Saturday, August 11, 2012


Last week, I spent four days camping with my family on a site just outside Barmouth which, to put it mildly, was a complete change from last year’s holiday on an Indonesian tropical island.

Apart from the fact that I haven’t been camping since my days with the Pwllheli Sea Scouts over thirty years ago, I have previously failed to see any attraction in these outdoor vacations, preferring the comfort of a hotel room to the frontier excitement of a caravan site.

Yet, despite my trepidations about the whole trip, I have to admit that I had a brilliant time, despite the changing weather we had.

And while the road to Barmouth may not have been as life changing as the road travelled by Saul to Damascus, I can admit that I am now a convert to this type of holidaying.

Part of the attraction was the fact that we had hired a classic 1967 VW Camper Van from a Mold-based company, Split the Difference.

Yes, it was a tight squeeze for two adults and two children but it made the whole holiday more worthwhile travelling around in a van that got more admiring glances than an international supermodel.

More importantly, thanks to the tight space and the absence of any internet for the kids, we actually got to spend some quality time together, which, with increasingly busy lives, is difficult to do.

But what really amazed me, when I actually had the time to look around me, was how stunningly beautiful Wales is, even in the driving rain.

Our campsite, on the side of a hill in Arthog, overlooked the magnificent Mawddach estuary and had a view that was as good as any you will find in the world, especially as the sun set over the Llyn Peninsula.

But it was not only the glorious landscape that was fantastic. The welcome we received at the farm we stayed at, as well as when travelling across South Gwynedd, was second to none and made the holiday a bit more special.

With such natural advantages, how is the tourism industry doing overall in Wales?

The latest statistics show that it remains a critical industry, generating an annual spend of £1.7billion in 2011 from 9.7 million overnight trips. North Wales continues to attract the largest share of overnight UK tourists on a holiday.

This represented an increase of 12 per cent on 2010, demonstrating that more people are holidaying at home rather than going abroad during the economic downturn.

In fact, Welsh tourism accounts for 7.5% of all British trips, well above what would be expected of us.

But could we be doing better?

For example, there remain questions over whether Wales has really taken advantage of the Olympics as an opportunity to publicise the country not only as a location for tourists but also as a place for businesses to relocate.

Certainly, whilst the Scots have moved staff into a temporary venue set up on London's Pall Mall to showcase Scottish industries and promote investment, little seems to have been done by the Welsh Government to promote Wales in a similar vein.

But all is not lost. The tourism body VisitBritain has indicated that, during the next four years, an extra 4.4 million overseas visitors will come to the UK, spending an extra £2.3bn in the process.

The challenge for Wales will be to ensure that a significant proportion of these come over the border and experience the best of Welsh hospitality.Certainly, if they enjoy their holiday in Wales half as much as I did, then the tourism industry has a very bright future