MORE first time visitors discovered Mid Wales as a tourist destination this year due to the staycation boom, an annual meeting was told.

MWT Cymru, which held the virtual meeting on Thursday last week, urged everyone involved in the Mid Wales tourism and hospitality industry to work together to ensure that these new customers return in 2022.

Nia Meddins, of Wigwam Holidays Hafren, Staylittle, near Llanidloes, told the meeting that 60% of her business’ customers this year were first time visitors who loved the quietness and slow pace of life in Mid Wales. Some of them were retired couples who enjoyed up to three holidays a year and were looking for short breaks.

Research by MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and Southern Snowdonia, confirmed the first time visitors trend identified by Nia.

The company’s Visit Mid Wales website – visitmidwales.co.uk –  which aims to attract visitors to the region, reported an increase of 87% new users (570,000) in 2021. The highest percentage of new visitors was in the 18-34 age group.

Of the new visitors to the website, the greatest increases were in people living in Birmingham (149%), Manchester (74%) and from London( 70%).

MWT Cymru’s chairman Rowland Rees-Evans said Mid Wales is now more recognised as a destination for holidays and short breaks due to the staycation boom caused by the pandemic.

He is hopeful that staycations and domestic tourism will continue to grow in 2022 because of continuing fears about foreign travel and the bureaucracy involved.

“New customers have found Mid Wales which is fantastic and hopefully we can get them to come back next year,” he added. “We are working with Visit Wales on campaigns to market Mid Wales even more.”

Both he and chief executive Val Hawkins called for collaboration by all those involved in tourism in Mid Wales to take full advantage of opportunities to attract more visitors by promoting consistent marketing messages.

“The #RealMidWales marketing message is resonating with first-time visitors,” said Mrs Hawkins. “The key themes are travel routes, nature, wellbeing and the outdoors. Our target audience lives within two to four hours’ travel time and we are inviting them to come and experience, unwind and explore Mid Wales.”

She revealed that the Visit Mid Wales website had 1.2 million visitors, 13 million page views and generated 135,000 business referrals in the past year. In March alone, there were one million page views compared to 400,000 in the same month last year.

Although Mid Wales businesses had benefited from the staycation boom this year, Mrs Hawkins warned it was going to take a “huge effort to bounce back strongly from the economic impact of the pandemic”.

Looking forward to 2022, MWT Cymru will be working closely with Visit Wales on marketing campaigns for Mid Wales and with Cambrian Training Company to promote apprenticeships as a solution to ongoing staff shortages in the sector.

Cambrian Training Company will hold virtual meetings with MWT Cymru members to discuss and find solutions to their staff recruitment issues.

Arwyn Watkins, OBE, managing director of the company, which is the main provider of apprenticeships to the hospitality sector on Wales, said: “We have always been committed to Mid Wales and staffing is now an issue of major importance in the region.

“Hopefully, we can provide the solution by working with tourism and hospitality businesses.”

MWT Cymru’s priorities for 2022 include a new printed Mid Wales Visitor Guide which would be ready for Easter, online promotions to extend the tourism season in Mid Wales and continuation of successful virtual meetings with members.

The company will also work closely with the Wales Tourism Alliance (WTA) to lobby the Welsh and UK Governments to reduce VAT and to reform business rates. Other issues on the lobbying agenda are the statutory registration of tourism businesses and any plan to introduce a tourism tax.

Board member Jonathan Jones stressed the importance of the WTA’s lobbying role. “In every crisis we have had, the importance of the tourism industry comes to the surface,” he said. “It’s important that the WTA keeps tourism and its employment power in front of all the parties.”

Suzy Davies, WTA chair, urged MWT Cymru and tourism businesses to provide the information and facts to help the alliance present a united message when lobbying.