Tourism is “portrayed as the villain” of second homes in Wales, an academic has told a Welsh Affairs parliamentary committee.
A former VisitBritain tourism boss, meanwhile, has criticized plans by the Welsh Government to introduce a tax on tourism and insisted that the ‘benefits’ companies like AirBnb bring to Wales should be recognised.
The comments came during a session on how tourism could be boosted in Wales, with a panel that included Welsh tourism researcher Annette Pritchard, marketing expert Professor Dorothy Yen of the University Brunel from London, and Anthony Pickles, the former Head of Tourism Affairs at VisitBritain, the authority responsible for promoting tourism in Britain.
Mr Pickles criticized the Welsh Government’s plan to introduce a tourism levy – a levy which could be added to the bill for overnight stays at popular holiday destinations in Wales – saying it would make the country “uncompetitive on the market”.
“If you look globally at where Britain is in terms of competitiveness, we are among the most expensive destinations in the world,” he told the Committee.
Highlighting the relatively high rate of UK air passenger duty – the tax paid to travel on flights – and the £103 cost for a UK visitor visa from the US, Mr Pickles continued “These costs are prohibitive for the vast majority of people.
“If you continue to double the additional costs, whether it’s VAT or a tourist tax, you are going to make yourself uncompetitive in the market.”
Tourist taxes are currently levied in several countries around the world, including the United States, Germany, France and Greece, as well as most Caribbean islands.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TOURIST TAX:
The European Union is set to introduce a general tourist tax for all non-EU visitors by the end of the year, and Thailand introduced its own similar tax in April.
Pickles, former chief of staff to the Conservative Party of Wales, also appeared to criticize VisitWales’ closeness to the Welsh government, arguing that the model used by VisitBritain and its equivalent in Scotland makes them more willing to act on the advice of private individuals. . businesses in the tourism sector.
VisitBritain’s current board includes current and former executives from major multinational hotel chains. Visit Wales is part of the Welsh Government.
“When you have independence – like VisitScotland, like VisitBritain – you get independent advice, where it brings together the best in the business to advise you on what’s going on in the business.
“We know there are some fantastic Welsh business leaders out there, but their voices are not being heard in an instructive way, in particular.”
Mr Pickles said business leaders in Wales would therefore have a ‘much harder time driving policy change’ as ‘the political levers rest very firmly with Welsh Government ministers’.
This, he said, “does not correspond to what tourism is”.
On the controversial issue of short-term holiday rentals, Pickles said: “Airbnb is controversial around the world, but I think we need to recognize how it benefits Wales.
“For sporting events in Cardiff, Airbnb is actually a huge boon to their offering.
“What international visitors are looking for is a mix of accommodations – not everyone wants to stay in a hotel, and likewise not everyone will be comfortable with the idea of an Airbnb .”
His sentiment was somewhat shared by Professor Annette Pritchard, former director of the Welsh Center for Tourism Research at Cardiff Met University.
“There is a danger that tourism will be portrayed as the villain in many conversations taking place in parts of Wales,” she said.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SECONDARY RESIDENCES AND HOUSING:
“I think there has been a lot of confusion between second homes and furnished rentals, you have to make a clear distinction.
“This has been a problem as some second homes may be ‘masked’ as vacation rentals so may have been able to avoid some payments – which may have led to local discussions.
“I almost feel that tourism is struggling to make its voice heard, and struggling to tell its story, in terms of its importance to local communities – and how the tourism sector itself actually supports so many diverse communities.”
Airbnb, Prof Pritchard said, “has complicated things enormously”, due to its impact on local housing markets, as residents are deprived of living in their own communities.
Professor Dorothy Yen, meanwhile, discussed the ways VisitBritain had previously overlooked Wales in its major campaign work.
Praising the work of VisitWales, Prof Yen criticized VisitBritain for featuring promotional videos for England and Scotland – but not for Wales – on its website, and for failing to properly highlight ” importance of Wales” in his social media activity.
“There is an Arabic narrative, promoting Britain in the Middle East market – there were three subtitles, I think they were London, Manchester Edinburgh – there was no reference to Wales.
“I think VisitWales is doing a much better job – I think the leadership needs to come from VisitWales, and VisitBritain needs to work better with them to create that synergy.”
Professor Yen also noted that the VisitBritain shop – which sells tickets to tourist attractions and experiences in Britain – did not include destinations in Wales.
If you enjoy Nationals journalism, help grow our team of journalists by becoming a subscriber.