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Swansea needs more hotels to meet growing tourism demand

Rhossili, Gower, looking towards Worm's Head (Pic: Christina Doherty)

SWANSEA needs another three hotels to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the area, according to a report.

It said the county had a relatively high hotel room occupancy level and that supply had not kept up with demand, although many people chose self-catering accommodation. One bed and breakfast owner said tourism was growing year on year and that 2023 was her busiest ever.

The council report, called Swansea Destination Management Plan 2023-2026, said three new hotels would be required by the end of 2026. A new 150-room hotel has been proposed beside Swansea Arena.

The report said an estimated 4.2 million day-trippers and tourists visited the county in 2022 and spent £510 million, supporting around 5,200 jobs. Just under half these visitors were from other parts of Wales, and more than half of all visitors stayed overnight – although self-catering was more popular than hotels or caravans.

Steve Hopkins, Swansea Council’s tourism and marketing manager, told a scrutiny panel meeting that his team’s focus was on trying to boost the year-round appeal of the area and the quality of what was on offer. “There is plenty to be optimistic about,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the county’s coastline and beaches, including the likes of Three Cliffs Bay, remained the big draw, and walking was the most popular activity. A detailed visitor survey from 2022 said 96% of respondents would recommend Swansea as a place to visit.

“Obviously we are doing something right, but it’s not just about reflecting on past glories,” said Mr Hopkins.

He said the actual number of visitors was less important than it used to be compared to how much money they spent on accommodation and other local businesses. While acknowledging wider cost-of-living pressures, Mr Hopkins said: “We do need them to spend more.”

The survey also found that visitors were not satisfied with the availability and cleanliness of public toilets.

Another thread of the destination management plan was a survey of tourist businesses in Swansea. Two-thirds of the 120 respondents reported good or excellent levels of business in 2022, and most were optimistic about long-term prospects. Toilets, general street cleanliness and Welsh Government policies were flagged up as big challenges, although actual policies such as the proposed visitor levy in Wales weren’t named.

Mr Hopkins said the council was looking to improve public toilet provision, although he felt in general it was “okay”.

Cllr Chris Holley said Premier League status for Swansea City had raised the county’s profile hugely before the club was relegated to the Championship in 2018. He reckoned that new boutique hotels, like the city’s Morgans Hotel, would be the best type to attract visitors. Cllr Holley said he was impressed with the destination management plan. “Overall I have got to say it’s an extremely good report,” he said.

Cllr Susan Jones agreed, and asked for a copy of it to be displayed at her local library in Gowerton. She said she’d recently spoken to someone from the West Midlands who was “raving” about the Beach House restaurant, Oxwich, Gower.

The meeting also heard that sporting and cultural events – plus the city’s new arena and other regeneration projects – gave additional reasons for people to visit Swansea. Singer-songwriter James Arthur is due to perform at Singleton Park on July 18 – and Mr Hopkins said the council was looking to put on a weekend of concerts. He added that his team was keen to encourage Swansea residents to get out and about in the quiet January and February period and help keep local tourism businesses ticking over while boosting their own well-being on a countryside walk, for example.

Christine Lannaghan, the owner of Brynawel Farm Bed and Breakfast, near Pontlliw, said 2023 was her busiest year out of the 13 she had run the business. What was particularly noticeable was the number of foreign tourists, she said, especially German ones.

She added: “We are dog-friendly, which is absolutely massive. People who don’t do dogs are missing a trick.”

Mrs Lannaghan said she was very concerned about the Welsh Government’s proposed licensing and visitor levy schemes for accommodation providers, the latter of which would give councils powers to charge a bit extra for overnight stays.

“Margins of profitability are not enormous for the amount of work we put in,” said Mrs Lannaghan. “I know two people in South Wales who have put up their bed and breakfasts for sale because of all this bureaucracy.”

The Welsh Government said the visitor levy would be a small contribution by overnight visitors to generate additional revenue for councils to reinvest in their area and was not intended to put people off coming to Wales. It would require legislation and the earliest it would come into effect is 2027.

“I’ve got two working people staying tonight – would they pay the ‘tourist tax’?” said Mrs Lannaghan.

Despite her concerns, the former teacher said she loved running a bed and breakfast, and that tourism had been growing year after year.

“We’ve got a farmhouse table which can sit eight people – to have eight people all talking to each other, it’s lovely,” she said. “They have massive conversations. They say where they’ve been. They laugh.”

Andrew Crowley, operations manager at The Grand Hotel, opposite the city’s High Street railway station, said its 53 rooms had almost always been occupied in 2023. “Last year was a really, really strong year for us,” he said. “December was fantastic.”

Mr Crowley said the hotel had a mixture of corporate and leisure guests, and that visitors from cities like Birmingham, Manchester and London loved the seafront and exploring Mumbles and Gower a few miles away.  “It’s on our doorstep – we don’t appreciate it as much!” he said.

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