As a result of Covid a number of challenges have arisen in rural Wales in recent months and certainly one of the biggest tensions is the relationship of rural communities with tourism. As we entered the beginning of lockdown tensions arose between many within the local rural population of Wales and people moving into their second homes. People argued that the health service could not deal with the increase in the local population.
As restrictions lifted and the devolved nations of the United Kingdom decided on a slightly different path to each other the tourism sector in Wales re-opened. During this period messages came from Westminster urging people to stay in Britain, otherwise known as a Staycation, and as quarantine regulations came back into force on returning from a number of European countries deciding not to travel abroad was seen as the wisest decision.
In Wales there have been a number of reports that tensions existed, particularly in areas such as the Llŷn Peninsula as people claimed that tourists did not respect the Welsh Covid regulations and that there was an element of over-tourism in the area.
In addition to this the tensions have once again raised the issue of second homes in Wales that have long-term implications for house prices and according to Cymdeithas yr Iaith it ‘means that young people cannot afford to buy houses in their stamping ground and put our communities at risk.’ It was recently announced that almost 40% of houses purchased in Gwynedd last year were second homes with the Chelsea and Westminster areas the only ones with a higher proportion of second homes.
This is not sustainable for rural communities in Wales creating linguistic, social and economic implications but how could conditions be created where the tourism sector can live together with our rural communities? There are a range of options that can be adopted but whilst so many businesses in our rural economy is dependent on the tourism sector for income the sector is here to stay.
Over in Italy and specifically German Region, South Tyrol, political leaders have banned people from abroad and people from other areas of Italy from buying summer houses altogether. Is this a process that can be implemented in our rural areas? It will certainly give the community more control in the sector, in enabling local people to have more control over tourism and accommodation more specifically. But will this ensure that house prices remain reasonable and available to young families. There are some communities in Cornwall that have taken a similar step in prohibiting people from the outside from buying new homes but it is too early to measure the outcome of the policy on the availability of affordable housing in those areas.
In Wales, more emphasis has been placed on higher taxes for second home owners with Cyngor Gwynedd charging a 50% premium and Anglesey Council charging a 25% premium on second home council tax. But there are some problems with the tax policy as owners can register their second homes as businesses and avoid paying a premium as the houses are put on the Airbnb market, which has further repercussions for communities.
These changes do not have to be as revolutionary as those discussed above, but one could look at what image we use to promote these areas to the rest of the world. In the past in trying to connect Wales with a wild desert where one can escape from the city, communities and their people have never been used as a visual part of the image. If we want tourists to understand Rural Wales better should we show its bustling communities rather than empty mountains and beaches? Cwmni Dolan believes so, noting that they want to create and promote community tourism that will ‘generate gains in the cohesion of our community and in the local economy.’
We may have raised more questions in trying to discuss how more sustainable tourism could be created for our rural communities, we do not know what the answers are yet but we certainly need a discussion on the relationship of tourism and rural Wales at a government level, particularly in light of the concerns that have arisen over recent months.