Wales

Could Wales do more to sell itself abroad?

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Media captionTrey McCain says Wales has things in common with the south of the United States

This week celebrations to mark the centenary of the birth of one of Wales' most recognised exports, Dylan Thomas, have taken place across the globe.

But just how important is it to share Wales' culture and heritage?

Trey McCain is from Mississippi, but a chance visit to Wales many years ago generated an enduring love both for its culture and language.

While visiting Dinefwr Castle in Llandeilo recently, I ran into an older couple from Minnesota who had come to Wales after hearing that Stonehenge's origins lay in a Pembrokeshire quarry.

They gushed over the beautiful, blue-sky day, the lush countryside and the history under their feet.

Despite multiple visits to the UK, this was their first visit to Wales, and they were astonished to have only recently "found" it.

Their spur of the moment foray into south Wales made finding accommodation difficult.

It seemed most bed and breakfasts in the area weren't open. A shame, given the warm September we enjoyed.

This story is too familiar to people with a penchant for Wales. A family friend recently took a two-week tour of England, Scotland and Wales.

When he returned, I asked him what part of Wales he visited. "I don't know," was his response, "we were only there for a few hours before hitting the road again. I think it started with two L's."

Image copyright Philip Halling
Image caption Visitors are being lured to Wales to take part in language "bootcamps"

Wales must continue to do more to become a distinct destination from the other nations in the British Isles.

I see advertisements in America for Scotland and Ireland, but it's rare to see anything about Wales.

Once here, it's difficult to get around without hiring your own car, especially when travelling between north and south Wales.

Issues in infrastructure need to be addressed, but there isn't a static solution for promoting Welsh culture abroad. It requires a finger on the pulse for what drives people to explore new places.

Trends I've observed that bring Americans to this part of the world diverge from the traditional whirlwind tours of Europe and the fast-paced blur of sights and spectacles.

People are now looking for localized experiences with real people. This is a great opportunity to present both a modern and historical Wales.

My recent trip here put me in contact with people who have this vision and are acting on it now.

Image copyright Nigel Davies
Image caption Overseas visitors have praised Wales' history and culture

Say Something in Welsh has brought learners from across the world into contact with other learners and Welsh speakers through their innovative approach to language learning.

I was encouraged to keep learning Welsh with their courses and I've explored places in Wales based on connections with people in their community.

Their language bootcamps have become destination holidays for learners in America looking for opportunities to improve their language skills, connect with other speakers and explore the country.

In Caernarfon I met some of the visionaries behind Llety Arall, a community benefit society raising support through shares to create a Welsh-speaking hub in the very heart of the town.

They want to share Wales' language, culture and heritage with visitors by providing a cultural centre where people can have a learner-oriented place to stay while experiencing the most Welsh-speaking town in the world.

My experience with Welsh culture has hinged on making personal connections with people and the places where they live.

Without the myriad opportunities to engage with Welsh speakers online, my connection with Wales and the Welsh language would have likely slipped into idyllic wistfulness.

Fostering these connections with people and places in Wales is essential if it is to be a distinct destination for international visitors.

Mr McCain spoke about the issue on the BBC's Wales Report programme.

Image copyright Francis Reiss/PicturePost/Getty
Image caption Celebrations to mark the centenary of Swansea-born poet Dylan Thomas were held all over the world

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