Reprieve for Welsh tourism as First Minister finally announces ...

Earlier this week, three open letters to the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, were published from the tourism and hospitality sector in Wales. 

The first - from over forty owners of the most popular visitor attractions in Wales - called for urgent clarity around dates for reopening after lockdown so they can pro-actively plan their business to take full advantage of any changes. 

This was followed by a heartfelt plea from North Wales Tourism to support the industry and ensure it does not fall into the situation where it take years to recover from the recession. 

The final letter, from a group of leading restaurants in Wales, asked the First Minister for his support to work with the sector in partnership to ensure that its important contribution both to local economies and the economy of Wales as a whole is able to thrive in the years ahead. 

More importantly, these businesses – independent pubs, cafes, restaurants, street food and other food based businesses that employ over 135,000 in Wales – have come together not only for a plan for how they survive this pandemic but a clear roadmap for a creative, innovative, forward thinking, progressive and sustainable industry in Wales. 

This would help protect family businesses and their loyal staff, retain tens of thousands of vital local jobs across Wales, and ensure that viable businesses in key communities survive to continue to spend millions locally and prompt growth back into those economies after the crisis.

Unfortunately, these letters again suggest that the Welsh Government has not been listening adequately to those on the front line of running the economy, namely the tens of thousands of business owners who have been hit hardest economically by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Indeed, as the Chair of North Wales Tourism noted, the Welsh Government has not been in conversation with any of their members despite claims to the contrary and there is a growing feeling that there is no regard or respect for the tourism industry in Cardiff Bay.  

The genuine concerns of entrepreneurs who have poured their heart, soul and life savings into their business should not be countered by yet another press release saying that Wales has the best package of business support in the UK. That may well be the case but it is clear that it has failed to support large parts of the small business community in Wales especially within the tourism and hospitality industries.

In fact, it’s no longer a matter of money from government but of reviewing restrictions so that it give businesses the opportunity to trade and generate cash from customers who will come back if Wales is open for business. 

The Welsh Government doesn’t need additional funding to do that only the courage to trust that these businesses will provide all necessary measures to protect their employees, their customers and, most important of all, their communities.

After all, these are businesses that went into lockdown immediately, closed down their operations and told visitors to stay away until the danger of the pandemic was over.

With England easing restrictions in a few weeks’ time and the Scottish Government indicating that the tourism and hospitality industry should prepare to reopen on July 15th, Wales remains in limbo with no guidance or information from the Welsh Government about the future apart from a “wait and see” policy when it next reviews regulations.

That simply isn’t good enough for a sector that employs nearly one in ten of the Welsh workforce and the frustration contained in the correspondence from these groups shows that there has been little consultation with those on the front line in tourism and hospitality. Worst still, it’s disingenuous for Welsh Government to continually that they are aware of concerns when these letters suggest otherwise.

The same frustration was also clear in the responses to the launch of the second wave of the Economic Resilience Fund which again excluded support for many microbusinesses which have little access to funding to keep their businesses going. This is despite the fact that it is those microbusinesses that have created 52% of the new Welsh jobs since the last recession.

It’s no longer good enough to dismiss those as having worries about the direction being taken to support the business community as being members of the Awkward Squad. Instead, the grievances from these groups have shown politicians need to start listening to those who know what is needed and, more importantly, to work alongside them to get the economy up and running again. 

That is now the national emergency that faces our nation and if the Welsh economy is to limit its exposure to the recession, then it is critical that those small businesses that will create the jobs needed over the next twelve months are placed front and centre of the economic response by the Welsh Government. 

At the very least, there should be a clear roadmap provided over the next few days as to how the tourism industry in Wales can open safely so that it can start planning to save what is left of the summer season.

If this does not happen and prevarication remains as the status quo, then the consequences of such inaction will be severe for thousands of businesses across Wales and the communities which rely on them.

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