Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport - Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Never has it been more important to bridge Wales culturally, digitally and physically to the world. The strength of our overseas relationships and improving transport connectivity will determine our ability to forge new markets and maintain and grow our position as an attractive and competitive place to visit and study, invest and do business, especially as we exit the EU.
Tourism marketing is often a flag-carrier for Wales - and Visit Wales’s international marketing work delivers a strong return on investment on the resources available.
Around 90% of Wales’s visitors come from within the UK; and most of Visit Wales’s promotional resources are focused on this market. However, international tourism is crucial to building Wales’s general profile as well as a sustainable visitor economy.
Wales now attracts around 1m international visitors a year. These are record numbers, and the most recent Tourism Industry Barometer survey shows that 84% of businesses say that their performance this summer was better or the same as that of last year.
As international tourism to the UK generally grows, the challenge will be to grow our share of this market, and to attract visitors to spend more and stay longer in Wales – in an exceptionally competitive marketplace. Visit Wales’s current international marketing strategy focuses the effort on a select number of target markets with the most growth prospects.
The Republic of Ireland is Wales’s main market, and Welsh Government works with partners such as Stena Line to deliver multi-channel marketing campaigns, including television advertising, directly to this audience. In Germany, Visit Wales’ programme includes advertising, events, media relations, and targeted activity aimed at tour operators, working with brands such as DERTOUR, TUI and Globetrotter. Visit Wales also retains a small team in New York, where the focus is on growing business-to-business travel trade interest in Wales. There was an impressive and encouraging growth of 24% in business from the top 100 international operators to Wales in 2017.
We work with and host journalists on itineraries around wales. This results in high-profile coverage in publications ranging from National Geographic Germany to Topphälsa Sweden to Condé Nast Spain; whilst the content shared with Visit Wales’s 1.45m global followers on social media has doubled in its reach in the last twelve months.
As the International Convention Centre Wales opens, Visit Wales is leading the work of promoting Wales generally in the lucrative business events marketplace, which is forecast to be worth at least £24m extra per annum to the economy.
Wales’s heritage is a major part of the appeal, and Visit Wales engages with Cadw and National Museum Wales to ensure that they attend international tourism trade fairs, and that their award-winning marketing campaigns are aligned with Visit Wales international marketing programme. Partners such as North Wales Tourism are also funded to undertake very targeted international marketing activity, which has resulted in tangible visitor increases from Japan to the Conwy area for example.
Beyond tourism, Welsh Government is active in a wide range of countries and regions.
Wales has 20 offices globally in key locations such as Dublin, Dubai, New York, Shanghai and Brussels. This network is expanding quickly; new offices opened this year in Montréal, Doha, Berlin and Paris, with Düsseldorf also scheduled to open before the end of this year.
We are growing connections with key European partners: a visit to Ireland took place earlier this year and Welsh Government recently welcomed a delegation from the Basque Country to Wales. Wales was the featured nation at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient this year.
Welsh Government’s programme of overseas export events includes around 30 export market visits and trade fairs a year, such as MRO Europe in Amsterdam, Arab Health in Dubai, and the Games Development Conference in San Francisco. A recent Trade Development Visit saw ten food and drink businesses visit Doha, taking advantage of the new Qatar Airways direct flights from Cardiff Airport. The Food and Drink sector in Wales is performing well and is ahead of its target to grow the turnover of the sector by 30% to £7bn by 2020. Further investment will be made over the next two years to boost exporting across all sectors.
Retaining and growing foreign direct investment for Wales is clearly crucial and Welsh Government’s FDI marketing programme delivered a 60% growth in visitors to tradeandinvest.wales last year. Whilst most of this activity is focused on the London market, our digital content provision is designed to appeal to wider audiences.
Over the next eighteen months £3m will be invested to promote Wales as a place to study in new markets; and our Health recruitment campaigns to attract health professionals to train, work and live in continue in several international domains. Welsh Government will also be doing more to promote Science and Innovation through all its activity, and part of this again centres on developing its footprint and influence in London.
The creative industries, culture and sport are crucial to building Wales’s appeal: Visit Wales delivered its first ever television advertising in Germany around the Euros and has recently launched a reactive cycling-specific campaign around Geraint Thomas’s Tour de France success. Teams are currently exploring cross-sector options around the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan. Wales Arts International’s recent work to underpin a Wales trade mission to China resulted in promoting a rounded view of Wales in our target regions. There is a real opportunity to become more strategic and ambitious with this aspect of our work – bringing culture to the heart of the approach in future.
All of this now falls under a unified and coherent Cymru Wales nation brand. The brand won Best in Show and Gold at the European Design Awards in Porto in 2017, and was peer-selected to feature at the prestigious Beasley Designs of the Year at the Design Museum in London. Crucially, it is delivering tangible results: the economic impact of Visit Wales’s marketing has doubled since 2013 and the first on-brand GP Recruitment campaign led to an increase of 16% in those signing up to train in Wales. New multi-lingual international digital websites for Wales will be launched early next year.
A recent Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee report on Selling Wales to the World also includes further recommendations for Welsh Government in some of these areas. We are currently in the process of responding to these in the context of our own existing ambitious international plans as outlined in Prosperity for All and the Economic Action Plan.
However, our ability to reach out starts at our feet – as Prosperity for All also commits to creating a nation that takes pride in its identity. Investing in places, events, organisations and businesses that are confident and outward-looking is a key part of the international approach:
The difference major events such as the UEFA Champions League Final and the Volvo Ocean Race make to Wales’s international image is clear; and it’s no coincidence that The Lonely Planet’s decision to shortlist North Wales as one of the top regions in the world to visit in 2017 was directly linked with the opening of Welsh Government funded international-quality attractions in the region. Welsh Government – through its Economic Action Plan – continues to invest in major events; is working to make Welsh businesses export-ready; is collaborating with stakeholders to deliver significant investment of around £100m in the tourism sector; and is also improving Wales’s general transport infrastructure for the future.
From a connectivity perspective, a number of major initiatives are in development. Transport for Wales recently launched and ongoing investments are planned in Wales’s roads, ports and airports. The removal of the Severn Bridge tolls will bring benefits.
Developing Cardiff Airport is a key pillar of our strategy. Welsh Government bought Cardiff Airport in 2013 and the Airport’s performance has transformed during this period. There was an increase of 9% in passenger numbers in the year to March 2018 – with passenger numbers totalling 1.488m at the end of the 2017/18 financial year. This signifies a passenger growth of almost 50% since Cardiff Airport came under public ownership. And whilst transforming the Airport’s financial sustainability is a long-term priority, it was encouraging to see that the Airport has achieved positive EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) last year.
Passenger growth was achieved by adding new or increased flights to popular outbound destinations and through strengthening the Airport’s strategic connections with key growth markets for Wales from a visitor, trade and export perspective. New air links, such as the new long haul route to Doha launched earlier this year provides important prospects for the Welsh economy. In addition to the Qatar route, the airport has seen significant growth as a result of other partner airlines such as Flybe, KLM, Ryanair and TUI. Identifying further new routes for Wales is a priority and Welsh Government recently attended World Routes in China, along with Cardiff Airport. Visit Wales also engages with a number of these airlines such as Qatar Airways and KLM to promote Wales in a number of markets.
As part of the long-term strategy, Welsh Government has been working with the European Commission and counterparts in UK Government to impose a number of new aviation Public Service Obligations routes for Wales, including to other UK destinations. Should this be pursued, the new routes will be procured through public tender. Transport for Wales will be leading the procurement process and we hope services will commence in spring 2019. PSO routes are exempt from Air Passenger Duty meaning that return journeys on new domestic PSO routes will benefit from the removal of £26 of tax imposed by the UK Government – a tax which the Silk Commission recognised should be devolved to Wales, but whose devolution the UK Government has consistently resisted.
Indeed, the devolution of Air Passenger Duty to Wales is a matter we also continue to pursue. Consumers and businesses need choices for how they can connect with the rest of the UK, Europe and the world. Air Passenger Duty effectively stifles this choice. The devolution of Air Passenger Duty will enable the introduction of further new routes, including more long haul destinations. We continue to raise the matter with UK Government and at the end of last year published robust evidence to support devolution. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee have begun an inquiry into the devolution of APD and the Welsh Government has this week submitted detailed evidence to the committee.
We will continue to work with UK Government too - and partners such as VisitBritain, the British Council and the Department of International Trade – to promote Wales on the world stage. All of our key industrial sectors – as well as our rich cultural heritage - have so much to contribute to enhance their message on the international stage.
In doing so Welsh Government recognises its key role in bringing businesses, organisations and partners across Wales together to protect and promote Wales’s own reputation and image and to bridge our communities to each other and to the world.