Covid: 'Crucial' tourism in Wales reopens by Easter

By Brendon Williams & Caleb Spencer
BBC News

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image copyrightoksanaphoto/Getty Images
image captionTourists usually flock to Tenby when the sun is out

It is "crucial" tourism is allowed to reopen by Easter after a "catastrophic" year, an industry insider has said.

North Wales Tourism chief executive Jim Jones said firms had spent "extremely heavily" to make them Covid-secure.

He warned of job losses in an industry that employed 43,000 people in north Wales.

The Welsh Government said it was "committed to doing all we can to protect businesses during this very challenging time".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn normal times, Llandudno would be a draw for tourists

Many businesses had already "gone under," and others were "teetering on the edge of failure," Mr Jones said.

"If we don't get the opportunity to open by Easter it means a lot more loss of jobs, loss of business and also the economy is going to be so hard hit it's going to take a long, long time to recover.

"So, it's crucial we get the opportunity to open this Easter."

Tourism hopes and fears

image copyrightThe Cottage Company
image captionThe Cottage Company has seen a 13% increase in bookings on the same time last year - pre-pandemic

For one holiday cottage agent, bookings have increased by 13% on the same time last year, which was before the pandemic struck.

Ruaridh MacDonald, who owns The Cottage Company with his wife Caroline, said it was unsurprising given the restrictions on foreign travel.

"Rightly or wrongly, people feel they may be able to go on holiday in the UK rather than abroad," Mr MacDonald said.

"We can feel confidence levels rising and you can see it day by day."

But businesses have had to nurture that confidence, including offering "no-quibble" refund or reschedule options.

image copyrightVale Holiday Parks
image captionVale Holiday Parks owns 14 parks across Wales and south-west England, including in New Quay, Ceredigion

Thomas Scarrott is the director of Vale Holiday Parks, which is based near Aberystwyth, in Ceredigion, but has 14 sites across Wales and south-west England.

Despite a "difficult" 2020, Mr Scarrott said the company had received about 1,500 bookings from the start of the Easter holiday period until the end of summer.

But while bookings are "looking good", they are nowhere near where they would usually be - and can be cancelled by the customer if restrictions are not lifted.

image captionDespite an encouraging number of bookings, caravan parks director Thomas Scarrott says they will only benefit if they are allowed to open

"Because of the way in which the law and consumer rights works, there's no risk to booking a domestic holiday - you are not going to lose out financially," Mr Scarrott explained.

"So as good as the bookings are, that income will only be realised once the holiday is realised."

When the restrictions are lifted, Mr Scarrott knows his staff will be busy taking bookings - but has called for certainty as early as possible.

He added: "We strongly believe we can open and offer a service without shared facilities - people would come to the caravan, go to the beach and enjoy the coast path."

image copyrightHide Wales
image captionHide Wales would have usually taken 40% of bookings in the first two weeks of January - but did not take any this year

Paula Warren, owner of Hide Wales cabins, shepherd's hut and lodge in St Donats, Vale of Glamorgan, said they had seen some bookings for later in the summer, but spring and early summer is still "very, very quiet".

"We would usually take 40% of our bookings in the first two weeks of January, but this year we didn't take any," she said.

But Ms Warren said she is "not panicked" and remained "hopeful", adding customers had been "so kind" in choosing to defer bookings rather than cancel them.

image copyrightHide Wales
image captionHide Wales owner Paula Warren says they want to ease customer booking concerns

Customer confidence is fragile, Ms Warren suggested, which means making them feel comfortable enough to book with them is all the more important.

"The first question they will ask is 'what are the terms and conditions'," she said.

"Our previous Ts and Cs were slightly more looking after our business, but we have changed that - we have tried to put ourselves in their shoes."

image copyrightMenai Holidays
image captionCottage lets in north Wales are starting to pick up, according to one agent

Despite a "tricky time" for the domestic tourism sector, Luke Edwards, of cottage lettings agent Menai Holidays, in Anglesey, said "we are starting to see signs of bookings picking up".

"It's still too early to say whether there will be a boom, but confidence in the UK holiday market seems to be on the up," he said.

"Hopefully, once we have a clear idea of when we will be allowed to welcome people to north Wales again, we are hopeful of seeing the tourism industry in Wales and the UK blossom."

North Wales Tourism boss Jim Jones added businesses "totally" understood the need for safety, and for Covid-19 case numbers to drop, but the "uncertainty, and not knowing, is adding to the anxiety that our businesses are suffering".

He said the industry was down £2.17bn on revenues of £3.6bn in 2019.

He called on the Welsh Government to support the industry with measures including business funds and rates relief.

image copyrightMandy Jones Photography
image captionJim Jones said it was crucial tourism businesses be allowed to reopen in time for Easter

"We're not seeing any sign of any road map to recovery," said Mr Jones.

"We're still waiting to see what that entails so I think it's really, really important that the Welsh Government starts to share with us what their plans are for recovery into 2021."

Businesses outside of tourism are also calling for an Easter start-up.

Arete Outdoor Learning Centre sits a few miles from the foot of Snowdon, in the village of Llanrug, providing residential courses for school children across the UK.

It said if schools were open, it should be able to as well.

Centre director Gareth Davies said: "For the sector, we've lost 6,000 jobs already. Thirty centres have shut since the start of the pandemic and there's 20 more under serious threat across the UK.

"The sector's been decimated and there's not going to be anything left for future generations without an Easter re-start, or alternatively sector-specific funding to help us survive, if the government don't change their guidance."

image copyrightGoogle
image captionArete Outdoor Learning Centre's Gareth Davies said 98% of the its income was from residential stays

The Welsh Government said: "Our package of support is the most generous in the UK and more than £1.7bn of Welsh Government financial assistance has reached businesses since March."

It said money had already reached tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses from a £180m fund opened in January.

"Wales will remain in alert level four until infection rates are under control," it added.

"We review the Wales-wide measure in place at least every three weeks."

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