Wales uses Ryder Cup golf in Newport to target USA

Prince Charles
Image caption Prince Charles was among the high profile names visiting the Ryder Cup

While Scotland and Ireland are considered highly desirable stops on your average American tourist's UK itinerary, Wales is often perceived as a less essential destination.

The large number of Americans with Irish and Scottish ancestry undoubtedly help fuel visitor numbers, but there is also a feeling Wales has failed in the past to promote itself as well as its Celtic cousins.

But there is hope that the Ryder Cup, which takes place at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport from 1-3 October, will play a significant role in boosting the profile of Wales in the USA and beyond.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has spoken of how Wales had previously "sat back and let the world just pass us by as the Scots and Irish went ahead and sold themselves to the world".

He said those days were over and the Ryder Cup, televised in more than 200 countries, was part of a wider effort to capitalise on major sporting events and sell Wales internationally.

Richard Hills, the European Ryder Cup director, has also said the event will put a "powerful spotlight on Wales' tourism jewels".

There are already recognised benefits from the tournament, with Wales said to be enjoying a significant boost in golf tourism, up to £34m last year.

A 10-year strategy to develop golf tourism was put in place after the Ryder Cup bid in 2001.

The USA was one of the "key target markets" identified by the Wales Tourist Board, which is now Visit Wales, along with the UK, Ireland, and northern Europe.

Across Wales' golf courses, figures suggest there was an 18% increase in visitor numbers from outside Wales last year, with many putting that down to the Ryder Cup factor.

One group of American golfers travelling to the Ryder Cup - to both watch the event and play at Welsh courses - is from Cherokee Ridge Golf Club at Colorado Springs.

Club director Todd Laxson, who has been to Wales to play golf twice before, agreed Wales did not have the same recognition as Ireland or Scotland.

"I think the Ryder Cup will help. I think Wales could probably market itself to the American public like a lesser expensive version of Scotland," he said.

"The countryside, playing golf, the castles, maybe mention Catherine Zeta Jones has a house there.

"I don't think people really separate Wales from London."

Mr Laxson, who will be staying in the Swansea area, added he had enjoyed nothing but positive experiences in Wales.

However, there is scepticism among those involved in tourism whether the tournament will have much of an impact on attracting tourists.

Tom Jenkins, executive director of the European Tour Operators Association, said: "There's much talk of increased brand awareness of different nations.

"When it comes to Wales, undoubtedly Wales has a poor brand recognition in our core origin market such as USA and Japan.

Image caption Katherine Jenkins and other stars promoted Wales at a welcome concert in Cardiff on Wednesday night

"With North America, this is a by-product of so many Welsh people staying in Wales in the 19th Century whereas so many Scots and Irish decided to depart."

He said it would be difficult for one event to counteract this sort of history, but stressed it was still a positive move for Wales to host the Ryder Cup.

There are also doubts that major benefits will be experienced outside the south-east Wales area where the tournament is being held.

Chris Jackson, chair of North Wales Tourism, said: "I think I would say the benefits to north Wales will be marginal.

"I think there will be definite benefits in terms of raising the profile of Wales for golfers and that probably will spread its way across the whole of Wales. My view is that is probably going to be the biggest benefit.

"That's not going to be huge for the big established resorts like Llandudno or people involved in beach holidays. For the attractions sector, I can't see it having any benefits at all."

Image caption Some tourism experts say benefits are "marginal" to the rest of Wales

He also said much more work was needed to help Wales compete with Ireland and Scotland.

"I've lived all my life in tourism, and both Ireland and Scotland have icons in the overseas market which Wales hasn't got," he said.

"You are talking about Scottish whisky, the Irish whimsy - the sorts of things you associate with Ireland and Scotland.

"Ireland exported many, many people to the United States and that Irish diaspora provides them with a huge returning market."

The one place that has already enjoyed tangible benefits from the event is Newport itself, which has seen, for example, a £22m rebuilding of its railway station, improvements to the city centre and a year-long festival of arts and sports.

Newport council has also used the tournament as an opportunity to attract business investment, with the United States one of the main targets.

Andy Evans, head of planning and regeneration for Newport council, said the tournament provided a platform for Newport to promote itself.

"We've been working on it for quite some time. It started nine years ago and suddenly it's upon us," he said.

"It focuses minds. We've got to be ready to welcome the world."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites