appeared on the market to cherry pick during the busy periods.”

On a more optimistic note, the conference was told that the “vibrant and thriving” town centre in Llandudno was bucking the Welsh and UK trend thanks to the careful stewardship of the Mostyn Estate.

Marc Fletcher, a senior surveyor with the Mostyn Estate, said: “I have an opportunity with my role to shape the place I call home and I find that particularly satisfying.

“Mostyn Estate is a private company which manages the interests of the Mostyn family across North Wales but much of that activity happens in Llandudno where it is the freeholder of about 90 per cent of the town.

“Llandudno is the primary retail destination for mid and north Wales. I think a big part of why people visit Llandudno is the look and feel of the town. It’s the Victorian character, the Orme as a bookend and the sweeping prom.

“It all adds to the visual aesthetic. Taking the prom as an example it’s unique in the sense that we do not allow trading across any part of it unlike other seaside towns. Perhaps some might think this is antiquated way to deliver things but we feel the prom is a better place for it.”

He added things to do in the day and evening are absolutely essential for visitors to the town and the High Street forms a big part in this.

“It’s crucial we get the correct blend of independent shops, national retailers, restaurants, cafes and bars to promote dwell time and encourage spend.

“The ownership structure of the town allows us to take a view on what is best for it. It allows us to have a clear vision. We aim to select the right occupiers in the right places. It’s not simply about achieving the highest rent but about the long term.

“The High Street cannot compete with Amazon on price and range and I don’t believe it should try to. It should be a place where people go for an experience. We believe our approach is working. Llandudno has a remarkably low retail void rate of six per cent compared to 17 per cent in Wales and 14 per cent in the UK as a whole.

Mr Fletcher recognised a weakness in the town is the variety of things to do in wet weather and in the evening.

“M&S relocated from the town centre to Parc Llandudno a couple of years ago. Mostyn Estate acquired the old building and aim to convert it into a leisure hub in the heart of town. It’s our desire to plug a long standing gap in the destination offer and a much needed wet weather and evening attraction.

“We have a fantastic prom and fantastic countryside nearby with great outdoor activities and Llandudno can be the hub where people stay, go to restaurants and spend their money and ultimately making it a vibrant place to visit and indeed live,” he said.

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