Q&A With Lauren Summers, Director of Marketing, Visit Wales North America

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Overlooking Cardiff. (Photo courtesy: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)
Overlooking Cardiff. (Photo courtesy: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

Lauren Summers, director of marketing, Visit Wales North America, talks to Recommend about why Wales should be on a Great Britain itinerary.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): What’s so special about Wales?

Lauren Summers (LS): Wales is an enchanting destination; like someplace out of a story book—from the rolling green hills to the crisp, blue shores, the scenery is truly breathtaking. In Wales, you have so much at your disposal; the country is home to 870 miles of walkable coastline, 641 castles, six Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, six UNESCO World Heritage sites, three national parks, and two languages, English and Welsh.

PVR: Should Wales be the destination of choice for first-timers to Great Britain? Should it be part of a longer itinerary that includes England?

LS: Wales is great for both types of travelers! If first-time visitors travel to Wales they’ll certainly be hooked—the Welsh have a word for this, it’s called Hiraeth. There is no direct English translation, but the closest definition would be homesickness. Even if you’re not from Wales, once you leave, you’ll feel a sense of longing to return.

Wales is also perfect to include on a multi-destination trip to the UK and Ireland due to its central proximity. Wales is about two hours from London by train, an hour and a half from Manchester by car, and two hours from Dublin by ferry.

PVR: Who exactly is the target audience for Wales—in other words, couples, families, etc.?

LS: Wales is a wonderful place for independent travelers, families and groups. 2016 has been named the ‘Year of Adventure’ in Wales because of its stunning beauty and world-class adventure options. Families can visit some of the country’s newest adventures at Bounce Below and Zip World Snowdonia, or they can travel back in time while they climb the castle towers of a medieval fortress.

Independent travelers that are also thrill-seekers can travel the country by rail, hopping aboard steam trains en-route to some of the best adventures in Britain. Among a long list of activities they can hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path or climb Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales.

Lastly, Wales is a great destination for groups. Whether customized, special-interest groups or escorted coach tours, there are plenty of options for travelers that prefer this method of travel.

PVR: During our travels, we visited a market town, the countryside and the big city—do you think that’s a good itinerary for those traveling to Wales who want to explore what the country offers…obviously spending a few days in each? And why so? Why not just visit Cardiff, for example, which has a lot to offer?

LS: I think it’s great to get out and visit the different regions of Wales. Each region depicts a unique part of the Welsh culture. When you are able to visit multiple market towns and seaside villages, and combine that with a visit to Cardiff it helps travelers understand the complete story of Wales—they can piece together the country’s history to better understand the present.

PVR: How many days should visitors set apart for a trip to Wales?

LS: If you want to see more than one region of Wales then you need at least a week. For travelers who are looking for just a small taste, they can spend about three days in the country and go in-depth into an area.

PVR: How easy is it for visitors to rent a car and go at it “alone” in Wales? Do you think this is something travel agents should recommend to their clients? Is it an easy country to navigate?

LS: I think this is something that agents can certainly recommend; it really depends on how comfortable their clients are driving on the opposite side of the road. For clients that don’t feel comfortable driving, there are many tour operators that offer escorted vacations to Wales in both group and private options; some of these operators include Avanti Destinations, CIE Tours, Celtic Tours, Europe Express, Tenon Tours, TRAVCOA, Cox & Kings, Sceptre Tours, Collette Vacations, and Tauck.

PVR: What are some of Waleshighlights that truly excite you?

LS: I am so passionate about the country, specifically the landscapes and castles. I remember the first time I visited there were so many times I wanted to jump out of the car to take a picture because the scenery was so inspiring and the castles were unlike anything I had ever seen before.

PVR: What are some of the things you hear from first-time visitors to Wales that truly surprised them because they didn’t expect it?

LS: The number one thing that we hear from first-time visitors to Wales is how friendly the Welsh people are—they are always so impressed by the warm welcome they receive.

Travelers are usually surprised by Welsh food—they often can’t believe how good it is! Wales is currently experiencing a culinary renaissance and there are loads of high-quality, local restaurants in the country.

PVR: What do attractions such as Bounce Below and Surf Snowdonia add to Wales’ tourism landscape?

LS: Attractions such as Bounce Below and Surf Snowdonia embrace the landscape of Wales.

With Surf Snowdonia, for example, you have this amazing outdoor wave garden hidden in Snowdonia National Park. Snowdonia’s terrain is mountainous and then you arrive at this surfing lagoon that’s meant to simulate a beach in the middle of lush greenery—it’s very unique.

As for Bounce Below, it’s about embracing the old to create the new. In Wales, they mined for slate in the North and coal in the south; Bounce Below was created in an abandoned slate mine. It’s about taking resources that are already available and re-purposing them to create distinctive products.

PVR: When you think of travel agents selling Great Britain to their clients, where do you think Wales falls in the scheme of things—do you think it’s front and center, a secondary thought?

LS: Wales isn’t always front of mind, but it is a great destination to recommend especially when talking with clients who have already visited London or are looking for something unique in Britain. I think Wales is often a secondary thought when agents are selling Britain to their clients except when the agent has been to Wales—then, I believe, they will always suggest it. Wales is actually perfect for agents to suggest to their clients because it’s off the beaten path and consumers can really benefit from the guidance and expertise a travel agent has to offer.

Travel agents that would like to feel better prepared selling Wales to their clients can become a Wales Specialist. To become a Wales Specialist, agents must watch one Visit Wales webinar annually, complete the Wales module that is part of VisitBritain’s BritAgent training program, and remain active on our travel agent newsletter list. For more information, agents can visit our site at americas.visitwales.com/news-and-features/training-opportunities/. Travel agents that complete the specialist program will also receive a free listing on our website for client referrals.

For my Eye on the World: Wales, click here.