Wales will be left behind if we don't ease lockdown, tourism industry warns

Emma Featherstone
snowdonia national park - Getty

Sector asks government to provide reopening dates or risk visitors and businesses "writing off" Welsh tourism for 2020

Tourism leaders across Wales have urged the country’s First Minister to provide a reopening roadmap in order to prevent negative effects to the industry that “could be felt for years to come”.

A letter from the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions to First Minister Mark Drayford, signed by more than 40 industry bosses, explained that Welsh tourism risks falling behind that of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland where conditional reopening dates have allowed businesses to plan for the future.

The letter states: “As a highly seasonal industry, the impact of coronavirus has hit the attraction sector (as part of the wider hospitality sector) exceptionally hard; the timing was after five months of closure and negative cash flow and the window of opportunity to salvage any net cash inflow is during the summer months. After this, the remaining trading months of September and October are borderline even in a normal year. Some areas of hospitality, such as restaurants, can still trade into the winter months with strong Christmas potential – this is not the case for most attractions.”

It continues: “We need clear dates when the various sectors of the economy can open and under what terms, and also when Wales will open itself up to tourism and the leisure market. Without this imminently, then decisions will have to be made now to protect the business assets, even if this has a negative impact on staff numbers, local community/businesses and potential to open during 2020 or even 2021."

The letter explains that without clear dates potential visitors as well as businesses may simply write off 2020 for Welsh tourism.

"This will have a negative impact on investment into Welsh attractions and therefore ramifications will last for years on this sector in Wales.

“If Welsh tourist businesses, including attractions, open three weeks or more after their neighbours, when coming to the end of the season, not only are we three weeks behind in planning and marketing, but we also reduce the chances of those businesses generating enough funds to see them over the winter months. Therefore if Welsh businesses are in a critical position at the end of August and English businesses have been allowed to trade for an extra three weeks they will therefore be financially stronger. Hospitality businesses in Wales will therefore need extra support.

"The Welsh Assembly will then have great difficulty negotiating finance from central government at a rate that fairly reflects the differing financial position of Wales. Funds calculated using the Barnett formula will not be proportional due the reduced trading time as expressed above."

The Welsh Government published a traffic light roadmap out of lockdown on May 15 called ‘unlocking our society and economy: continuing the conversation’, which it described as “part of a cautious, coherent approach to easing lockdown.” This document did not lay out any dates, conditional or otherwise, for the reopening of tourist attractions.

Meanwhile, as it stands, hotels, holiday parks and tourist attractions in England will be able to reopen from July 4. Some outdoor areas of English attractions are already open or are due to open imminently – from National Trust gardens to Warwick Castle.

In Northern Ireland, hotels and guesthouses have been given a reopening date of July 20. Reopening dates for tourist attractions have not been specified.

Scotland is operating a four stage plan to ease lockdown. Under stage three of this strategy museums and galleries will be able to reopen while restrictions on hotels, B&Bs and holiday homes will be relaxed.

The impact of no reopening dates for Wales, alongside conditional reopening dates in the other UK nations, is addressed in the open letter. “The UK population are now choosing to plan or book England and Scotland destinations for their summer break, day trips or family holiday. Wales will not just be three weeks behind the other countries but will lose out altogether on the tourism volumes and market share.

“We ask that the First Minister and the Welsh Assembly Government reconsider their position with ‘traffic light’ phasing and instead look to adopt a specific road map with set dates and targets for the recovery of our industry. Only in this way can businesses’ truly plan for their survival.”

In response to the letter, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The feedback we’ve had from the tourism industry has been invaluable in addressing its needs at these difficult times. We are very aware of its concerns and its desire to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so to protect jobs in communities across Wales. We are also very aware of the concerns of communities that nothing should be done which could exacerbate the spread of coronavirus.

“Our package of support for businesses is the most generous in the UK and is providing vital help to thousands of businesses across Wales. However the sector right across the UK is pressing the UK Government to provide long-term financial support to help steer it through this incredibly difficult period.

“We will continue to work with the industry as we gradually ease restrictions and plan for a post-pandemic recovery in line with the First Minister’s roadmap.”

Vince Hughes, commercial manager at Snowdon Mountain Railway, is among the industry leaders who signed the letter. He said: “The safety of people must always come first, but Wales is falling behind other parts of the UK and the damage for many could be terminal.”