By Angela Jameson
Growth of tourism in Wales is faltering, according to a recently released progress report on the Wales Tourist Board's (WTB) Tourism 2000 strategy.
Tourism 2000 was launched in 1994 to map the way in which tourism in Wales should be developed and marketed up to the end of the century.
Targets were based on 1.5% per annum growth in trips and 5% per annum growth in spending in the domestic market. Overseas visitor targets were based, optimistically, on 6% per annum growth in visitor numbers and 8% per annum growth in spending. However, achievement so far has fluctuated widely.
The economy in Wales is more dependent on tourism than in other parts of the UK, with 5% of gross domestic product produced by overnight tourism spending. So news that Wales is losing market share compared to the UK as a whole is worrying.
Domestic trips from within the UK to Wales showed strong growth in 1994 and 1995. The 10.4 million trips made in 1995 exceeded the target for 2000 of 9.3 million. This growth matched that of the rest of the UK, which was up by 10% on 1994, to 121 million trips. Consequently, Wales maintained its market share of around 8.7% of UK domestic trips.
However, spending by domestic tourists in Wales has not reached Tourism 2000 targets. There has also been a slight drop in Wales' share of total UK expenditure.
Overseas visitor trips to Wales have shown slight growth, but have nevertheless fallen short of targets. Wales' share of the overseas market has also continued to decline.
Fortunately, spending by overseas visitors has been exceeding targets and, in this respect, Wales' market share has at least been maintained.
Despite the slow growth in the number of trips, the original targets of the Tourism 2000 strategy - to achieve 1.1 million trips and £244m in spending - have been maintained. But achieving them in the next few years will require a special effort in the promotion of Wales overseas, says the WTB's report.
Another element of Tourism 2000 was to create 10,000 new jobs, directly or indirectly. This has proved to be an ambitous target and may need to be reassessed, according to the progress report.
Development projects funded by the WTB since 1993 have so far generated more than 800 jobs directly, and the equivalent of a further 350 indirect jobs.
Tourism 2000 has also emphasised the role of tourism information centres (TICs) and computer-based information delivery. Since 1992, the TIC network has expanded to 85 centres. The number of centres open all year has grown from 46 to 59.
There has been a steady growth in the use of TICs, especially by overseas visitors. This development suggests that, while the number of overseas visitors has not reached Tourism 2000's ambitious targets, underlying growth is firm.
Trade this autumn in Wales got off to a positive start, according to the latest occupancy figures from WTB and Pannell Kerr Forster.
September's bedroom occupancy for all hotels was up by one percentage point on 1995 at 68%. In the year to September, all hotels showed a one point rise in room occupancy, to 58%, while bedspace occupancy also rose one point to 45%.
Meanwhile, Government figures just released for the UK as a whole reveal that overseas visitors numbered 3.1 million in August. Spending was up by 3.2% on August 1995 to £1.6bn.
The signs so far point to another record year, with the total visitor numbers up to the end of August showing a 12% increase on 1995, to 17.9 million. Spending is also up by 7% to £8.5bn.