Estimated reading time: 5 Minutes
20 April 2020
Whilst it usually promotes Wales as a tourist destination, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the message from Visit Wales, the Welsh Government’s tourism promotion agency, has been clear – Visit Wales. Later.
This article explores the impact of the virus on the tourism industry and the issues being faced by those working in the sector.
Tourism in Wales
“Tourism in Wales is big business” is the Welsh Government’s usual message and concerns have been raised as to how the sector will survive the pandemic. According to the Welsh Government’s latest available priority sector statistics (published in 2018), 144,000 people are employed in the tourism sector in Wales.
The Welsh Government’s latest available tourism performance statistics, covering the period January – September 2019, show that during this time there were 8.5 million overnight domestic trips to Wales, an increase of 4.8% compared to the same period in 2018. These trips generated expenditure of £1.7 billion, an increase of 7.9% compared to 2018. According to the Welsh Government the corresponding figures at a Great Britain level show “smaller increases of 3% and 2.3% respectively”.
During the same 2019 period there were also 65.4 million tourism day visits in Wales, which generated expenditure of £2.6 billion.
Due to the pandemic, on 23 March 2020 the First Minister announced that caravan parks, campsites, tourist hotspots and popular beauty spots in Wales would be closed to visitors.
Using its powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, the Welsh Government made the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, (the 2020 regulations), which came into force on 26 March 2020.
Closure of holiday accommodation
Sections 4 and 5 of the 2020 regulations set out that holiday accommodation, including hotels, holiday villages and touring and camping parks must close. The regulations place an obligation for these premises to be vacated except in certain circumstances.
The Welsh Government has issued guidance setting out these exceptions, for instance where businesses may be asked to remain open to house key workers or the homeless.
On 8 April 2020 the Welsh Government wrote to holiday accommodation providers (PDF, 260KB) asking for details of whether they could offer to house vulnerable people, calling on businesses to “support the national effort to help keep everyone safe during this emergency”.
The Welsh Government’s guidance also provides advice to business owners in cases where people were already staying in the accommodation when the regulations came into force. The guidance makes clear the Welsh Government’s:
view is that a claim of self-isolation or isolation from family members should not constitute a valid reason to stay.
However business owners should consider individual circumstances, such as where public transport would be needed for occupiers to return home, or where essential work is being carried out in their main home.
The guidance makes clear that the regulations do not affect people who live permanently in park homes.
With holiday parks closed, the National Association of Caravan Owners (NACO) is receiving many questions from owners of caravans sited in parks which charge pitch fees. It currently advises that owners continue to pay such fees in order to meet their contractual obligations and to help businesses survive through this period.
Parks and beauty spots
In line with social distancing rules, people are able to undertake one form of exercise a day, alone or with members of the same household. The UK Government has clarified that daily exercise should be taken close to home, avoiding any unnecessary travel and has published guidance on access to green spaces.
Initially, many popular tourist and beauty spots saw an influx of people travelling to the area for their daily exercise. For instance, Snowdonia National Park said it experienced its “busiest ever visitor day in living memory” on 21 March 2020.
In response, the Welsh Government introduced new measures through the 2020 regulations to:
prevent a repeat of scenes…when large numbers of people gathered on Welsh beaches, in parks and mountainsides.
Section 9 of the 2020 regulations requires Natural Resources Wales, local authorities, National Park Authorities and the National Trust to close public footpaths and access land where they consider that the use of a path or land poses a high risk of spreading the virus. It also requires the relevant authority to publish a list of closed paths or land on its website, along with erecting notices on the land in question.
The Welsh Government has published a list of car parks and popular footpaths closed alongside links to information on closures in different local authority areas. Each of Wales’ National Parks has also published a full list of footpaths and land that is currently closed:
- Brecon Beacons National Park Authority;
- Pembrokeshire Coast National Park; and
- Snowdonia National Park Authority.
With many workers in the tourism industry only employed during the holiday season, traditionally between Easter and October, concerns have been raised over the support available for seasonal workers.
Employees furloughed through the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (explored in more detail in our separate article on coronavirus and employment) must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll “on or before 19 March 2020”. The cut-off date was previously 28 February, but was extended from following calls by many industries. The Tourism Alliance wrote to the Chancellor on 3 April to raise this issue. However, seasonal workers who had their contracts delayed or cancelled because of the pandemic (and so would not have been on the payroll on 19 March) will still not be able to be furloughed.
Impact on the industry
Whilst the full extent of the impact on the sector will not be known for some time, Visit Wales has conducted telephone surveys to gain an early insight into the effects the pandemic is having and how businesses are responding.
The first wave of surveys were conducted on 12 and 13 March 2020. The results at this time showed that there had been some impact, but the majority of businesses were not yet affected.
The fast-changing nature of the situation meant that when the second wave of surveys were undertaken between 26 and 31 March, businesses reported being much more significantly affected. Nearly all businesses surveyed (96%) at this time expected the future impact of the outbreak to be ‘significantly negative’. Business owners voiced concerns over accessing financial support including how to pay staff in the period until UK Government funding for furloughed staff comes through. Our previous article, explores the support available for business owners from both the UK and Welsh Governments in more detail.
Looking to the future
Whilst many businesses across the sector will be concerned about the future, in its letter to the Chancellor, the Tourism Alliance suggests the industry will be vital in aiding the economic recovery from the virus. It states that:
In 2010…at the height of the Global Economic Crisis, the Government identified tourism as one of six key industries that could provide much needed employment and growth to reshape and rebalance the UK economy.
As the full impact on the tourism industry in Wales remains to be seen, many businesses will be keen to restart their operations. The sector may be keen for current restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible, however on 1 April 2020 during Plenary, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, gave a clear message:
If you’re trying to salvage the tourism season in 2020, you’re putting at risk the tourism season of 2021. We cannot afford to see coronavirus return.
Article by Francesca Howorth, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.