Wales adopts major tourism strategy

A major new tourism strategy has been announced this week by the Welsh government.

The new strategy is intended to develop the Welsh tourism sector by 10 percent between now and 2020. Manon Williams, the new chief executive of tourism and marketing for Visit Wales, the body responsible for developing Welsh tourism, has been the guiding force behind the creation of the strategy, which is intended to maximise the country’s high quality and iconic products and events while at the same time building on its reputation.

The views of 1,000 individuals, operators and businesses involved in the Welsh tourism industry were sought as part of determining the strategy for future tourism in the country. Following this consultation, five key focus areas emerged. These are, Promoting the brand, Product development, People development, Profitable performance and Place building.

The strategy intends to place additional importance on the creation of more luxury and branded hotels, well-being facilities, heritage hotels that utilise historic and distinctive buildings, year-round attractions, activities, cultural experiences and innovative and unusual products.

In addition to focussing on the obvious potential of the British domestic market, Ireland, the USA and Germany have also been highlighted as key overseas markets that should be targeted for Welsh tourism growth.

Manon Williams said, ‘This strategy is the beginning of a new direction for tourism in Wales that will support growth in the sector during the coming years. We want to work more closely with partners in Wales and the travel trade to develop our offering and ultimately increase visitor spend to Wales.’

British beach makes top ten best in world list

A British beach has narrowly been voted on to the list of the top ten beaches in the world, achieving 10th position.

Rhossili Bay, a three-mile long beach on the Gower Peninsular in Wales, UK, achieved tenth spot on the list, which was compiled from the reviews and ratings of international tourists on the website of on-line travel community, TripAdvisor. The Welsh beach is a panoramic expanse of sand and dunes that has long been popular with beach sport fans and sightseers.

In a statement, David Phillips, leader of the City and County of Swansea, said, ‘We are delighted, but not surprised, that Rhossili Bay has been acknowledged. We hope that many more visitors continue to enjoy its outstanding natural beauty.’

Topping the list was a beach on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily, Italy. Known as Rabbit Beach, it is described as an unspoilt nature reserve that is not accessible by land, and is one of the few beached in the Mediterranean where loggerhead turtles lay their eggs.

Second on the list was Grace Bay, Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and third place was claimed by Whitehaven Beach in the Australian state of Queensland.

The full list of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 beaches in the world is as follows:

1. Rabbit Beach, Sicily – Italy

2. Grace Bay, Providenciales – Turks and Caicos

3. Whitehaven Beach, Queensland – Australia

4. Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha – Brazil

5. Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco), Culebra – Puerto Rico

6. Playa de las Catedrales, Ribadeo – Spain

7. Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande – Brazil

8. Horseshoe Bay Beach, Southampton Parish – Bermuda

9. Eagle Beach – Aruba

10. Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Swansea – Wales, UK

The best beach awards were based on the quality and quantity of traveller reviews and ratings for beaches on the company’s website, which were gathered over a 12-month period, according to a spokeswoman for TripAdvisor.

Brecon Beacons gain International Dark Sky Reserve status

The Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales, UK, has had the title, International Dark Sky Reserve, bestowed upon it.

Thanks to its lack of light pollution and its resultant suitability for showcasing the wonders of the night sky, the Welsh national park joins its neighbour from across the Bristol Channel, Exmoor National Park, in proudly bearing the accolade. There are only 5 sites around the world that have gained the status, and the three outside of the UK are Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand, Namibia Rand Nature Reserve in the southern African state of Namibia, and Mont Megantic in Quebec, eastern Canada.

It is recognition that the Brecon Beacons Park Society and National Park Authority have been working towards for two years, helped by support from a number of other organisations, including Dark Sky Wales, the Brecon Beacons Trust, the University of Glamorgan, and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales.

Martin Taylor-Morgan of the anti-light pollution organisation, the International Dark Sky Association, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘We are gradually losing the night to light pollution, which is eroding the view of the night sky. Fewer and fewer people are able to see the Milky Way from their back gardens. This is not just an aesthetic loss. It is a loss of part of our culture. Whilst no one wants all the lights to be switched off, we can improve the lighting we use in towns and cities. However, the best views of the night sky come from places such as the Brecon Beacons, [where people] have dedicated themselves to protecting and restoring the night sky for all to enjoy.’

Despite already being a popular destination for hikers and those who appreciate scenery on a grand scale, the Brecon Beacons National Park is likely to see an increased number of visitors this summer, following the announcement of its inclusion as one of the world’s official Dark Sky locations. Established in 1957, it is one of Wales’ three National Parks, the other two being Snowdonia National Park and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Network Rail Announces Growth Plans in Wales

Rail projects in Wales are set to gain from investment, with Network Rail, a company that operates the UK’s railway network, having committed one of the largest rail investments for development of the Welsh railway infrastructure.

The new investment is intended to help the Welsh railway system to carry more passengers and to improve the network’s reliability and time keeping.

Mark Langman, the Network Rail route managing director for Wales, said, ‘This is an exciting time for the railway. We are now carrying a record number of people on record numbers of trains at record levels of reliability. We are also operating a more efficient railway, with the level of public subsidy almost halved from its peak in 2006.

The Wales Route network has a long and proud history, but inherent in its past lie many of the challenges of the future. The plans we have set out will deliver the biggest investment in the Welsh rail network since the Victorian era. Much of our infrastructure still dates from that period and this investment will help bring the network into the 21st century.

Wales relies on rail and our plans outlined in the Strategic Business Plan will deliver a real improvement to passengers with the potential for quicker and more frequent journeys on a network that is more resilient and reliable. Better links to London and improved commuting opportunities around Wales, including to the new enterprise zones, will also help drive economic growth across the country.’

Passenger numbers in Wales have increased considerably in the last 10 years, putting stress on the existing rail infrastructure. The new investment plans to reduce the pressure on the existing rail network, for a better and faster service.

February half-term: cut the costs of a family holiday

Everyone with a family knows how expensive it can be to take your kids on holiday, especially if you can only bring them away when school has broken up. That’s why we’ve put together some tips on how you can cut the costs of a family break this February half-term, so you can have a trip away together without breaking the bank.

1.       Enjoy a staycation

Many people instantly think of a holiday abroad with sun, sea and sand when they hear family getaways. But we want to prove that you don’t need to jet away to a sunny location to enjoy yourself – although, this is, of course, sometimes nice too!

We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to fantastic places in the UK to visit, from Wales and Scotland to Dorset and London. Whether you want a city break where your kids can soak up some culture or you are more interested in spending some time in the fresh, open air, you’ll find something that will pique your interest in Britain. So, why do you need to go anywhere else?

Just think of how much money you will save on aeroplane tickets, particularly if you have a number of children to pay for!

2.       Visit friends or family

These days, lots of people have friends and family all over the country – we know we certainly do! So a school holiday like February half-term is a good opportunity to make the most of these connections and visit your loved ones.

If the kids’ grandparents live in different areas of the country, we’re sure they’d love to spend time with your little ones. This could be a great chance for them to bond with one another – and also give you a break for a few days! But if you’re planning to visit friends, we would check that they’re OK to have your brood around for a week or so, as you don’t want to outstay your welcome.

3.       Stay in a home away from home

You don’t have to just stay with relatives or close mates to enjoy seeing the beautiful sights in the UK, as you can rent a cottage, farmhouse or barn and relax in a home away from home. These types of accommodation are particularly popular among families, as you can completely relax in a property of your own, with the kids’ toys strewn in the living room, the children being noisy early in the morning and appliances such as a TV and DVD player on hand.

With hotels and B&Bs, you are forced to pay for lunches and dinners out for the entire family every night. However, with self-catering accommodation, you can save a lot of money by whipping up something for dinner yourself. We think this is particularly useful if you have kids with fussy palates, and will mean you don’t have to budget so much for your trip during this busy school holiday period.

What’s more, if you have siblings with children too, you can pitch in for a large holiday cottage in Wales from Sykes Cottages or somewhere else in the UK, and split the costs of the accommodation and food between you all, which will save you quite a bit.

4.       Get active and creative

You might have grand plans of taking your youngsters to many museums, galleries and activity centres during the February half-term, but it is not cheap to do this, and with every extra child and day spent away, the costs can spiral out of control.

We’d recommend finding things to do that don’t cost a penny. Bring your bikes along and you can go for long rides through the countryside, which will enable children to enjoy being outside in the fresh air. But, this is February and if the weather takes a turn for the worse, it is a good idea to have a back-up plan. In this case, we’d whip out paint sets, crayons, reams of paper and any other crafty bits you can find. You and your kids can have hours of fun trying to make something – just be sure you are able to clean up all your mess afterwards!

3 British staycations which tick all the right boxes

If you’re already planning your summer holiday for next year, you might be interested to learn that many Brits are choosing a staycation i.e. a holiday in Britain. As holiday budget are tighter and the economy struggles, many parts of the UK will experience a boost to their summer season. Whether you’re looking to explore and soak in history, play on the beach or rejuvenate in tranquil surroundings, Britain has it all and here we look at 5 types of holiday in Britain that tick all the right boxes:

1. Beach Holidays

A holiday at the seaside is the quintessential British holiday. For generations, a beach holiday has been a favourite with us Brits, after all, what’s there not to like. The beaches in England are some of the safest beaches in the World with RNLI coastguards making sure everyone is safe and sound. Wales, Devon and Cornwall provide the most popular beach holidays with resorts such as Newquay (Cornwall), Tenby (Wales) and Woolacombe (Devon) catering for every holidaymaker with a wide selection of hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites available. Caravan holidays in Devon are one of the most popular type of holidays for families with caravan parks offering cheap prices, great amenities and loads to do. Camping in Devon is also a firm favourite for those holidaying on a budget – popular with younger groups, couples, families and of course surfers looking to surf the fantastic surf spots of Woolacombe and Croyde.

2. Glamping Holidays

First off, if you haven’t been glamping (glamorous camping) you won’t be the only ones. Only recently have these holidays become popular and the ‘glamping’ word become what it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. Spend a weekend in a bow-topped caravan in the middle of an apple orchard in Somerset; a few days in a yurt in the Lake District overlooking Britain’s tallest peak; or you can spend your holiday in a luxury Iron Age roundhouse – complete with thatched roof on the picturesque Bodrifty Farm. Glamping holidays are perfect for those that love the great outdoors and something a little different.

3. Canal Boat Holidays

Canal boating holidays have become more and more popular over the years, especially with families. It’s hard to imagine anything more traditionally British than meandering through countryside canals on a narrowboat, breathing in the country air. This is a holiday for those who like relaxation, nature and exploration whilst spending quality time with loved ones. A week living on a hired narrowboat from a company like Anglo Welsh and working the locks is great fun for young and old and using the canal boat as your base, go off and explore local towns, shops and restaurants at your own pace.

Brecon Beacon Electric Buggies serve Eco-warriors with a need for speed

The Brecon Beacons, a national park in Wales, has launched an electric buggy service to transport visitors.

The park has become the first in the UK to allow tourists to travel using a fleet of eco-friendly electric buggies. The low-energy vehicles may be used to explore the national park and visit various places of interest. Six vehicles have been provided for the eco-friendly traveller, all supplied by Renault.

The Renault Twizy can touch speeds of 50mph, and travel 50 miles before stopping to be recharged. The park has provided a network of 26 points to charge the vehicles in between transits. Located at pubs, cafes and visitor attractions, the charging points will allow travellers to recharge their vehicle while they explore the nearby amenities.

Tourists wishing to use the buggies will need to rent them from participating hotels and self-catering accommodation providers at a rate of GBP45 a day. Husband-and-wife team, Alison Kidd and Peter Williams, who also run a travel network, spearheaded the not-for-profit initiative. They said that the buggies would help to increase tourism while making travel in the park sustainable.

Dr Kidd, co-director of the Eco Travel Network, said, ‘It puts the Brecon Beacons on an international map. This is a different way to travel around that is fun, and happens to be green. We have something original to offer to make this an eco-tourism destination. If people want a fun and different way of exploring this beautiful area that’s actually fun and green, then come and try it. It makes the journey – instead of being boring, the journey itself is an experience. We are trying to make being green fun, and the nice thing about the Twizys is that it’s fun to do, but it’s actually quite green.’

After piloting the project last year, the couple launched the scheme this year with GBP25,000 in funding from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund. They direct the Eco Travel Network, along with Ian Foster, owner of the Westview Guesthouse, near Hay-on-Wye.

The team is also planning to encourage the local population to use the buggies in autumn to make travelling more sustainable.

Visit Wales Announces Funds for Welsh Tourism Industry

Visit Wales, an agency that promotes Welsh tourism, has announced that new jobs are to be created by its Tourism Investment Support Scheme (TISS).

The agency has allocated £3.8million for the development of tourism businesses in Wales. The fund is financing existing and new tourism businesses to upgrade the quality of services where there are gaps in demand.

The Welsh business minister, Edwina Hart, said, ‘The creation of 300 new jobs in one of our key growth sectors is excellent news for Wales and is especially welcome during these difficult economic times for the UK. It also shows that despite the disappointing seasonal weather, the future looks bright for tourism in Wales.

Tourism is worth around £4bn a year to the Welsh economy and there is enormous potential to expand so we cannot afford to sit on our laurels. To be able to compete against stiff competition elsewhere in the UK and beyond, it is vital that we must keep bringing new quality products to the market and improve the visitor experience.

It has been good to see that take-up of our TISS funding has been very healthy over the last year as tourism businesses across Wales have striven to improve the quality of their product offering and go from strength to strength.’

TISS investment has previously helped Browns Hotel, in Laugharne, Wales, to develop from a building that was abandoned and derelict, into a boutique hotel with 15 guest rooms.

Browns Hotel general manager, Charlie Dyer, said, ‘The transformation in recent months has been astonishing. With this vital support from the Welsh Government we were able to revamp what had become a derelict building and I am delighted that our reopening comes in time for the national celebration of Dylan Thomas’ birth centenary.’

First Hotel Indigo to Open in Wales

Wales will witness the opening of a new Hotel Indigo, with the Hotel Indigo Queen Street Cardiff to open in the Welsh Capital city.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), a UK-based owner, manager and franchiser of hotels and resorts, has entered into an agreement to open its first Hotel Indigo brand property in Wales. The property will be managed by Sanguine Hospitality Ltd, which is currently operating four other Hotel Indigo properties, including the Hotel Indigo Birmingham and Hotel Indigo Liverpool.

The chief executive officer of Sanguine Hospitality, Robin Wicks, said, ‘Cardiff is the political and cultural capital of Wales, with a rich heritage and a strong leisure, corporate and sporting background, making it an ideal location for a Hotel Indigo. There are very few boutique hotels in the market and we’re confident Hotel Indigo Queen Street Cardiff will attract domestic and international guests who want to experience the local area.’

Hotel Indigo Queen Street Cardiff will have 92 rooms, and will be located close to Cardiff Castle. The hotel will feature Victorian designs, in a reference to the history of the community, and its amenities include a restaurant and bar, complimentary Wi-Fi access, and a 24-hour fitness centre.

The senior vice president for Development and Design in Europe for IHG, Robert Shepherd, said, ‘Hotel Indigo is one of our youngest brands. It launched in 2004 and has become a great success story, over the past three years, it’s been the fastest growing brand in our portfolio. We brought it to Europe in 2009 and there are now seven in the region, with another 10 in the pipeline which will open in the next three to five years.’

Wales Gears Up For Olympic Torch Relay

The Welsh town of Monmouth, in the UK, is preparing to receive the Olympic torch as it reaches the town today.

The Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, said, ‘The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay is Wales’ moment to shine, and a chance to showcase the people and places that make the country great. Over the next five days, the Olympic torch will be carried by around 550 runners along more than 300 streets in Wales and provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the Games as a country.

I congratulate the many deserving people across Wales who have been selected to play their part in the celebrations. I look forward to seeing everybody join together to celebrate their communities, rally behind our athletes, and show the world all the great things that Wales, and the whole of the UK stands for. On arrival of the Olympic torch and the beginning of the Welsh leg of the torch relay, that the event will shine a light on the places, people, values and traditions of Wales.’

Ms. Gillan will be attending a torch relay reception today, at the Shire Hall in Monmouth, arranged by Monmouthshire County Council.

Hundreds of people are expected to line the streets in celebration of the Olympic spirit, as Hazel Cave-Brown-Cave, 44, from Raglan, will carry the torch through the town’s streets. Hazel is an athlete and runs fundraising marathons for Bobath Cymru, and has recently completed treatment for breast cancer. She will share the torch relay with another athlete, Robyn Tyler, 21 from Monmouth.

Commenting on the Olympic torch relay, Hazel said, ‘It is a real honour for me to be carrying the torch and I still find it very hard to believe that I have been chosen from the many people nominated.’