Aberconwy is the beating heart of the tourism sector in Wales. From the Queen of Welsh resorts to the gateway to Snowdonia, we are fortunate to have attractions and accommodation which make our area so special to visitors from all over the world. In fact, Conwy County sees around 9.5million annual visitors, generating approximately £900million.
However, the situation is already radically different this financial year. Covid-19 has brought the complete shutdown of the sector. To put this into perspective, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has seen 1,403,300 employees in the accommodation and food services industry furloughed.
This has seen the UK Government pay out £2,595,000 to support those employees and businesses who were facing serious uncertainty through no fault of their own. Here in Aberconwy 7,200 employees are on furlough, so I can assure you that I am committed to trying to help see that the Welsh Government takes positive steps which could help limit the serious economic turmoil we are facing, and the risk of increased unemployment locally.
As the Minister for Economy, Transport, and North Wales has known since the beginning of May, Conwy is the top area in Wales and one of the top twenty areas in the UK where the highest percentage of jobs are at risk – on par with Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, and the Isle of White. I made clear to him in writing that a report by the Centre for Towns has found that the closure of hotels, bed and breakfasts, campsites and caravan parks is particularly affecting towns like Llandudno and Rhyl.
In an effort to help I have undertaken numerous meetings with representatives of the sector and Welsh Government Ministers; proposed amendments to a recent debate in the Senedd on the economy; asked many oral questions during plenary; taken steps to call for the introduction of skills retention and development programmes; a stronger and fairer programme of financial support that targets the most at-risk sectors; and clarity for the tourism sector as to when it can re-open for business.
At long last we were given a glimmer of hope last Friday as the First Minister announced that owners of self-contained accommodation should use the next three weeks to prepare to re-open. Additionally, discussions are set to be held with the hospitality sector about the potential phased reopening of pubs, cafes and restaurants while maintaining strict social distancing.
This is a welcome shift, one which I hope will help our area salvage what remains of the high season in our local tourism sector. However, I am aware that serious questions and problems remain. For example, a survey by North Wales Tourism found that if businesses were allowed to open on 1 July, 10,500 jobs could still be lost – 25% of all those employed in the sector here in North Wales!
I am committed to work in the best interest of our area and tourist industry, and am set to scrutinise the First Minister on this matter this week.