Tom Giffard is the Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for South Wales West and Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport.
In December 2018, after 52 years, the tolls on the two Severn bridges were scrapped by Alun Cairns, the then-Secretary of State, delivering on Welsh Conservative pledge to ensure we open up Wales to the rest of the UK.
In fact, tolls on the Severn estuary had been in place for nearly 800 years in various forms!
The impact on the Welsh economy is huge, with reports at the time predicting that the boost would be worth well over £100 million a year.
But I fear that once again Labour in Wales are finding new ways to hold back our economy and put jobs under threat.
The other week the Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, insisted that Labour and Plaid’s tourism tax should be called a ‘visitor levy’. He went on to say that: “it isn’t just people coming to Wales for tourism purposes; the levy will apply to visitors for other reasons as well.”
What on earth does this mean? Charging people to visit their aunt in Rhyl, perhaps? Or paying an extra tenner at the border when people are coming to watch rugby at Principality Stadium?
Urgent clarity is needed from the First Minister on what this means. Is he about to restore a 800-year-old tax that we Welsh Conservatives did away with? Labour already have plans to introduce extra charges for driving on Welsh roads or for parking at your workplace. Where does it end?
Wales is a proud nation and a brilliant place for tourism. Yet it is under constant assault from the Labour government here in Wales.
Not to do the job of Visit Wales, but we have a fantastic range of locations and attractions for all types of holidaymakers, from our national parks and AONBs in Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons, and the Gower peninsula to our historic castles – more per square mile than any other part of the world.
There is no doubt that the pandemic was extremely difficult for tourism businesses. It would have been even worse if not for the national Conservative Government’s furlough scheme, which was hugely significant and kept many livelihoods and businesses going.
But with the ending of restrictions and the summer coming, there should have been huge reasons for optimism.
Unfortunately, those hopes have been dashed. Thanks to Labour, people who run holiday lets, B&Bs, and other businesses are left worrying about the future instead of being able to focus on the present.
So, why are they worried? It’s not just the threat of Labour’s ‘visitor levy’; it’s the attack on self-catering accommodation as well. If premises do not reach an 182-day threshold, then council tax premiums will be set at a whopping 300 per cent from April 2023.
This will lead to the destruction of many businesses, many of which are family-run and based in those same communities. It will likely see huge job losses – especially devastating when around one in seven Welsh jobs relies on the tourism industry.
Lots of the talk at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show recently (the largest in Europe and another event under threat from Labour’s tax crazed ideas) was about how this is an acute betrayal of rural communities.
Farmers have been told by Cardiff Bay to diversify by using their smallholdings to generate revenue such by renting them as holiday lets – and now they’re being punished for doing it!
It is only the Welsh Conservatives standing up for our tourism and rural communities. Last month I fought to annul these reckless and ill-thought out regulations. Unsurprisingly, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems continued to betray the rural communities they claim to represent.
That seventh of Welsh jobs that rely on tourism are a huge part of our economy. The consequences of a decline in visitor numbers and the closing down of tourism businesses will be felt right across Wales.
A UK-wide survey of the sector in April 2021 by organisations including the Professional Association of Self-Caterers UK found that over 46 per cent of respondents have either had signs of problems with their mental health or are experiencing some form of anxiety or depression.
Keep in mind that would have been before Covid restrictions were fully ended and before these tourism policies were announced; I can’t imagine what that bleak picture looks like today.
The reasons cited for these measures are the issue of second homes in communities where there aren’t enough houses. Frankly, these anti-tourist measures won’t solve the issue and will actually drive investment and jobs away from the areas where holidaymakers go, especially our rural and coastal communities.
I do have a novel idea for Labour and their Plaid allies: if you want to solve the housebuilding crisis, then crack on and actually build some houses.
But instead, they’re currently building around a third of the number necessary. And our tourism sector is now having to pay the price for the Welsh Government’s failures.
I want people to visit Wales and enjoy everything that we have to offer, and I encourage readers to visit.
But do so while you can, because Labour in Wales are doing everything in their power to keep visitors away from the green, green grass of home.