Making the case for travel to Wales

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T1101CardiffCastle_rs_HR [credit: Robert Silk]
Cardiff Castle boasts 2,000 years of history and has hosted world leaders, Pope John Paul II and celebrities. Wales has more castles per square mile than any country in the world. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

NEWPORT, Wales — In 2019, Wales welcomed 121,000 visitors from the U.S. The figure was just a tiny portion of the 4.5 million U.S. visitors who went to Great Britain that year, but it represented a hefty 21% jump from 2018. 

Now, with restrictions on international travel withering away, the New Jersey-sized country's tourism promoters would like to chart a course to place Wales more front and center in the minds of U.S. travelers so that they can regain that mojo they had in 2019. 

"People really generally don't know about Wales," acknowledged Stephen Nase, Visit Wales' director of marketing for North America. "I still come across people who think Wales is part of England."

The conversation tackles golfers' travel mindsets as well as the benefits and the challenges of convincing U.S. golfers to play Wales.

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Nase, who is based in New York, was among the Visit Wales contingent who attended the International Golf Travel Market (IGTM) conference just outside of Cardiff from Oct. 25-27. Prior to the trip, he led a small golf-oriented fam showing off some Wales' best seaside golf courses.  

Indeed, promoting Wales' 26 seaside links courses is a key part of Visit Wales' strategy to make new inroads into the U.S. market, Jason Thomas, Wales' director of culture, sport and tourism, emphasized during IGTM. 

Related Dispatch: The scenic seaside links in Wales are overlooked gems

"Golf in and of itself is a reason to travel. We know that people do," he said. 

But golf is far from the only attraction on offer in Great Britain's smallest nation. 

There's more than golf courses in Wales

Wales features more castles per square mile than any country in the world. It is the world's only country that offers a contiguous walking path covering the entire coastline -- all 870 miles of it.  Thomas and Nase also boast about Wales' beautiful mountains, beaches and natural parks; its unique cultural heritage; the fact that the native Welsh language is still commonly spoken; and about a lodging culture that includes luxurious manor houses and castles. 

Nase noted the upward trajectory Wales was on as a destination for U.S. visitors prior to the pandemic. The country's 121,000 U.S. visitors in 2019 was up from just 73,000 in 2012. In-roads, he said, had been made during those years in part by working with a growing group of tour operators that were including Wales in longer itineraries that also featured England and Scotland. 

But some of that progress, he said, has been lost because tour operators have turned first to their primary partners as they emerge from the pandemic. 

"We've got a lot of work to do to build this back and get people traveling again and looking at Wales again," Nase said. 

How to get to Wales

One structural challenge of selling Wales to American travelers is that the country has no direct air service from the U.S. Nase, though, emphasized that the capital of Cardiff is just two hours from London Heathrow, while the heart of north Wales is just one and half hours from Manchester. Ferry service from Dublin also delivers visitors to Holyhead on Wales' west coast. 

Thomas said Visit Wales intends to focus its upcoming promotional investment for the U.S. market in digital advertising, with a particular reliance on influencers. 

Budgeting for more fam trips for tour operators and travel advisors is also in the cards, especially for golf-oriented travel. 

And Nase said that Visit Wales does lots of product training for the travel trade. The DMO has an online travel advisor training program called Wales TravelPRO.

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