The National Park is already working on plans to attract ‘low impact’ visitors who stay longer and spend more money
An entirely new approach to tourism in Snowdonia is likely once the Covid crisis is over. Long-running tensions between visitors and local communities have been brought into sharp focus by the lockdown, prompting Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) to “explore options for recovery and renewal”. Key to this is a new marketing strategy designed to create high-value tourism with longer stays, greater spending and high-end facilities.
The long-term aim is to rid the region of “negative impact” visitors who are responsible for litter, gorse fires, sheep worrying and illegal off-roading. SNPA stressed future tourism policies will not be tailored for the wealthy or designed to exclude the less well-off. The park will always remain open to all and free to enter, said Helen Pye, SNPA’s head of engagement. Tourism is hugely important to the area but the lockdown had exposed fault-lines in host communities, many of which are concerned about the return of visitors, she said.
In other words, the approach should be more focused on “value over volume”. Currently visitor numbers are the main criteria of success and this has to change, said Helen. SNPA’s Sustainable Tourism team has already begun working with partner bodies on developing options. Its approach chimes with that of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which hopes a “sustainable recovery” from lockdown will add momentum to climate emergency measures.
As well as decarbonising transport and business, NRW wants to preserve the “renewed sense of place” that coronavirus has fostered within local communities. Speaking on World Environment Day 2020, NRW chair Sir David Henshaw said: “The impact of Covid-19 has brought sharply into focus the importance we place on our local environment – particularly when our access to it has been limited to serve a greater purpose.”
Wales can be like Slovenia
One example of good practice cited by SNPA is Slovenia, a tiny country surrounded by tourism honeypot countries such as Austria, Italy and Croatia. Slovenia has marketed itself as a high-value, green, cultural destination with alpine mountains, natural lakes, cave systems and medieval castles. Helen said SNPA was not unique in its thinking and that similar tourism goals are likely to be adopted by other national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty across Wales.
In reality North Wales has already moved a long way from its days as a bucket-and-spade destination for urban day-trippers. Currently promoted as Britain’s adventure capital, accommodation facilities and lengths of stays have improved massively in recent years. However the region’s wider tourism infrastructure, such as car parks and public toilets, will need upgrading if it is to attract “high benefit” visitors, said Helen.
Re-opening Snowdonia to visitors
Shorter term, SNPA said it will take a “cautious and measured approach” to re-opening the National Park. This is likely to see facilities used by local people opened before tourism hotspot destinations such as Snowdon, Cader Idris and the Ogwen valley. SNPA is watching developments across the border where beauty spots have re-opened. Initially many encountered “parking problems and toiletry issues”, and quickly learned the more pragmatic approach is to re-open local facilities. “For example, at lowland sites such as the Mawddach Trail, if you don’t re-open the car parks, people might park along local roads, causing problems,” said Helen. She said the process must be handled carefully so as “not to send out the wrong messages”. The authority is mindful both of local Covid concerns and the need to manage expectations by visitors. Paths leading to the summit of Snowdon have been closed off during the coronavirus lockdown
In theory social distancing is entirely possible on mountains. But there are pinch-points, such as stiles, while peak season crowds are always likely on summits such as Snowdon, which attracts 600,000 people a year. A range of potential solutions are being discussed. Some have already been rejected, such as one-way routes up and down mountains: as this would entail different start and finish points, public transport would be needed to ferry people in between. Similarly, SNPA will aim to prevent mass gatherings at sporting and other events until it is safe to do so. Activities involving smaller numbers of people, such as rock climbing, are likely to be permitted first, but only if they don’t place an extra burden on voluntary rescue services. During the lockdown SNPA wardens have been working with North Wales Police officers to check on national park visitors
SNPA is co-ordinating with similar bodies to ensure pan-Wales consistency. No timelines are in place but this week the Authority began drawing up plans for re-opening. It follows the receipt of new sector-specific guidance from the Welsh Government. Adam Daniel, head of SNPA’s wardens service, said local stakeholders, including landowners, community councils and farm unions, will be consulted before plans are finalised. Different ideas will be discussed for stepping down the restrictions in tune with Cardiff’s traffic light system. Extra warning signs and hand-washing facilities are inevitable and, if necessary, all changes will be reversed. “We will continue working with local communities so that if, for example, car parking becomes an issue in a particular area, we will act on it,” said Adam.
At present the authority is spending money on targeted social media advertising in cities like London and Manchester warning people to stay away.
It’s an outlay SNPA can ill-afford. Incomes from information centres and car parks has disappeared, and Plas Tan y Bwlch and Yr Ysgwrn remain closed, all of which impacts on footpath repairs and visitor transport.
The authority has lost more than £600,000 during the lockdown and the authority is predicting a £1.3m deficit.
“We’re looking at all possible options in terms of what we can do to fill this black hole in our finances,” said Helen.
Source: Daily Post