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Time running out to save the North Wales tourism industry

Jim Jones, MD of North Wales Tourism Ltd in Llanduddno.

An expert says the famous Welsh welcome or Croeso will play a key role in reviving the crisis-hit tourism industry in North Wales – but time is running out with 12,500 jobs at stake.

Jim Jones, the chief executive of North Wales Tourism, believes the remaining four weeks of the summer season will be crucial with many tourism businesses including attractions, hotels, restaurants and pubs fearing they will go bust unless they make enough money to tide them over the winter.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on tourism which is usually a cornerstone of the regional economy, generating more than £3.2 billion a year and providing employment for 42,000 people.

Mr Jones said the Welsh Government’s decision to allow indoor pubs, restaurants and cafés to start trading from Monday, August 3, offered a belated glimmer of hope.

But a recent survey conducted by North Wales Tourism with support from the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council indicated around 12,500 jobs could be lost in the tourism and hospitality industry if it had to wait until then to reopen.

The analysis showed that 60 per cent of them will be trading at 50 per cent or less capacity with the current social distancing guidelines in force.

According to Mr Jones, it’s left many business owners in “utter despair”.

He said: “I have spoken with so many members who have been distraught but are doing everything in their control to make the best of what is left of 2020.

“We are four weeks behind England – and that four weeks is usually one of the most important parts of the season so to lose that time is devastating.

“At the moment, the number one priority is survival. Our tourism and hospitality businesses need to make as much as they possibly can from the next four weeks.

“Crucially, we need to find ways of extending the season because October, November and December to give the industry a fighting chance to survive.

“Our members have a time-limited window to make enough to tide them over the autumn and winter months.

“The main season is usually six weeks but that’s been curtailed to four weeks because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“For restaurants, this two metre distancing is a massive issue and they don’t know how they are going to make ends meet.

“One hotelier was telling me the other day he has spent £40,000 to prepare for reopening.”

Mr Jones was speaking after canvassing the opinions of the board members at North Wales Tourism which is the largest destination marketing organisation in Wales and  represents 2,000 tourism and hospitality businesses.

Before Covid-19, struck the visitor economy was flying, due in no small part to the region’s burgeoning reputation as the “Adventure Capital of Europe”.

He said: “The pandemic, with lockdown and new ways of operating that may last for many months yet, could not have come at a worse time when there is very little working capital within the industry.

“Our priority is of course to get back onto our feet as quickly as possible and try to return to some kind of profitable and sustainable trading but this will be a short season and at the same time we must look ahead at how we think tourism will change in the future and make sure we are ready for it.

“The UK and Welsh Governments have a significant role to play in helping to get the industry back on its feet.

“Additional financial support and further investment will help the sector to re-stabilise ready for the challenges ahead.

“Unfortunately, the duration of lockdown has been far longer than anticipated, opening up has been less certain and the Welsh Government were slow to pass on the financial support packages to businesses that needed them.

“Time was lost, which has been costly to our sector in comparison with their counterparts in England.

“Further funding packages like the Economic Resilience Fund – a Wales-specific initiative – have been well received but some members fell through the cracks and were unable to access funding.

“On a positive note, access to bounce-back loans has been good and the furlough scheme has saved thousands of business from ruin or mass redundancy.

“The alarm caused about quarantining after visiting Spain will have hit consumer confidence for booking overseas travel which should lead to an increase in demand for staycations.

“We will be delivering a strong PR and marketing campaign targeting the latter months of 2020 aimed at drawing domestic visitors to experience North Wales.

“The Welsh ‘Croeso’ is integral to tourism coupled with the experiences available as this is what creates the idea of the living like a local. It’s the insider experiences that we as hosts provide.

“Visitors are looking for unique experiences, which is why some of our North Wales attractions are so popular – not only are they unique but the Snowdonia and Clwydian Range backdrop makes them exceptional.

“The diversity of the offer here in North Wales is our saving grace but we need to work together across the public and private sectors and our communities to meet the big challenges we all face ahead.”