Conjuring the same marketing tactics as the magic of Disney could put Wales on the world map as a top tourism destination – with the added bonus of having real castles.
That was the message of Ken Skates, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, when he addressed a meeting of an influential group of business leaders in Wrexham.
Mr Skates, who is also the AM for Clwyd South, was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Wrexham Business Professionals at the town’s Ramada Plaza Hotel.
The group of is made up of highly skilled professional firms of solicitors and accountants working together to raise the profile of expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
Members at the packed meeting also heard from Manon Antoniazzi, Director of Tourism, Sport and Heritage for the Welsh Government, how Wales is bidding to attract more visitors from countries such as Germany and the USA.
According to Mr Skates, tourism in Wales had just hit a new high, with latest figures showing the country had attracted a record-breaking 10 million visitors in the past year – the best performance since the present recording system was set up in 2006.
It was vital to build on this success story and he suggested Wales could look at the approach used by the Disney global entertainment giant when it came to marketing its top attractions.
He said: “If there’s one company that is superb at selling its ideas and selling its brand it is the Disney Corporation.
“When you visit their theme parks you are presented with very distinct worlds, for instance the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the Hollywood Studios.
“The image of each of them is as a safe place, a place for fairy tales and place for dreams, and I think we could look at Disney’s marketing principles when we’re thinking about Welsh branding and promoting what Wales does best to the world.
“However, I’m not saying we want to build another Disneyland in Wales because we have real castles of our own.”
Mr Skates outlined the importance of tourism to the whole country and North Wales in particular, which he said was “punching above its weight” on visitor numbers.
In Wrexham alone the industry generates £98.4 million a year and employs more than 1,610 people.
Developing tourism in North East Wales was a priority so that it was not merely an area through which visitors pass on their way to North West Wales. The aim was to persuade visitors to stay in the area longer than at present.
Mr Skates added: “Tourism brings in £8.7 billion a year to Wales and provides 15 per cent of the country’s jobs.
“North Wales is the best performing region, generating £1.5 billion a year and employing 30,000 people. Of all visitors to Wales, 36 per cent come to the north.”
He said it was vital to build on these figures and to persuade people to stop and spend more time in North Wales when they are heading for other areas of the country, such as the North West of England.
While Wales tourism’s key growth markets were North West England and the Midlands, Mr Skates said major efforts were being made to market the country’s many attractions much further afield, in the UK and also abroad to places like Germany and the USA.
He explained that Germany was seen as a “crucial market” and that the Visit Wales marketing campaign was currently being rolled out there with the help of major partners in the international tourism industry.
Mr Skates suggested that another important area of tourism growth could be to build on the “incredible” industrial heritage of North Wales.
In the pipeline for the future were plans to take advantage of next year’s centenary of author Roald Dahl, building on the success of last year’s Dylan Thomas centenary which had generated advertising for Wales to the value of £13.5 million in the United States alone.
The Deputy Minister had warm praise for Wrexham Business Professionals, stressing the “incredible work” they do.
He said: “Government can help to facilitate and support economic growth but it’s very much business that creates prosperity and ensures we have good employment.”
Mr Skates added: “My challenge to your members is to come up with ways on how you can work together with the Welsh Government and local authorities to deliver events in North Wales to ensure we can bring in even more visitors.”
The event’s other keynote speaker Manon Antoniazzi, the Welsh Government’s Chief Executive Officer of Tourism and Marketing, said it was the aim to grow Wales’s tourism industry by 10 per cent by 2020 and to help do this there was currently a focus on more luxury and heritage hotels and spas around the country.
She said that a new Visit Wales website was up and running there was also now a major presence on social media which had led to half a million followers.
Giving examples of the importance of attracting foreign visitors to Wales, she said that 2013 had seen 93,000 tourists from the United States which had generated £47 million in revenue.
Ms Antoniazzi cited Destination Wrexham as the “perfect example” of partnership working at locally.
Another speaker was on hand to give more details about what the organisation was doing to boost the county’s tourism offer was its manager, Joe Bickerton, an officer with Wrexham Council.
He described how Destination Wrexham had launched a number of initiatives, including its Tourism Ambassadors scheme, in which more 90 local businesses involved with the tourism industry, from restaurants to hotels, had already signed up to promote the benefits of the area.
The fourth speaker at the meeting was Laurel Smith, volunteer and community involvement officer for the National Trust’s Erddig property in Wrexham.
Wrexham Business Professionals chair Peter Butler, of GHP Legal, thanked all the speakers for their fascinating insights.
He said: “Tourism is an important and growing component of the local economy and one that has the potential to put Wrexham on the path to prosperity.”