8. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Tourism

– in the Senedd at on 22 May 2024.

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(Translated)

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Jane Hutt, and amendments 2, 3 and 4 in the name of Heledd Fychan. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2, 3 and 4 will be deselected.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:47, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

The next item is the Welsh Conservatives debate on tourism, and I call Laura Anne Jones to move the motion. Laura Anne Jones. 

(Translated)

Motion NDM8589 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the vital contribution that the tourism sector makes to Wales, accounting for over 150,000 jobs and 5 per cent of GDP.

2. Regrets that Wales’s tourism sector still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to support Wales’s tourism sector by:

a) freeing Welsh tourism by making Visit Wales independent;

b) scrapping the tourism tax;

c) reducing the 182-day occupancy threshold to 105 days;

d) introducing a tourism and hospitality academy to upskill the sector for the future; and

e) proactively capitalising on major events.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Laura Anne Jones Laura Anne Jones Conservative 5:47, 22 May 2024

Diolch, Llywydd. I am proud to be opening this debate today where we, the Welsh Conservatives, are putting a laser focus on a struggling industry here in Wales, an industry that is not being helped by the current Welsh Labour Government.

Tourism forms a backbone to our Welsh economy, and that’s what point 1 of our motion recognises. Tourism occurs in all parts of Wales, and the geographical spread of economic activity and employment generated by tourism is one of its key benefits. Provisional figures for 2022 highlighted that 153,500 people work in the tourism-related industries, or 11 per cent of the total average employment in Wales in 2022.

Prior to the pandemic, the Welsh tourism sector was estimated to directly contribute £2.4 billion or around 5 per cent of Wales’s gross domestic product, but the story is very different now. The tourism sector still has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, as point 2 of our motion recognises. From January to December 2023, residents across Great Britain took 8.58 million overnight trips to Wales. During these trips they also spent over £2 billion.

Major events are a vital part of our tourism. Not only do the events themselves attract tourists to Wales, but they also attract more major events to Wales. Sporting and other major events are a significant reason why people choose to visit Wales. Take Clash at the Castle, the WWE major event that also took place in Cardiff, contributing over £2 million to the Welsh economy. This event even attracted over 62,000 people to Cardiff, which was the largest European audience for WWE. Or take, for example, the 60,000 people that attended the Ed Sheeran concert at the Principality Stadium in May 2022. These are great events, and really boost our economy, but we should not rest on our laurels. More can be done. We need to be more proactive as a nation. We need a plan.

It is vitally important that there is a push for major events to be held right across Wales as currently most of them are held in south Wales. The way to do this, perhaps, could be achieved by the Wales football team playing matches at Wrexham’s Racecourse ground. There needs to be an improved tourism and major events strategy that draws visitors to Wales. Pre-pandemic Wales received 1 million visitors a year, where Scotland received 3.5 million, and that gap has not closed. This shows that there's significant work to do to make Wales more appealing to international tourists, as well as ensuring that major events are held right across Wales that will boost local economies in all our areas.

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Laura Anne Jones Laura Anne Jones Conservative 5:50, 22 May 2024

Along with the many economic benefits that tourism brings to Wales, they would, of course, also bring cultural benefits—visits to Welsh film and television filming locations, such as Llanddwyn island and Llanbadrig church in Anglesey, Freshwater West beach in Pembrokeshire, and Barry. This not only brings with them the economic benefits to local communities and Wales as a whole, but also demonstrates to filming companies of all sizes the wide range of filming locations that is on offer in our great country. This, in turn, will encourage more companies to film in Wales, and this enables Wales to fully capitalise on film tourism and tourist visit destinations featured in films that are not directly related to destination marketing organisations and tourism promotions. Studies into film tourism have noted that films not only influence tourists to visit the area, but they also provide long-term economic benefits to the filming locations around the local areas.

Sadly, it's not all good news and ideas for the sector, as point 3 of our motion recognises that the greatest challenge that the tourism industry is facing is the upcoming visitor levy, also known as the tourism tax, which overnight visitors to Wales could face from 2027. This policy will make it more expensive for people to have an overnight stay in Wales, and potentially could make people think twice about holidaying in our country and instead choose somewhere else where they will not have to pay that additional amount. Inevitably, this would then mean that tourism and hospitality businesses will be significantly impacted by this policy's implementation.

In February 2024 the tourism barometer found that one third of tourism businesses had fewer visitors in 2023 compared to 2022. Forty-two per cent of businesses reported having the same level of business and only 25 per cent reported they had more business. This is a continuation of the findings from summer 2023, which showed that visitor numbers were still declining. This demonstrates that the tourism sector has not been able to recover from the significant hit that it received of the pandemic. As a result of a decline in visitors, there was also a significant decrease in the international visitor spend in Wales in 2022. International visitors spent £391 million, which was down from £515 million in 2019. Not only is this a significant hit to the Welsh economy, but it impacts on individual tourism and hospitality businesses.

Wales's transport links are also not efficient enough. The Welsh Affairs Committee was told by the United States that poor transport links to places like Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire were deterring visitors from coming to Wales. These are serious issues that the Welsh Government are failing to listen to.

Over 30 per cent of businesses that were surveyed as part of a tourism barometer said that the reason to be concerned about businesses this year was the Welsh Government's policies. One of the first Welsh Government policies that had a significant negative impact on the tourism sector was the increase of occupancy threshold from 70 days to 182 days. For many self-catering businesses, the increase to 182 days was far too high for them to meet. The Professional Association of Self-caterers, PASC, stated that this target was almost impossible, leaving owners at risk of 300 per cent council tax premiums. 

We in the Welsh Conservatives have continuously called for the occupancy threshold to be increased to 105 days, which is also in line with the figures that the vast majority of businesses supported. We have a plan for Wales's tourism sectors, as we recognise that hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on the tourism sector, yet this Welsh Labour Government are intent on attacking the sector instead of helping it to bounce back. Instead, the Welsh Conservatives want to support the industry to encourage visitors to Wales, using major events and filming to showcase what Wales really has to offer to the world. 

The Welsh Conservatives' alternative tourism strategy would free Welsh tourism by making Visit Wales independent of the Welsh Government. The current Visit Wales system is not working for Wales and is struggling to attract people to Wales. We would make Visit Wales independent of the Welsh Government, which will bring it in line with the other visitor organisations and will enable a more collaborative approach between Visit Wales, VisitBritain and VisitScotland, which will then benefit Wales and will encourage greater promotion of Wales to international tourism. 

We will create regional visitor passes to local attractions to boost local economies. Before COVID-19, there was an all-access visitor pass that let people visit different tourist destinations across Wales, such as Dan-yr-ogof caves, a family favourite. This was stopped during the pandemic and has not been reintroduced. As part of our alternative tourism strategy, these visitor passes would be re-established, along with the creation of a Valleys visitor pass that will enable more people to experience the culture of the Valleys and other parts of Wales. This will go towards helping the tourism businesses to recover after the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

Whilst we on these benches clearly have a plan and ideas to support the tourism sector, the Government sat opposite us have nothing to offer beside empty words and ill-thought-out policies. I urge everyone in this Chamber today to support our motion and give their backing to our industry.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:55, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

I have selected the four amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2, 3 and 4 will be deselected. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for  Economy, Energy and Welsh Language to move formally amendment 1, tabled in the name of Jane Hutt

(Translated)

Amendment 1—Jane Hutt

Delete all and replace with:

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the vital contribution that the tourism sector makes to Wales.

2. Regrets that Wales’s tourism sector still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

3. Notes the Welsh Government’s support to the sector and the commitment to working with the sector and local authorities to:

a) introduce a visitor levy should they choose to, subject to consultation;

b) maintain the discretionary powers and guidance on council tax and second homes;

c) explore a tourism and hospitality academy to upskill the sector for the future; and

d) proactively capitalise on major events.

(Translated)

Amendment 1 moved.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

(Translated)

I call on Luke Fletcher to move amendments 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of Heledd Fychan.

(Translated)

Amendment 2—Heledd Fychan

Add as new point after point 2 and renumber accordingly:

Notes the effect of cost increases on businesses, as well as the effect that the cost-of-living crisis has had on expenditure by tourists in Wales.

(Translated)

Amendment 3—Heledd Fychan

In point 3, delete sub-points (b) and (c).

(Translated)

Amendment 4—Heledd Fychan

In sub-point (e) in point 3, after 'major events', insert 'by promoting events which are of cultural and economic benefit to Wales'.

(Translated)

Amendments 2, 3 and 4 moved.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 5:55, 22 May 2024

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I move the amendments, tabled in the name of Heledd Fychan. And, you know, there's no disagreement from us as to the importance of the tourism sector, and there are elements of this motion that I think we could support or think warrant further explanation or exploration, like making Visit Wales independent—we're really interested in understanding how that might work; the hospitality and tourism academy—again, really interested in how that might work. We know there are shortages within the workforce.

But where I think it does miss the mark is where we have suggested amendments, because we all want to see the tourism sector thriving, but there are clearly differences in how we get there. Now, the important word for me in a debate about tourism has to be 'sustainability'. No negotiation, it needs to be a byword alongside 'thriving', because there lies the economic benefit. You know, the reality is that the current way in which we do tourism isn't sustainable. Communities that are ghost towns in off-seasons, where nobody actually lives and have become nothing more than a summer destination, local services stretched at a time when local government funding is being cut—we ultimately have to find a way of dealing with this.

Now, broadly, I'm supportive of the tourism tax, but there are things I'd be looking for, as it is brought to the Senedd. Firstly, the charge. There's a balance, I think, that has to be struck here, because if the charge is too high, then I would actually tend to be quite sympathetic with what's been said already—not that that would be a foregone conclusion, mind. Before now, the way in which the levy has been used in Venice has been highlighted as a negative form of the tourism levy. I don't think it's as simple to highlight Venice in that way. Now, I don't know who's been to Venice here in this Chamber; I haven't been, but I'm hoping to go. The one thing I've been told by people is that it's unbelievably busy; it sounds like my version of a nightmare. But the levy there is between €1 and €5 for an overnight stay, depending on certain factors. And, of course, you have the fee for daytrippers being trialled, which is €5. Now, that's not deterring me; it hasn't deterred all those people going to Venice, has it? What it's doing, though, is providing additional revenue to the local area to maintain attractions—[Interruption.]—maintain streets and maintain services. Gareth.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 5:58, 22 May 2024

Thank you, Luke. I don't think it's necessarily a fair comparison to compare Venice and Wales. Obviously, with the different climate—

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative

Well, I'll explain why: because simply the—[Interruption.]—climate and the weather—[Interruption.]—because a lot of—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

Let the Member make his intervention.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative

Because a lot of the comparisons made are actually exotic, hot countries that do have an appeal to people from these climates to travel there and spend money. But what we've got the challenge with is the weather, because it's quite unpredictable and different across different regions of Wales. So, we've got that to compete with, in addition to those problems.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

I think that's quite an unfortunate intervention there, talking Wales down; he doesn't think that Wales can compete on an international level. There's a number of reasons why people come to Wales, of course, isn't there? I for one go to north Wales on a regular basis, west Wales to go hiking, no matter the weather—[Interruption.]—of course. There are other areas in Europe—again, we look at Barcelona. In one of the friends of Catalonia meetings that we've had here in the Senedd, Cefin Campbell asked about their tourist levy and what people were saying when it was first proposed. Well, certain parties were saying the same stuff as the Conservatives are saying now, you know, 'People won't come; it will destroy the tourism sector.' Well, that was back in 2012. Where is Barcelona today? It's ranked eighth in the world for best city-visitor experiences. It had 9.2 million visitors in 2023, up from the year previous, and, again, I'd ask the question: is anyone being deterred by a tourist levy in Barcelona? Darren.

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative

I'm grateful for you doing so. I think the big issue and the big challenge we've got is that we know that the most lucrative type of tourism is the tourists who stay overnight and they spend more in our economy. What you're seeking to do is actually tax those particular tourists who want to come and stay overnight, who will spend more; it will give them less to spend in our economy.

The second point I would wish to make is that large parts of Wales are competing with other parts of the UK that do not have a tourism levy or a tourism tax, so many people who holiday in north Wales have a choice of whether to come to Snowdonia, whether to come to parts of north Wales or go up the coast and go over to the Lake District. If there's a price-sensitive issue—and there is for many families; we know that, through the cost-of-living challenges—then people will simply go elsewhere. That will be bad for the economy, be bad for jobs and bad for families in Wales. Don't you accept that?

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 6:01, 22 May 2024

Well, this is why, for example, I've talked about the charge needing to be at the right level for starters, right? You say that there is no tourism levy in the rest of the UK. I'd say that that is the case until the point where places like Cornwall, for example, who are talking about that right now—. I think I'm right in saying Manchester is considering it. Again—[Interruption.] Exactly. So, the example you used I don't think is fair, because we are going to see a tourism levy rolled out across the rest of the UK, by the sound of things, in places like Cornwall and Manchester. 

Now, on the point around the taxing of things, the second point that I think is quite important here is where, actually, the money raised goes. Now, I have said consistently that I believe that the money raised should be ring-fenced for those services that improve the lives of tourists, yes, but also improve the lives of local people—so, better public transport. You know, you mentioned that the transport links to get to yr Wyddfa are very poor; well, here's one way of funding better transport links and better maintenance of the streets and so on.

I think it's important to recognise that a tourist levy is actually something that, if approved, would be years away from being implemented, so I think, actually, there are more pressing matters for us to discuss if we are serious about helping out the tourism sector as a whole. So, the prices of goods to start. Yes, inflation is down, but that doesn't mean that prices are also necessarily going down. VAT is something the sector has highlighted several times as an issue, and business rates. Now, I would say, actually, if the Welsh Government were wanting to make things a bit easier for the tourism sector, restoring business rates relief to its previous level, or, better yet, actually working to vary the multiplier and use this as a way then to take pressure off the hospitality sector, as an example, would be the way to go.

So, Dirprwy Lywydd, there are some things we can agree on with the original motion, but I think we have to seriously consider how we make tourism more sustainable in the long term. So far, I haven't seen any alternative suggestions that I would support to what is on the table currently, so I hope the Plaid Cymru amendments can be supported. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Peter Fox Peter Fox Conservative 6:03, 22 May 2024

Well, the tourism sector is fundamentally important to the Welsh economy, and what it offers contributes hugely to the unique selling points of Wales, and, as such, it should be valued, it should be supported and it should be invested in, but sadly the industry doesn't feel this at the moment. Before the pandemic hit, the tourism sector was estimated to directly contribute up to £2.4 billion—roughly 5 per cent of the Wales gross domestic product—and it accounted for over 150,000 jobs. We should celebrate and promote all that Wales has to offer, but we must remember that without a vibrant tourism industry and all it represents, we can't do that or reap the economic benefits of all we have to offer. Not only do people come to visit our beautiful countryside, experience our culture, our language, our fabulous food and drink, but also, as Laura says, iconic film locations—again, another string to the bow of the Welsh offer, one that promotes Wales to the wider world and a younger audience, perhaps. However, all this said, the sector here is struggling as a direct result of Labour's recent policy making. I know of some hospitality and tourism businesses in my constituency that are separated by mere miles from their competitors in England but feel hugely disadvantaged against similar businesses over the border, and that stretches all the way up the border of Wales. Businesses are facing the impending tourism tax, additional waste charges, the highest business rates in the UK, and reduced non-domestic rates support. All of these are causing real concern and anxiety to so many businesses that are already finding things really difficult at the moment.

And if this isn't enough, many self-catering businesses are considering closing—I've had two or three letters to this effect—due to the 182-days occupancy threshold, an unrealistic expectation for many businesses. And that's why we are calling on the Welsh Government to revise occupancy figures to that more realistic 105 days.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative

Thank you. I was encouraged, actually, to hear the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, Ben Lake, talking about the 182-night occupancy level and saying that it goes too far in affecting those legitimate businesses who are furnished holiday lets. Would you agree with the assessment by the Plaid Cymru MP?

Photo of Peter Fox Peter Fox Conservative

Absolutely. There are so many businesses. Some may achieve the 182, but the vast majority find that extremely difficult. Of course, if they then can no longer benefit from business recognition, they're faced by three times council tax rates, which then puts them out of business. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of driving tourism businesses out of business. So, clearly, the tourism sector requires a range of good accommodation in order to flourish, because, without it, obviously, fewer tourists have the opportunity to explore our beautiful country and all it has to offer. But, sadly, the Welsh Government's current policy agenda will lead to a downward spiral of tourism venues.

And let's be clear, these policies will not enable many vacant self-catering venues to find their way back into local residency if no longer viable for tourism. According to the Professional Association of Self-caterers, businesses estimate that only 5 per cent of businesses consider a local resident as a most likely buyer of their property. In fact, 39 per cent of businesses think that the most likely buyers of their property would be a second-home owner, and 37 per cent think it would be acquired by another holiday-let operator.

So, what can be done? For starters, the Welsh Government needs to assess the 182-day rule and abandon the proposed tourism tax. And, Luke, I'll tell you where the money will go. As a past local government leader, I know what will happen. Current economic development budgets will be reduced and will be backfilled with this levy, and moneys diverted from the economic development functions will go to support social care and health. That's what will happen, guaranteed. And we also need to take steps to introduce a tourism and hospitality academy to upskill the sector for the future and make the most of the increase in awareness that Wales is getting.

Finally, we need to ensure that any policy making here in Wales focuses on improving the tourism sector, not exploiting it. Our beautiful country has the opportunity to offer so much to visitors across the world, and we need the Welsh Government to start treating it as such. Diolch.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 6:08, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

I hope we can all agree here. I was disappointed with the contribution made by Gareth Davies, who seemed to suggest that we shouldn't to be proud of promoting Wales and that people don't want to visit to Wales. I had expected—

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

If I could finish my point, then I will take your intervention. No, I'm not taking it at the moment—I want to finish my point.

I thought that you were going to mention the link between Venice and Rhyl. I'm sure you are aware of all the myths around the Little Venice exhibition under Queen's Market in Rhyl. So, I think that there are things that we should be taking pride in, some of these stories, and better promoting them. I will now take your intervention.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative

I'm pleased that you know about Little Venice, because, yes, it's a great story. But the point I'm making is not to do down Wales, as you're alluding to; it's actually saying, 'Well, what we've got to do is do something differently', because the comparisons that you're making are direct comparisons to hot countries. Luke mentioned Barcelona as well. What's the average temperature of Barcelona? Probably significantly—not 'probably'—we know it's significantly higher than what Wales is and, indeed, Great Britain, so it's not a fair comparison when talking about things like tourism tax, because it's not just a fair one to make.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 6:09, 22 May 2024

I don’t agree with your argument. I think you failed the point here. I think you are talking Wales down because I think we have things that attract people. People who come to Wales actually are astounded by the richness of what we have to offer. So, I don’t accept your argument at all.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Where I do hope we can agree is that there is more that we could be doing to support the tourism sector and to boost the tourism sector, and I think the Welsh Government needs to take ownership of this as an issue, and that we are perhaps missing out on economic opportunities. What I often think is—. I did spend a long time living in Ireland, and you know how excellent Ireland is at promoting itself and getting people from across the world to visit. Clearly, it's a different story there. But I often travel around Wales, to places like Caernarfon, and think if this was in Ireland, people would be flocking, and there would be all sorts of businesses. There are already excellent independent businesses there, but it would be a place that would prosper economically. Unfortunately, we haven't quite been able to ensure that we do attract the visitors that could provide us with that economic boost.

I also think we're not doing enough in terms of the language and culture of Wales in the tourism sector. I think that people would enjoy coming here and hearing the Welsh language as a living language. I think we often look at things like the Urdd Eisteddfod and the National Eisteddfod as things that are for Welsh speakers—and perhaps for some of the people living in the area—but we're not thinking about the international opportunities, because if you have visited these eisteddfodau and seen the international visitors, they are astonished by what is provided and what's available there, and I think we should be promoting them so much more. There is a trend, unfortunately, to focus on the Hay Festival rather than the Welsh festivals, and I do think that there are huge benefits. Tafwyl would be an incredible experience for people, as would Gŵyl Fach y Fro, and so on.

We must also look at the broader cuts. I was pleased to hear the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice earlier this afternoon mentioning the Welsh National Opera and how important that is as an organisation in promoting Wales internationally. Well, we also have national collections that are wonderful, if we look at the economic impact of things such as our national museum, the national library and so on. I think that we do need to look at the whole range of organisations and institutions we have. Clearly, there have been a lot of discussions recently when there was talk about the National Museum Cardiff closing its doors, for example. We've heard about the cuts if we had to reduce hours for some of our national museums. Why don't we look at all of the culture budgets in the context of tourism also? These are key jobs.

We have a wealth of things to promote. I think the cultural heritage—. If you look at the world heritage sites—the most recent one we have is in Llanberis, for example—there are great stories to tell there, stories that are pertinent on an international stage. So, what I hope to see by having this debate and contributing to it today is that we do see a commitment from the Government to review its tourism strategy, to ensure that the Welsh language and our national and cultural festivals are a more prominent part of that, and that we at last unite and promote Wales and the wealth that we have in its entirety.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 6:13, 22 May 2024

Let us start by looking at the scope and scale of tourism in Wales so that we can understand just how important it is to our culture, our economy and industry. Around one in every nine people in Wales work in this sector, with over 75 per cent of those working in a hospitality business supporting their local communities and economies. The two sectors are clearly inextricably related with helping to contribute £2.5 billion to Wales's own GDP.

However, Welsh Government policies and, indeed, the legacy of the most recent co-operation agreement, have been really damaging and it's still having a detrimental impact on this industry. At a time when this is a sector that does need an incredible amount of support and aid, Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru seem fixated on bringing in rules and regs that are smothering Welsh tourism and its ability to thrive, rather than supporting the sector to increase the number employed to more than 172,000 people and boosting its value to the economy to more than £6.5 billion annually. Let's look at where we can justifiably blame the co-operation agreement and Labour and Plaid Cymru here: the 182-day rule for self-catering accommodation; a registration scheme; a licensing scheme; tourism tax; the number of days pop-up campsites can be in operation—28 here, 60 over the border; and, most crucially of all, despite businesses facing real pressures with post-COVID recovery, slashing the 75 per cent business rates relief for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector. No wonder I get dozens of e-mails saying, 'What on earth is Plaid Cymru doing, and Welsh Labour, in this agreement?' I get e-mails from your constituency, Heledd, saying that it's shocking what you are doing to your own tourism industry.

Now, this has absolutely crippled an industry that has been suffering for years. Despite endless examples and emphasis on the crucial role that small businesses play within this sector, Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru persist in their determination to reduce business rates relief by almost half. Let's not forget either that the money to continue this scheme was allocated by the UK Conservative Government. However, the Welsh Government, as always, thought they knew better.

Shocking figures show that, last year, Wales lost more than a pub a week in 2023, with 63 shutting their doors. This is more than double the 0.9 per cent decline in pub numbers in England during the same period. Those closures are estimated to have cost around 770 jobs, which is extremely concerning when we consider that most of these jobs are in our isolated rural areas, where it's sometimes impossible to find work. More broadly, over the past six years, Wales has lost 272 pubs and, despite this dire situation, the outlook is becoming increasingly gloomy. Kate Nicholls, a well-respected voice in UKHospitality, the chief executive officer, said, we're

'Already seeing 10% higher failure rate in Wales'.

Well, that's nothing to be proud of as a Government, is it? But with business rates support slashed to less than half what it was, that will only accelerate closures.

Plaid Cymru and Labour are ignoring the post-COVID impact on our tourism businesses. Just look at the increased energy costs, food costs—although I have to say that I'm really chuffed with the UK Conservative Government's announcement today that inflation now has dropped, exactly as our Prime Minister said he would work hard to do, and he has succeeded. At a time when businesses were looking for support from the Welsh Government, they were working with Plaid to double down on Welsh hospitality and tourism. This represents nothing more than gross negligence. The industry are calling out, they're crying out, for help, and what do you do? You go and slap them with—. Oh, you've changed it now. They don't like the words, 'tourism tax'; it's a 'visitor levy'. Dress it up any way you like, it is a horrible tax on our tourism industry, a pointless idea dreamt up in that ludicrous co-operation agreement. Another idea from the other side. Another tax for us all to pay. Is there any limit to this socialist and nationalist greed?

According to a survey by the Wales Tourism Alliance, 70 per cent of visitors said they would now consider going on holiday to another country if there was a tax. Is this what our economy needs now? Aberconwy relies on tourism in a way that many simply— 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:18, 22 May 2024

Janet, you need to conclude now, please.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

—do not understand. It is its lifeblood. And I am proud of every one of those privately owned hospitality businesses and retailers who work hard—they work a lot harder than some of these Ministers here. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:19, 22 May 2024

Janet, you need to conclude now, please.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

At a time when all the sector needed was support and attention, the ideologues seem to think that the whole system needs a shake-up. Let's reduce the 182-day occupancy threshold, scrap the tourism tax and allow the sector to breathe and recover.  

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

Thank you, Janet. 

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

I am thrilled this co-operation agreement is confined to the history and legacy that you will be remembered for. 

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

For years, tourism has been a cornerstone of Wales's economy. There's no doubt that it contributes billions of pounds to our economy; it creates jobs and introduces the beauty of our breathtaking mountains, our magnificent coastline and our unique market towns to the world. And at the heart of every successful visit, every visit, from Anglesey to Monmouthshire, is the warm Welsh welcome that we extend as people in Wales to everyone who comes here. And nobody is arguing the importance of tourism, but it has to be fair to the communities impacted by high levels of tourism and it has to be sustainable.

Now, as a Member for Mid and West Wales, it is difficult to avoid the importance of this crucial industry to the region, and, in a recent meeting with the tourism alliance, I saw what the enormous economic value of tourism is, contributing over £200 million per annum to the economy of Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire, £110 million to Preseli Pembrokeshire, and £186 million to Dwyfor Meirionnydd, to name but a few. And this value is clearly visible in our hospitality businesses, our cafes, pubs and special attractions, sustaining jobs in areas where opportunities can be limited. To that end, I welcome very much this afternoon’s debate, which acknowledges the importance of tourism, and, indeed, as Luke Fletcher has said already, there are elements of the motion that I support, particularly the need for a tourism and hospitality academy to be established to upskill the sector for the future, which has been a Plaid Cymru manifesto pledge for some time. However, we must also acknowledge the challenges that follow the influx of tourists during peak seasons.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru 6:22, 22 May 2024

With great tourism comes great responsibility. So, we’re all too aware of the familiar scenes during the peak season: the endless queueing for a selfie on Yr Wyddfa, the inconsiderate parking along Pen-y-Pass in Eryri and Storey Arms in Bannau Brycheiniog, and the surge in population in our coastal towns to a level three, four and often five times their usual size during the summer months. The truth is that tourism all too often places a huge strain on our local infrastructure: more use of public toilets, maintenance of roads and footpaths, increased litter, heavier demand on health and rescue services and protection of our natural beauty. Now, this demands constant care and attention, but it comes at a cost, and all this at a time when budgetary pressures on our local authorities are at unprecedented levels.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

Do you not realise how insular that sounds? At the end of the day, you should be welcoming tourists and visitors to Wales. We’ve got so much to shout about, the beauty of this wonderful country. You should be wanting to sell that, not just across the UK but across the world. 

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru

Janet, I don’t know whether you missed my points in translation at the beginning or whether you were listening, but what I did say was that we are proud to be a tourist destination. We believe that tourism is incredibly important to Wales, and we welcome people and want people to come to Wales, but we want to have a balance between that tourism and the effect it has on local communities and the cost of maintaining tourism on local authorities.

So, Plaid Cymru has long implemented a tourism levy, which will help bring about a sense of shared responsibility between—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

I would like to hear the contribution from the Member, therefore I ask people to please keep quiet to allow him to complete his contribution.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru

So, we on this side of the Chamber are extremely pleased to be supporting the implementation of a tourism levy, which—

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

I’m sure you meet many businesses, like I do, across the region, who are very concerned about the visitor levy and actually making sure that, when that tax does come into force, if it does, it's actually going to be re-implemented and given back to those tourism businesses so they can develop—bloody fly; get from here—so they can develop the industry. So, surely that's something that Plaid Cymru should be calling for, actually reinvestment of that money into our tourism sector to make sure they've got thriving businesses going forward.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru 6:25, 22 May 2024

James, I agree, and, as part of the co-operation agreement, I've argued that point that the money raised should be put back into the local authorities' tourism offer and making the experience of tourism better for those who visit Wales—absolutely agree 100 per cent with that.

So, we need a shared responsibility between welcoming visitors and local residents who live there year in, year out, to protect and invest in our local communities and, as I said, James, improve the tourism offer. But we've heard the scurrilous arguments put forward so many times by the opposition benches that somehow a tourism tax, and we've heard it already today, is somehow anti-English and it would discourage visitors and that Wales—[Interruption.] No, I mean discouraging visitors; I've heard so many times that Wales would suffer as a result and undermine Wales’s economy. We've heard it so many times over the last few months, so—[Interruption.] I'll withdraw the one that says 'today', but we've heard it so many times over the past few months that it becomes a part of your rhetoric. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just look around the world: Croatia, Greece, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and the Caribbean, to name a few. The truth is tourist levies are commonplace in Europe and beyond. They haven't crippled tourism in any of these countries. Instead they've empowered destinations to offer a better visitor experience. In fact, there’s no evidence whatsoever to show that a tourist tax has a detrimental effect on the tourism industry.

Even across Clawdd Offa in England, in Dorset and Manchester, for example, tourism levies are increasingly being discussed and deployed, as we've heard already, in Cornwall and the Lake District. Manchester's tourist tax raised £2.8 million after the first year alone, which has been reinvested into the city, including street cleaning and marketing campaigns. This isn’t anti-English, or indeed anti-tourism; it's all about securing a sense of shared responsibility—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:27, 22 May 2024

Cefin, I've given you quite a lot of flexibility. You need to conclude now.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru

Sorry, right, I'll just finish off, sorry, Dirprwy Lywydd. So, it's not an added burden on tourism, it's something that we think is fair and will lead to an increased economic boost for Wales moving forward. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 6:28, 22 May 2024

It's a pleasure to take part in this important debate this evening. One of the things that I love to do whenever I'm out and about, away from Wales, is talking about how wonderful Wales is to visit, encouraging more tourists to come to this great country of ours to visit our attractions, our destinations and locations all over the country, with our unique heritage and incredible landscapes. That's why tourism is a huge part of our Welsh economy, over 5 per cent of our GDP, because it's such an incredible place to visit. It's not something that we should be running away from or nervous about in terms of encouraging people to come and visit and enjoy their time here in Wales. To use Cefin Campbell's words, with great tourism actually comes great opportunity, which is what we should be making the most of and getting a grip of the opportunity that's in front of us.

What worries me is this idea constantly of pushing people away from Wales and away from the jobs that it creates via tourism. We should be doing it and encouraging it in a responsible way, I understand what Members are trying to say there, but the way it comes across sometimes seems to be discouraging people from visiting Wales, and especially during this week, which is, of course, Wales Tourism Week, the week in the year we should be celebrating these businesses and celebrating the work they do in our communities.

Now, a thriving tourism sector, especially for a country like ours, a relatively small country in the grand scheme of things, I think is a great sign of national confidence and attractiveness around the world. Janet Finch-Saunders rightly raised the issue of how the pandemic made such an impact on the sector during that time: livelihoods sadly destroyed and businesses being permanently shut was a harsh reality for those businesses, which they're still having to come to terms with. What that required and still requires, in my view, is a sensitive approach from a Welsh Government. It requires a Government that would do everything it could to help build back the tourism sector with more jobs and more money flowing into the Welsh economy, and, as a result, reducing poverty in our communities. Sadly, that is not what we're seeing from this Welsh Government.

We're seeing the operation of tourism-related businesses being made even more difficult through the arbitrary increase in the occupancy threshold for properties up to 182 days, and the punitive tourism tax that we've already mentioned in this debate here this evening. I find it a puzzling way to treat an industry, a sector, that accounts, as we heard, for one in nine jobs, and in my region one in seven jobs. It's just a puzzling way to treat one of the most important industries that we have in the country. Other industries of such magnitude and importance would not be treated in this way across the economy. It's a cornerstone of our economy and deserves to be treated as such.

And we've heard again this evening, and I'll repeat, that those holiday-let businesses that are now having to pay even more tax, they're the ones that generate revenue in our communities, welcoming people to spend money in those pubs, restaurants and attractions. Driving them out of business would damage those communities that rely on them so much. Often, in many of our rural areas, those injections of cash are so, so important.

I want to comment too on the tourism tax, which seems in my view aimed at pushing away visitors. We're still, of course, awaiting the final assessment of what the tax will consist of, which puts the tourism sector in completely unnecessary limbo when they're trying to plan for future investment. I think the points that we're trying to make on these benches is that there's a competitive staycation market across the UK, and putting further costs on the price of staying in Wales makes it less competitive and less of an attraction as a tourism destination. It sends an unwelcome message to visitors who want to come into Wales.

So, as a core part of our economy, tourism needs all the support it can get, and it's not getting that from this Welsh Government at the moment. I certainly support our motion here today, which says that we're looking to make Visit Wales an independent organisation, in line with other organisations of a similar structure across the United Kingdom. I was speaking only this week to representatives of north Wales tourism businesses and they said that, and I'll quote,

'The current framework in Wales lacks strategic direction, coherent planning and falls short in fostering meaningful relationships.'

That's come from someone who's dedicated to the success of tourism in north Wales and beyond, and this view is reflected much more widely across the sector. So, I would encourage all Members across the Chamber to vote for the Conservative motion in front of us here this evening.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:32, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 6:33, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you to Members for contributing to this afternoon's debate. Let me start by restating our commitment as a Government to tourism and to the broader visitor economy. 

Our ambition as a Government is to grow tourism for the benefit of Wales: tourism that meets the needs of visitors, the industry, but also the environment, and of course our local communities—the exact kind of tourism that is so very popular. I also see tourism through the lens of our broader economic vision. As we look to the future, we must start to to grow our economy in a sustainable way, which provides more opportunity for work that pays well and higher levels of prosperity, and the contribution of tourism to Wales is very significant indeed.

Visitors to Wales spent £4.7 billion in 2022. Some £2.4 billion of that was on day visits, £1.9 billion on domestic overnight stays, and almost £0.5 billion from visitors to Wales. The international passenger survey 2023 figures, which were released last week, show that, although visits and expenditure in Wales were lower than 2019 levels, there is a strong growth against 2022 figures. We're not hiding from the fact that there are challenges facing the industry, but we are here to work with them.

In the face of local and global concerns about over-tourism and the climate crisis, we are facing ongoing challenges following the pandemic for the industry, including the cost-of-living crisis, pressures from energy and inflation, and recruitment issues.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 6:34, 22 May 2024

But, our tourism industry is mature and experienced, and still has the capacity to grow. Our industry tells us that growth must serve to sustain and not threaten the things that matter most to us and, indeed, to tourists, and we need to work together in a way that supports the strengths that bring people here in the first place: our landscapes, our heritage, our culture and our people. I do deplore the way in which we heard some speakers on the Conservative benches compare Wales unfavourably with other tourist destinations in other parts of the world. We should be proud of our tourist offer. We should be proud of our communities that draw people from right across the world to enjoy that alongside us.

And we can see, in our 'Welcome to Wales' strategy, the four pillars of economic growth, environmental sustainability, social and cultural enrichment, and the benefits of well-being and good health, and we will focus on a sustainable vision for tourism. Fundamentally, it's about exploring how we can develop the all-year-around, all-weather offer, increasing dwell time with value over volume, and spreading the geographic benefit away from hotspot areas to lesser known destinations as well. And we are also progressing with some innovative policies, which are aimed at supporting tourism in light of the challenges we face—some of which have been touched upon in this debate. We are committed to—[Interruption.] Yes, certainly.

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative 6:36, 22 May 2024

Thank you for taking the intervention. I heard you mention hotspot areas, and I'm very glad to hear you mention that. You'll know that Mumbles, in my region, is one of those hotspot areas where, on a warm sunny day, it feels like the whole of Swansea descends on Mumbles and beyond, and that is a good thing—they're very welcome. I wonder what the tourism tax is going to do to discourage that behaviour in the future because, quite often, those people who are visiting Mumbles are coming for a day and returning, so a tourism tax, would you accept, would not benefit an area like Mumbles?

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour

Well, I don't accept that at all. I'll come on to address that specifically in a moment.

We're committed to taking action to support our communities and to address the impact of second homes and unaffordable housing in communities right across Wales, and this includes, in fact, the tourism levy and the 182-day rule for holiday lets. We've taken extensive soundings and engagement with the tourism industry, with local authorities and with other organisations on those very proposals for a visitor levy. We believe that it's a fair and reasonable ask of visitors to make a modest contribution, as they do in many, many parts of the world, towards the wider costs of tourism, including to help protect our communities for the future of tourism. [Interruption.] Yes, certainly.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 6:37, 22 May 2024

Thank you, Minister, for taking an intervention. Just in regards to that engagement with the sector around the visitor levy, I was just wondering what conversations you've had around appropriate exemptions for things like touring caravans, and static caravans as well, because they make up such a significant part of our tourism offer here in Wales.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour

The point of engaging with the sector is to hear the concerns that the sector raises to us, and we've had constructive discussions, including on some of the issues that the Member touches upon, but the truth of the matter is that the best way to protect and support our communities, to support the kind of tourism we want to see in the future, is by asking visitors to make what is, after all, a very modest contribution to the costs of tourism.

And the primary aim of some of the other changes that we've introduced to the letting criteria for self-catering properties, which we've heard much about in the debate today, is, again, to ensure that property owners are making a fair contribution, and also to maximise the use of those properties, which will benefit local communities, including from increased occupancy from short-term letting, or the release of some properties for sale or rent as permanent homes for local people, creating those sustainable communities that we know are, in fact, a precursor to a flourishing tourism sector. Tourism cannot and is not seen by us in isolation; it's seen alongside other policy areas, such as the environment, housing, Welsh language policy, and having tourism at the heart of Government, aligned with other policy areas, is a strength.

Visit Wales supports tourism in a very important way, working together, engaging with the industry, with local authorities, with our communities, and that is critical. We ourselves support the industry through marketing and promotional activities, through grading activities, through developing skills across the industry, and through our capital investment programme. We are already making progress on a hospitality skills academy, which Cefin Campbell spoke about in his contribution, which will support that very vision of training a new generation of employees in the sector. This is a good example, I think, of strong co-operation between further and higher education and private enterprise in Wales.

We work closely within Government with Event Wales to ensure a joined-up and all-Wales approach. We heard about the importance of major events in the discussion today. Maximising those opportunities is critical, and I’m bound to say that, for all that the Conservative Party have been saying in favour of that today, what do they think the effect would be on major events of their policy of closing Wales’s national airport, for example?

Dirprwy Lywydd, turning to the motion, we cannot agree with the motion presented by the Conservatives’ proposal, and the Government has proposed an amendment that I encourage Members to support. [Interruption.]

To conclude, what I’m sure we all agree upon is that Wales has a tremendous offer to visitors. I am passionate about the sector, not only because of its importance to our economy—[Interruption.] I think the Member on the front bench is also passionate, by the sounds of his exclamations from a sedentary position. I’m passionate about the sector, Dirprwy Lywydd, not only because of its importance to our economy, but also because of the way in which it raises awareness of Wales within the UK and internationally, so that other people can come to visit the country that we love so much ourselves.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:41, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

I call on Russell George to reply to the debate.

Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank Members for their contributions this afternoon? I think many who've contributed this afternoon spoke to uplift the tourism sector in Wales and outline how the tourism sector contributes to making Wales a better place. Now, many contributed—for example, Janet Finch-Saunders—talking to the point where one in nine workers in Wales are involved or connected to the tourism sector, and as Laura said, 11 per cent of the working population is also connected to the sector as well. I was particularly keen to listen to Laura Anne Jones’s contribution and Peter Fox’s contribution as to the benefits that film tourism can make to Wales, because this is at no extra cost to us, but then we can do much better, I think, to capitalise on tourism benefits from the film-making sector.

Laura Anne Jones and others outlined this afternoon the Conservative plan for tourism, and I’ll go through some of those points now. Scrapping the tourism tax was of course the top of our list. The tourism tax really is—. Just talking about a tourism tax, I’m afraid, is already having negative consequences for Wales and the tourism industry. Now, I hear what others said. I hear what Luke Fletcher said. But Gareth Davies and Darren Millar intervened on Luke on that point, and the fact is—and the Cabinet Secretary made comments on this as well—Venice and Barcelona are very different places to Wales. That’s not talking Wales down; that’s saying that they’ve got a very different offer. But I thank Members for their contributions in that regard, and I do hope that Luke Fletcher manages to visit Venice, perhaps sometime later this summer—probably after 4 July, no doubt.

But also making Visit Wales independent is a point that Sam Rowlands made this afternoon. Sam was pointing out that those are the representations that he’s had from the industry, and how the industry would welcome that point. Introducing a tourism and hospitality academy to upskill the sector and proactively capitalise on major events was also a point that I know some other Members made this afternoon.

But a main part of the focus of our debate today is how the Labour Government here is not only not supporting the tourism sector through their policy, but is actively putting forward policies that frustrate the tourism industry in thriving across Wales. And I’ll just speak to the 182-day occupancy threshold that’s been mentioned by many, and mentioned by the Cabinet Secretary as well. We have not said that that should be scrapped. The industry has not said that should be scrapped. What we have said, and what the industry are saying, is that the threshold should be 105 days, which is more manageable for many businesses, which are genuine businesses, to be able to accommodate.

I’ve mentioned this, and I’m glad the finance Cabinet Secretary was in the Chamber this afternoon for the debate, but I’ve pleaded, please look at this again, and the exemptions as well, because at the moment, there are many businesses that simply can’t make that 182-day threshold. And having that apply to all of Wales, a blanket approach to all of Wales, where every business across Wales has to apply that threshold, is not appropriate, because the holiday season is very different in different parts of Wales. It could be that in Cardiff, yes, where there are major events, it is easier to meet that threshold or exceed it. It could be that in some areas on the coast you can make that threshold or exceed it, but you're not going to be able to make that in other parts of Wales, such as my own constituency.

The frustrating thing is that when I've mentioned this to Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries over the past 12 months or so, their answer is, 'Well, if you can't meet the 182-day threshold, you're not a genuine business.' That is so disrespectful to those genuine businesses that are genuinely in operation and doing everything they can to make their living. The holiday market is very, very different across different parts of the sector. 

In terms of exemptions as well, the exemptions do need to be examined. The Government has rightly encouraged farmers to diversify, and many have. They've built self-catering accommodation on their properties, and now they're subject to the 182-day arbitrary figure, which in some parts of Wales they can't meet. Those properties can't go into the housing market, because the utilities are connected, they're part of the farm. There are planning exemptions and restrictions. That is why the Government needs to bring forward not only exemptions but also make sure that the 182-day occupancy rate is brought to a sensible level as well. 

Others have contributed to this debate this afternoon. Cefin Campbell, I agreed with everything you said today—in your 90-second statement earlier. Let's welcome people from all over Wales to the Urdd Eisteddfod in Meifod in Maldwyn next week. I'm looking forward to attending as the constituency MS. That's going to be a huge boost, of course, to mid Wales. But I don't want people from other parts of Wales to have to pay to come into Montgomeryshire. I don't want that. It's a huge benefit to us next week—. There's a fly flying around me, Deputy Presiding Officer.

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 6:47, 22 May 2024

No flies on you, Russell. [Laughter.] 

Photo of Russell George Russell George Conservative

But I don't want people from across Wales to be having to pay a tourism tax to come to visit future eisteddfods in Montgomeryshire. And that's the point that I considered as—. It's landing on me now, this fly, as well. I don't want that to be the case. 

Can I say to Members this afternoon that I do thank them for their contributions? I do hope that Members will support our motion today, but sadly, I suspect the Government benches won't. But I would ask, please look at the exemptions again, please listen to the industry with regard to the 182-day threshold being reduced to 105 days. That's a sensible proposal put forward not only by us but by the industry as well, and I hope that the Government will listen to that. Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 6:48, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There are objections. I will therefore defer voting under this item until voting time. 

(Translated)

Voting deferred until voting time.

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative

In swatting away that pesky fly earlier, I did say an unparliamentary word. I would just like to correct the record and apologise. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

(Translated)

That brings us to voting time. Unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I will proceed directly to the votes.