A tourism park in Presteigne welcomed James Evans MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, to discuss boosting tourism in the area. It comes as the Welsh Government are planning a visitor levy for Wales.
Mr Evans visited managing director Glenn on the site of Rockbridge Park, where conversation turned to sustainable tourism, and how the visitor levy may impact the site.
"It's important to visit businesses like this in my constituency." James Evans said. "The tourism industry is a key part of the economy in Brecon and Radnor, but also across Wales. We have to ensure places are available for visitors to come and enjoy our countryside. A lot of the tourism businesses bring in a lot of employment. Glenn employs 40 people across the parks he has. That's a huge amount, so it's important to safeguard businesses like this to make sure we get jobs in the area to ensure we boost our local economy."
The tourism levy, which the Welsh Government are proposing, will give local authorities the power to decide how they want to introduce the levy. No costs have been decided yet, and the Welsh Government say that measures are unlikely to come into force for several years if approved by the Senedd. Mr Evans would like to see the levy money being used as a way to profile Wales across the rest of the UK and Europe. "Powys County Council will be deciding their tourism levy on overnight stays. I've been very clear I don't agree with a tourism levy in Wales. To tell them we'll be charging them for coming here, from England and within Wales, I think it gives a negative message to tourists in Wales."
It would mean that if someone is from Wales, they would still need to pay if they decided to go and get a break somewhere in the country. "If you're living in Cardiff, coming to Presteigne, you'll be charged for your overnight stay. I want to see the best way it can be implemented, to make sure that the money that is collected from sites like this can be reinvested into promoting mid-Wales and our tourism industry. That's the best way to spend the money and not have it get lost in the ether in county halls."
For Glenn, there is a concern that people will choose other areas should Powys County Council impose higher rates. "Rockbridge Park has an area where you can live, and where you can holiday, with lodges to rent. Tourism is important for Wales. Here we're shooting ourselves in the foot by taxing things that bring in income. If you get day visitors, they won't pay. They'll use the facilities and then leave. Whereas people on holiday will eat at local restaurants, support the area, and boost the economy. But then they're going to get penalised. We don't like the tax. Somewhere we have to find the least bad way of deciding what's going to happen with it. I hope we can market Wales to the rest of the UK and the wider world. If we're going to be taxed, let's spend it wisely. Don't let the money disappear."
It's this wider advertising of the rest of Wales that Mr Evans thinks should be improved. "We see the Brecon Beacons as the honey pot of Brecon and Radnor. Elan Valley is seen as a honey pot. It gets overdone. What I want to see is sustainable tourism right across Brecon and Radnor in all our towns and villages. So when people come here they understand there is more to this area than the Beacons and the Elan Valley. I think it's important that in a future tourism strategy, we can find a way of having that sustainable tourism here in mid-Wales that highlight what we have to offer in this beautiful part of the world."
Situated on the B4356 road, Rockbridge Park is only one mile away from the town of Presteigne. Glenn hopes that he can find a way for the park to be linked to the town. "Rockbridge Park has a beautiful setting, one mile away from Presteigne. They get business from us, but they'd get so much more if we had safe access from our park to the town. The road is dangerous and very narrow."
Whilst Glenn would love to see a pavement implemented, Mr Evans is instead keen to improve current infrastructure. "I think it's important we create those active travel routes. With the climate crisis we have at the minute, we need to ensure people have a way to walk and use bikes in a safe way. The infrastructure of the roads isn't wide enough for pavement. How we will do it will be difficult, and I don't think we will see pavement along the road.
"I'd love to see it happen, but with the financial footprint that the council and the Welsh Government have, I don't see that happening in the future. Are there ways in which a footpath can be upgraded to encourage people to walk, to cycle? That's the way we can do it. Improving existing infrastructure that's here, rather than putting new in. I'd much rather people walk around the countryside, and link it back to the town as well."
Being the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Mr Evans is keen to stress the importance of getting out into the Welsh countryside. With sweeping views of the Welsh mountains, Rockbridge Park is in prime position to do just that. "Going out for a walk in the countryside improves mental health. I think we need to find better ways to get people out and about. You're not in the hustle and bustle of the city. You can come here and listen to the river, and the birds, and have fresh air in your lungs. I've been open about my own struggles with my mental health and I find going for a walk helps me relax. We need to encourage people to use our countryside, and make it more accessible, so people can enjoy the countryside, enjoy life and enjoy being alive."