Image credit: Visit Britain Andrew Pickett
There s plenty to sing about in the land of song, writes Katie McGonagle
If the thought of a holiday to Wales conjures up images of dusty old castles or a day on Barry beach Gavin & Stacey-style, it’s time for an update.
This green and pleasant land boasts the best of UK holidays all in one country, combining rolling hills, wild yet beautiful beaches (Rhossili Bay in the Gower made TripAdvisor’s top 10 world beaches last year), adrenaline-fuelled adventures, steam trains straight from a bygone era, and some of the British Isles’ best entertainment venues.
It seems more of us are starting to wake up to the destination: in the first 10 months of 2014, the number of domestic breaks to Wales rose by 2.7% to 5.77 million – bringing the country’s market share of British holidays to 12.1% of the total.
This isn’t just a numbers game though; there’s some serious commission to be made. In that same January to October period last year, the expenditure on Welsh holidays increased at an even greater rate – by 7.3% to a total of £1.19 billion. So not only are more of us travelling to Wales, but we’re also spending more when we do.
To get your hands on a share of those lucrative bookings, here are a few ideas on how to sell Wales.
Family: Fun and games
With Blue Flag beaches, 331 miles of traffic-free hiking and biking routes, and a host of free attractions – plus the bonus of avoiding the airport – the family appeal is obvious.
Budget-friendly B&Bs, cottages and campsites are the norm, so it could suit those who like the independence of their own accommodation or the action of a holiday park.
In the latter category, Haven’s six parks – three along the north coast and three on the south – boast lively facilities.
These include an outdoor SplashZone at Greenacres in Porthmadog, go-karting at Presthaven Sands in Prestatyn and a high RopeWorks course at Hafan y Mor in Pwllheli, while a zip wire has been added to Quay West in New Quay this year.
Moreover, four of the six parks are close to the Snowdonia or Pembrokeshire national park, and all are in or near areas of outstanding natural beauty or special scientific interest, which is a selling point with nature-loving little ones.
Demanding similar energy levels, families at Hoseasons’ two Go Active parks – Brynteg, just north of Snowdonia, and Talacre Beach in Holywell, Flintshire – can take their pick of zorbing, snorkelling, archery and paintball on-site, while white-water rafting, mountain biking and horse-riding are on hand in the national park.
Hoseasons has other specialist family product in Wales, including two Bouja luxury caravan parks, a Daisy Door cottage and two Evermore luxury lodges, but those are just a fraction of the company’s 108 lodges scattered across the country.
Cottages4you boasts 1,400 self-catering properties across Wales, and has seen bookings grow by a third year-on-year, especially in the Baby & Toddler and Luxury collections.
Among the best-sellers are properties capable of hosting extended family stays, such as Cefn y Gwynt in Cardigan, which sleeps up to 12 (from £1,091 for three nights); or charming, individual accommodation such as Upper Sign Farmhouse in Llandrindod Wells, set on a working farm and well placed for mountain biking, walking along Glyndwr’s Way, and fishing in the River Wye (£418 for four nights in September, pets welcome).
Relax: Rest easy
Wales might have its share of adventure activities opening this year – Go Below began operating the world’s longest and deepest underground zip line in March, and Surf Snowdonia opens in a former aluminium works this summer – but it’s also great for a quiet escape, either as an extra break after a busy main holiday or for clients who prefer to take it slow.
Shearings bases most of its tours in seaside towns Llandudno and Tenby, so passengers can visit the likes of Anglesey, Portmeirion and the Welsh Highland Railway without having to switch hotels each night.
Saga similarly uses The Dunoon Hotel in Llandudno and Stradey Park Hotel in Llanelli as centres for a host of special-interest holidays, from a Castles and Railways programme soon to go on sale from the former, to a new History and Heritage tour and repeat performance of New Orleans Jazz at Christmas at the latter.
For a rural escape, Warner Leisure Hotels’ Bodelwyddan Castle in north Wales boasts 260 acres of parkland plus a National Portrait Gallery satellite collection of Victorian artworks, although it’s also home to the brand’s signature Star Breaks for those who want added entertainment from the likes of Lee Mead, Jason Donovan and Billy Ocean.
Alternatively, tap into the growing market for garden breaks with Saga’s horticultural holiday led by a specialist host, or Grand UK Holidays’ new trip, The Houses & Gardens of Hidden Wales, which visits lesser-known spots such as the 16th century Grade I listed gardens of Gregynog (five days, from £299).
Rail Tours: Steam ahead
When it comes to specialist breaks, rail is the undisputed king in Wales. Thanks to the country’s history of coal and slate mining, the countryside is criss-crossed with small-gauge industrial railways that have reinvented themselves as sightseeing routes.
They include Ffestiniog Railway, the oldest surviving rail company in the world, founded in 1832 to carry slate from the mountains of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the ships at Porthmadog.
Image credit: Visit Wales
Today it offers the best vantage point on the untamed scenery of Snowdonia National Park and, along with steam trains such as Snowdon Mountain Railway and Welsh Highland Railway, ramps up the nostalgia factor on many a rail tour.
Those are all featured in Railtrail’s Wonderful Wales itinerary, along with the Llanberis Lake Railway, Conwy Valley Line and Great Orme Tramway (six days, from £795), giving passengers a comprehensive introduction to the country’s heritage journeys.
Yet these tours aren’t just for train-spotters: Shearings and Grand UK say rail tops their lists of most-popular themed breaks, and even niche rail operators add other attractions to broaden the appeal.
Great Rail Journeys’ Railways & Castles tour visits Caernarfon and Conwy castles, while sister brand Rail Discoveries adds a guided tour of Caernarfon and a stop in the pretty village of Portmeirion, all while ticking off the country’s most famous rail routes.
Even Ffestiniog Travel, which takes its name from the railway, adds canal cruises and a trip to Penrhyn Castle to its Wales: Canals, Steam & Heritage tour.
Culture: Entertainment value
“Cardiff is our key selling destination when it comes to Wales,” says SuperBreak’s national sales manager, Graham Balmforth.
“The city is a draw for some of the big-hitting shows from London that go on tour around the UK. It’s important for agents who are within about two hours’ catchment of Cardiff to ensure they are up to speed on all the shows coming to the city.”
With Jersey Boys, Annie and Shrek all showing in the city this year, tickets can be packaged up with accommodation and added value such as a free dinner on the first night to help close a sale, adds Balmforth.
Yet it’s not just about theatre: uptake of Saga’s Welsh National Opera holidays has been so high that the operator is planning more opera breaks at the Wales Millennium Centre (which marks its 10th anniversary this year) and Venue Cymru in Llandudno next year.
Image credit: Visit Britain David Angel
For customers who prefer their cultural experience on a plate, Welsh food is also enjoying something of a ‘moment’right now: five Welsh restaurants have been awarded a Michelin star this year – the most since 2002 – while food-themed excursions are springing up in recognition of the quality of Welsh produce.
Food Adventure, which offers 10% commission to agents, runs a Coastal Foraging Adventure that involves participants gathering the ingredients for laverbread as well as shrimps, whelks, mussels and seaweed at Ogmore-by-Sea, near Bridgend, before tucking in to lunch at a 250-year-old pub (£50).
Or for those who prefer a little less coastal spray with their supper, there’s a Welsh wine-making tour with cheese tasting near Monmouth (£45).
How to sell Wales
Tariq Khan, head of trade sales, Hoseasons:
“More people are taking two or three short breaks a year, rather than one long holiday. That’s great news for agents, as it means more bookings. But remember drive times for short breaks are generally up to two hours, so there’s really no point showcasing Wales to customers on the east coast.”
Mike Bowers, national sales manager, Shearings:
“Take time to find out about customers’ interests, then use this knowledge to cross-sell. Popular themes include steam railways and TV shows such as Coast and classic 1960s programme The Prisoner, which was filmed in Portmeirion. These provide a great incentive to visit.”
Nick Rudge, managing director, Cottages4you:
“To be successful in the Welsh holiday business, it’s important to look at booking statistics, to understand what customers want. We’ve seen properties near the coast sell, on average, one more week than those inland. Properties that accept a pet also sell one more week, and those in a national park sell two more weeks than those in the rest of Wales.”
Warner’s We Love Comedy weekend at Bodelwyddan Castle, featuring Jimmy Cricket, starts at £229, based on two sharing a standard room for three nights from August 3.
A three-night weekend break for a family of four in a lodge at Hoseasons’ Go Active park Talacre Beach starts at £527. A week costs from £1,029.
SuperBreak packages tickets to Shrek in Cardiff, plus a night’s accommodation at the Holiday Inn Cardiff City Centre, from £67 in December.
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