Following mass lockdown easing across the UK, Welsh families are now free to enjoy a variety of outdoor attractions across Wales. However, First Minister Mark Drakeford is yet to address when and how indoor tourist spots can re-open, which continues to earn the frustration of members of WAVA, the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions.
“The Welsh First Minister has cleared outdoor attractions, but there’s still no relief for indoor sites,” WAVA Co-Chair Ashford Price states. “Welsh attractions are still on a cliff edge, and he is continuing to act as though he is the Messiah.”
Pressure is piling on the First Minister to act now – or risk losing a huge chunk of the Welsh economy through inaction.
Money is running dry for many attractions across Wales. While outdoor exhibits can finally re-open safely amid COVID-19 relaxations, several more are under threat of financial collapse.
Price is Co-Chair of the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (WAVA) and Chairman of the National Showcaves at Dan-yr-Ogof, which despite technically being an outdoor attraction, falls under continuing restrictions. WAVA represents 60 of some of Wales’ biggest and most popular tourist attractions, many of which are buckling under financial pressure during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Among those businesses affected include Pembroke Castle, SeaQuarium Rhyl and Penderyn Distillery in the Brecon Beacons.
Recent moves from the government – and advice from Mr Drakeford – have unveiled safe ways for a variety of shops, pubs, and outdoor attractions across the country to re-open. However, WAVA continues to pressure the First Minister following a continued lack of support for indoor attractions.
“Why can it be okay to wander into somewhere like Debenhams to shop right now, but not okay to visit the Showcaves, or to take a distillery tour?” Mr Price retorts. “Providing people follow social distancing guidelines, and staff wear necessary PPE, there are no feasible reasons why these attractions cannot re-open alongside outdoor exhibits.”
Mr Price and WAVA have continued to press a lack of confidence in the First Minister following the relaxation of rules for Welsh outdoor exhibitions and attractions. Mr Drakeford had initially advised people to ‘stay local’, which translated to up to five miles from their homes, and that people must follow the ‘golden rules’.
General lockdown measures continue to ease, to the discomfort of those whose businesses have no choice but to stay closed. Many are under the impression that they have simply been forgotten.
Four months on from mass lockdown measures, Welsh businesses and tourist attractions are itching to re-open. However, many are receiving very little support, heading into mid-summer, from the Welsh government. This has led to feelings of immense frustration, fear for livelihood, and disbelief.
“Those attractions which were cash-strapped at the onset of the pandemic found some relief through the ERF, the Economic Resilience Fund,” Mr Price confirms. “However, we’re coming to the point where these loans need to start getting paid back. By now, WAVA’s attractions would have hoped for there to have been some kind of re-opening strategy.”
“However, that just hasn’t happened. Our attractions depend on more than 120,000 hard-working people in the industry. This is destroying any slim chance we might have now of regaining tourism for the rest of 2020. Our attraction season shuts down in October and won’t open again until next Easter.”
“That leaves three months for local attractions to re-open and revitalise. Even if the five-mile radius plan has been scrapped, it’s too little, too late.”
WAVA and its members continue to pile pressure on Mr Drakeford and the local government for its lack of action. Members of the board are increasingly concerned that plans to stagger attraction and shop re-opening have been poorly signposted, and as a result, are leaving some of the country’s best-loved heritage attractions in the dust.
Many outdoor attractions are reportedly ‘thrilled’ that they can return to business. However, Wales’ once-thriving indoor tourism industry is at risk of complete collapse unless there are motions, soon, to safely welcome people back to work.
WAVA argues that – if pubs are allowed to allow people inside with masks and PPE to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19 – why should cave tours be any different?