TOURISM is being "painted as the bad guy" over second homes in Wales, an academic has argued at a Parliamentary Welsh Affairs Committee.

A former tourism boss at VisitBritain, meanwhile, criticised the Welsh Government's plans to introduce a tourism tax, and insisted that the "benefits" that companies like AirBnb bring to Wales should be acknowledged.

The comments came during a session on how tourism could be boosted in Wales, with a panel that included Welsh tourism researcher Annette Pritchard, marketing expert Professor Dorothy Yen of London's Brunel University, and Anthony Pickles, the former head of tourism affairs at VisitBritain, the authority charged with promoting tourism to Britain.

Mr Pickles criticised the Welsh Government's plan to introduce a tourism tax - a levy that could be added to the bill for overnight stays at popular holiday destinations in Wales - claiming that it would make the country "uncompetitive in the marketplace".

"If you look overall at where Britain sits in terms of competitiveness, we are amongst the most expensive destinations in the world," he told the Committee.

The Welsh Affairs Committee met to discuss the tourism industry in Parliament today. (Picture: House of Commons)Anthony Pickles, former boss at VisitBritain and ex-Chief of Staff for Conservatives in Wales. (Picture: House of Commons)

Pointing to the UK's relatively high rate of Air Passenger Duty - the tax paid to travel on flights - and the £103 cost for a Visitor Visa to the UK from the United States, Mr Pickles went on: "Those costs are prohibitive for the vast majority of people.

"If you continue to double down on add-in costs, whether it be VAT or a tourism tax, you're going to make yourself uncompetitive in the marketplace."

Tourism taxes are currently levied in multiple countries across the world - including the United States, Germany, France and Greece, as well as most Caribbean islands.

The European Union is set to introduce a general tourism levy for all non-EU visitors by the end of the year, and Thailand implemented its own similar tax back in April.

Mr Pickles, a former chief of staff for the Conservative Party in Wales, also appeared to criticise the proximity of VisitWales to the Welsh Government, arguing that the model used by VisitBritain and its equivalent in Scotland makes them more ready to act on the advice of private companies in the tourism industry.

The current VisitBritain board includes current and former executives at large multinational hotel chains. Visit Wales is part of the Welsh Government.

"When you've got independence - like VisitScotland does, like VisitBritain does - you get an independent board, where it brings together the very best in the industry to help advise you on what's going on across business," he said.

"We know that there are some fantastic Welsh business leaders in this sector, but their voices aren't heard in an instructive way, particularly."

Mr Pickles said that business leaders in Wales would therefore find it "much harder to drive policy change", because "policy levers sit very firmly with Welsh Government ministers."

This, he said, "doesn't fit right with what tourism is about".

On the controversial matter of short-term holiday lets, Mr Pickles said: "Airbnb is controversial the world over, but I think we have to recognise where it's a benefit to Wales.

"For sporting events in Cardiff, Airbnb is a huge boon, actually, to their offer.

"What international visitors are looking for is a mix of accommodation - not everybody wants to stay in a hotel, and likewise, not everybody will be comfortable with the idea of an Airbnb."

His sentiment was somewhat shared by Professor Annette Pritchard, the former head of Cardiff Met University’s Welsh Centre for Tourism Research.

"There's a danger that tourism is being painted as the bad guy in a lot of conversations which are happening in some parts of Wales," she said.

"I think that there's been a lot of conflation of second homes and furnished holiday lets, a clear distinction needs to be made.

"It's been a problem, because some second homes are maybe 'masqueraded' as holiday lets, so they've been able to avoid, maybe, some payments - so that's led to maybe some local discussions.

"I almost have a sense of feeling that tourism is struggling to get its voice heard, and is struggling to tell its story, in terms of how important it is to local communities - and how the tourism sector itself actually supports so many diverse communities."

Airbnb, Prof Pritchard said, "has massively complicated things", because of its impact on local housing markets, with locals priced out of living in their own communities.

Prof Dorothy Yen, meanwhile, discussed ways in which VisitBritain had previously overlooked Wales in its major campaign work.

Praising the work of VisitWales, Prof Yen criticised VisitBritain for featuring promotional videos for England and Scotland - but not Wales - on its website, and for not appropriately highlighting "the significance of Wales" in its social media activity.

The Welsh Affairs Committee met to discuss the tourism industry in Parliament today. (Picture: House of Commons)Professor Annette Pritchard, Tourism Management at Leeds Beckett University. (Picture: House of Commons)

"There is an Arabic account, which promotes Great Britain to the Middle Eastern market - there were three subheadings, I think they were London, Manchester, Edinburgh - there was no reference to Wales whatsoever," she said.

"I think VisitWales do a much better job - I think the leadership needs to come from VisitWales, and that VisitBritain needs to work better with them to create that synergy."

Prof Yen also noted that the VisitBritain Shop - which sells tickets to tourist attractions and experiences in Britain - did not include destinations in Wales.

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