Tourism is a strategically important sector in both counties. Tourism spend employed over 20,000 full time equivalent jobs across both areas in 2019 and the total economic spend was around £1.5billion. The sector is particularly strong in Conwy County Borough County Borough.
With the outstanding natural environment and strong built and cultural heritage, it is no wonder that tourism is a significant sector within the local economy. Our mountains, coastline, beaches, rivers and lakes provide an unrivalled backdrop to support a wide range of activities including walking, water sports, mountaineering, fishing, horse riding and cycling.
Today, Snowdonia is one of 15 National Parks in Britain. Later, Snowdonia National Park became an independent Authority, who’s main purposes is to:
Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area;
Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park by the public;
Seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the Park.
The national commitment to designate a new National Park to cover the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley could support nature-led tourism in both counties (see our ‘vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language‘ goal for more information).
The area contains the national coastal path, two World Heritage sites (Conwy County Borough Castle and the Pontcysyllte & Llangollen Canal site), a rich cultural and industrial heritage which stretches back to the Iron Age, and benefits from the district cultural identity which the two living languages brings. Victorian sea-side resorts of Llandudno and Rhyl have been popular holiday destinations for almost two centuries, and along with the holiday camp in Prestatyn, caravan and camping sites throughout the area and a range of holiday cottages, bed and breakfast and guest house accommodation, provided for over 18 million visitor overnight stays in 2019.
Tourism businesses are mainly small operations, many of them family run, and are often deeply rooted in the community. In addition, tourism supply chain links bring benefits to many small, local businesses. Income from tourism is often the difference between success and failure for many micro businesses. The employment/business sectors supported by the tourism industry in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire include the visitor attraction, recreation, accommodation, retail and food sectors, as well as the large number of small local businesses such as tradespeople, wholesalers and support services who provide services and goods to those directly involved in tourism.
Clearly, the sector has been significantly (negatively) affected in recent times by the global Covid-19 pandemic, and to a lesser extent, Brexit. According to the Wales Centre for Public Policy, the EU is the most economically valuable international trading partner for Wales and the UK, meaning that Brexit has and will continue to have a profound impact on the Welsh economy.
Brexit impacts this sector mainly due to the loss of European Union funding, which at present is unlikely to be matched by domestic funding for Wales. Overseas visitors make up a small proportion of visitors to Wales currently and so any reduction in visitor numbers is likely to have a minimal impact for Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has devastated the tourism sector, with the majority of the sector being closed or operating with restrictions for 9 months and more. High numbers of staff were furloughled and a number of businesses were forced to close. We have yet to see the full impact of Covid-19 on the sector.
Tourism touches many areas that the public sector has a responsibility for and an interest in, including skills-training and employment, planning, regeneration, heritage and culture; it also benefits many other sectors of the economy including transport, retail and agriculture.
Tourism isn’t just for visitors either. The health and well-being of our residents benefits from access to thriving heritage and culture sites, a well-managed natural environment, and access to adventure and activity opportunities on their doorstep. There is a tension however, across the North Wales region, as some communities are concerned about over-tourism and the effects that can have on local house prices, the Welsh language and community vitality. This issue has been highlighted as an area for research for the region.
Work is underway on a parking and transport review in the National Park through the Snowdon partnership, which covers part of Conwy County Borough Council. The proposals outline how traffic, pollution and noise could be greatly reduced in the inner area during high season, whilst vastly improving the visitor experience.
Figures from the STEAM report for 2019 show that:
In total it is estimated that tourism brought in around £1.28 billion to the local economy in 2019 (£996.18million to Conwy County Borough and £552.35million to Denbighshire).
The two counties are estimated to have attracted over 15 million visitors in 2019 (9.79million to Conwy County Borough and 5.99 to Denbighshire);
Made up of 7.22 and 4.40 million day visitors to Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire respectively, and 2.57 million people who stayed overnight in Conwy County Borough and 1.59million in Denbighshire.
The money spent by these visitors helped to support nearly around 20,000 jobs in total, which is between 20-25% of all employment in the area.
There continues to be poor 4G coverage on A and B roads across the area. Conwy County Borough is among the top ten local authorities with the lowest coverage by all operators for 4G outdoor geographic coverage across the UK. Lack of coverage undermines economic objectives and is unhelpful in relation to tourism. For example, people may try to search for and book other experiences while travelling from one destination to another. As more people can work remotely, some visitors may choose to combine a holiday with work and for this to be a real possibility, good broadband and network coverage is essential.
From a work perspective, the seasonal employment pattern of tourisim jobs can make businesses and personal incomes challenging, particularly in rural areas, out of season. Low wages, zero hour contracts may be a particular feature of work life for young people (see our ‘skills for employment‘ topic for further information).
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Briefing on well-being and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Briefing on well-being and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
In recent years there has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors to the area, particularly day visitors. The economic impact of staying visitors has been particularly strong. The number of people employed either directly or indirectly has also increased. The input to the local economy has increased from £0.71 billion to £1.28 billion.
The changes to the national and international economy combined with the effects of fear of terrorist activity and conflict on international travel, have had a positive impact on the local tourism market, as holidaying in the UK becomes more popular. Adventure tourism in Snowdonia and water sports along the coast have improved and increased their offer over the past few years and attract younger, more active visitors than seen in the past. Surveys conducted by Conwy County Borough County Borough Council show that the type of visitor for the traditional seaside holiday is changing too. In addition to the long-established coach holiday vacations enjoyed by older visitors, the area is attracting younger families to its seaside resorts.
 STEAM report 2019, Global Tourism Solutions (UK) Ltd
While overall, performing well (notwithstanding 2020-21), the local tourism industry is fragile. Most of the attractions are weather dependent and the industry is mainly made up of a large number of small businesses, with limited resilience to economic shock. The industry could possibly cope with a poor summer season as a one-off, but successive poor summers could easily cripple this important sector. The threat of damage from flooding to infrastructure and the natural environment is also a concern.
Tourism is a global industry and is highly competitive. Many visitor businesses are able to bounce back from the combined effects of Brexit and Covid-19, and there is room for new ideas and innovation. However, some tourism businesses face unprecedented levels of debt, and the extent to which these businesses can cope and absorb these financial pressures will be better understood over the coming months and years.
Town centre recovery and growth will be very important moving forward, both in the short and medium term. Overseas visitors, and cruise travel will take time to recover, and in the short term it is likely we see a reduction in these numbers.
Notwithstanding the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, subsequent years are likely to be a boom year for tourism in the region; with “staycations” increasing in popularity due to restrictions in overseas travel. Coach travel is a key area and target audience for the area. Large numbers come into the destination via this mode of transport. Again, it is likely that this sector will take time to recover, subject to any local, national or global restrictions.
However, it is very difficult to assess the medium to long term trend for tourism in our area. What is clear though is that we have a great opportunity for the area to showcase its offer, and to develop relationships with new visitors to our area. Local and national priorities are to:
develop the area as an all year round destination, with a range of activities and attractions to suit everyone (including growth in more ‘white knuckle experiences’)
increase the number of staying visitors
increase visitor spend
improve the night time offer, and
to ensure that tourism is sustainable and supports and benefits its local community and environment.
Culture-led regeneration, linked to our unique and historic heritage and landscape, together with more sophisticated forms of ‘experience’, led by technological advances, hold many promising opportunities. It will be important to view tourism within the context of the area’s Welsh culture and heritage, not only our landscape but also our strong agricultural culture. Culture and creative industries are likely to be at the heart of town centre regeneration; developing capacity of both counties’ cultural, creative and tourism industries. Over the longer term, people will look for more sophisticated online/virtual reality experiences from across the globe, especially as we all adapt to the consequences of climate change. Authenticity and uniqueness will be critical to making these experiences fun, fulfilling and worthwhile.
Businesses, enterprises and commercial activities that are linked to our environment should actively benefits nature or promotes nature awareness. Natural Resources Wales is doing some work on this through the Conwy Nature Benefiting Business & Enterprise study..
A North Wales approach to maximising opportunities from tourism and regeneration could ensure benefits are targeted on areas and groups whose well-being tends to be poorer.
Sustainable Tourism must be something that is a goal for all in North Wales, particularly in relation to current climate challenges. For example, a regional approach will support plans for an integrated transport network.
People have told us they would like to see more done to sustain, value and protect Welsh language and culture. They have said they hope to experience more cultural and community events e.g. Eisteddfodau, carnivals, pavilion events, food festivals, Christmas markets etc., and would like to see better promotion of our cultural sites to increase tourism, and make the most from our assets (for example, St Peter’s Square in Ruthin).
People recognised that tourism was of key importance to local employment. There is a need however to support tourism to flourish all year round.
Some parts of the industry have expressed concerns about recruiting and losing staff what with the continuing uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Natural Resources Wales Area Statement summaries people’s wish for us to collectively:
“Identify opportunities to mitigate the potential effects of tourism and understand how visitor numbers impact on the area’s natural environment. This includes the consideration of the merits of initiatives such as a green tourism tax for reinvestment in the area and managing visitor pressure at some of our most prestigious, honey pot sites in North West Wales”
The tensions between promoting tourism in some areas, and attempts to mitigate the effects of over-tourism in other areas, has been highlighted as an area worthy of further research. We will be proposing to take a collaborative approach across the region to explore these issues further.
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