Wales needs to get away from ‘sheep, weather and rugby’, says tourism expert

Tourism bosses argue it is time Wales embraced the Welsh language and its produce to compete globally. Credit: PA / Visit Wales

Bosses in the tourism sector have said Wales needs a rebrand to make it more attractive to UK and international tourists.

Giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the director of Zip World, Sean Taylor, said the country needs to “get away from sheep, wet weather and… rugby” and promote its adventure tourism destinations, “amazing” food and drink, and numerous heritage sites instead.

Mr Taylor was joined by Penderyn Distillery chief executive Stephen Davies, Portmeirion Cymru’s Ian Roberts, and Paul Lewin from Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.

All agreed the country is often “overshadowed” by Scotland, Ireland and England due to its comparatively “weak” brand.

Zip World's sites have become major tourist destinations in their own right Credit: PA

“Its a complicated and long-term strategy how we build brand Wales, and I think we definitely need to get away from sheep, wet weather and – even as a president of my local rugby club – rugby as well. Because football has come to the fore now,” Mr Taylor said.

“If you look at the brand in Wales it is fairly weak compared to the Irish brand and the Scottish brand in particular.

“At the moment, I think we get overshadowed quite a bit. You’ve got the Royal Family down in London, you’ve got tartan and Loch Ness in Scotland and in Ireland you’ve got Guinness.”

Other suggestions included more use of the country’s name Cymru, rather than the English version Wales, and putting an emphasis on the Welsh language.

Cymru or Wales?

What's in a name? Well when it comes to what we call home, quite a lot.

Cymru is the Welsh name for Wales and descends from the Brythonic word combrogi, meaning "fellow-countrymen". It likely came into use before the 7th century.

Wales stems from a word used by Anglo Saxons to mean ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’, and has origins that date back as far as 500 B.C.

In recent times, many Welsh organisations have taken it upon themselves to strongly associate with the name Cymru in their branding, not least of all the national football team.

Other countries elsewhere in the world have also taken the step of officially changing their names to reflect their native languages. In 2018, Eswatini, meaning "land of the Swazis", became the official name of the country previously known as Swaziland in Africa.

“The language needs to be weaponised as an advantage, not a threat,” Mr Taylor said.

“I feel like there’s often negative connotations about the language. But our international and English visitors love the use of the Welsh language.

“We get school groups from England and by the time they leave they can say ‘bore da’, ‘prynhawn da’, ‘croeso’. They love it, they embrace it.”

Zip World has three locations in North Wales, one of which is home to the fastest zip line in the world.

Over 90% of people who work at Portmeirion in Gwynedd speak Welsh Credit: PA

Mr Roberts, from Portmeirion, the Italianate tourist village, said: “We’ve always put a strong emphasis on the culture, tradition and the language. Over 90% of the people who work in Portmeirion speak Welsh.

“We believe that tourists who come to Portmeirion enjoy hearing the language and they enjoy hearing that it’s a vibrant and alive language.

“We think it could be used more, including the use of the term Cymru other than Wales,” he added.

“As we’ve seen with the Welsh football team, they’ve really developed, on and off the pitch, the use of the Welsh language, and the use of Cymru has been a huge factor in that.”

The businesses called on the Welsh Government to increase its tourism budget, as it is a devolved power, to improve communication about Wales’ identity and why people should visit.

Mr Lewin, who manages the UK’s longest heritage railway, said: “We don’t have a crisp, clear proposition for Wales. And a brand for a country will need to be built on a common theme.

“On a day like today it is shouting out at us that what is common to all the tourist attractions in Wales is the setting. It is the wonderful environment, the wonderful scenery and how accessible it is compared to many other places.”

Penderyn is one Welsh brand that has gained global exposure Credit: PA

Penderyn boss Mr Davies, who is soon to open a third distillery in Swansea and exports Welsh single malt whisky to over 40 countries, said: “Actually when you come across the Severn Bridge you don’t feel you’re in a country that’s selling itself.

“There’s a huge opportunity to improve communication with visitors that do come into Wales, because they’ve come here, they’ve made the effort, let’s keep them here or bring them back.

“And to sell a much more premium message to people thinking of coming but who haven’t been here yet.”