First Minister backs calls for ‘mature debate’ following claims Gwynedd is suffering from overtourism
Calls for a “mature debate” on a future “sustainable” tourist industry have received the backing of the First Minister following claims that Gwynedd is suffering from “overtourism”.
The council leader urged a fresh debate on the industry, describing “more of the same” as “no longer acceptable” citing the failure of many in the county to benefit from the income it should be generating.
With the sector said to contribute over £1 billion a year to the local economy, 2016 saw over seven million people visit attractions including Caernarfon’s historic castle, the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia) and the beauty of Llyn and Meirionnydd.
But despite parts of the rural economy said to be entirely dependent on visitors, calls have intensified over recent weeks for formal measures, including a toll to climb Snowdon or a more formal tourism tax on overnight visitors to mitigate the impact of an influx of people to an area not designed to accomodate massive explosions in their population.
Speaking on Friday, Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn said that, while no one could blame visitors for flocking to the region’s mountains and beaches upon the partial easing of the lockdown, he stressed a need to respect local communities and the environment.
He added that now was the time to offer “long-term solutions” to local communities and businesses dependent on the tourism industry, as well as address the impact of “overtourism” on the county, describing the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to look again.
“Work is already underway (at Gwynedd Council) to develop ideas for a truly sustainable tourism industry that benefits our communities and the natural environment,” said Cllr Siencyn.
“But at a time when we need to reduce our carbon emissions as a matter of urgency, it is not acceptable to continue to see thousands of cars traveling along our roads to enjoy our beaches, valleys and mountains.
“Looking at the impact of COVID19 on our areas, it has become more apparent than ever before that our rural economy is totally dependent on the tourism industry.
“Nevertheless, it is shocking that our family income levels are among the lowest in the country. That’s not fair, nor is it sustainable or acceptable – and the question must be asked what is the real benefit to our local people?
“There are also concerns that a large number of visitors are travelling here for the day without contributing much to the local economy.
“Surely it would be a logical step to request a payment for the privilege of using our valuable assets?
“This could be in the form of a tourism tax as is common in continental Europe or placing a surcharge on individuals using an innovative technology solution, now easily available and accessible.
“We need to promote a much more diverse economy, promoting businesses that are not dependent on visitors only.
“In this new era of home working, there are great opportunities to establish innovative and exciting businesses of different kinds.”
Stressing the need to create easy-to-use public transport, such as hydrogen-powered vehicles from a local renewable energy source, he also spoke of the need to ensure that the industry offered sound year-round career opportunities as opposed to low-paid and seasonal work.
He added: “The industry needs to reflect our culture, heritage, and traditions and put the Welsh language at the core of the history and future of our tourism sector.
“With the increasing popularity of visitors coming to Gwynedd, it brings a significant cost to our public services; from clearing and collecting rubbish, to repairing paths, to warden salaries and keeping public conveniences open and accessible.
“Unfortunately, this is a cost currently placed at the door of local taxpayers.
“A discussion is needed with the Welsh Government to seek a way forward and I am keen to begin that discussion sooner rather than later.
“By working together, we will ensure that Gwynedd remains a great place to visit, an economically viable county, but most of all, a comfortable and safe location for our local residents, wherever they reside.”
Quizzed on the issue on Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford seemed to welcome the prospect of a national debate, suggesting that a tourism tax was not off the table.
“I’m very happy to support the call for a mature debate on the future of the industry,” he said.
“We need a sustainable industry in Wales and one capable of thriving and offering livelihoods to people in those parts of Wales where tourism is such an important part of local economies.
“In the past I have taken debates over a tourism tax where people make a small contribution as part of their stay, providing a pot of money so that local communities can provide the facilities to ensure that they go on being attractive in future.
“A debate about the sort of tourism we want and how we make it sustainable and how we distribute the costs involved in making that industry sustainable seems a very good idea to me.”
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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