Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Back to the Welsh Narrative

Premise: As compared with Scotland and Ireland, Wales does not have a very strong “brand image”. Something needs to be done about it if we are to enhance the tourism economy, attract inward investment, reduce social inequality and spread the benefits of tourism into the “negected areas” where poverty levels are unacceptably high. Those of us who live in Wales are constantly frustrated by our own conservatism, timidity and reluctance to take risks or to promote our assets. For the benefit of our own internal dynamics and our place in the world, the profile of Wales needs to be much more heavily promoted.

We need to think and act strategically — first of all by defining who we are and what makes us WELSH. I have explored this issue before on my blog:

Let’s use the “pitch” technique:

Log Line:

A small nation with extravagant natural and historic resources resists the depradations of a powerful neighbour and learns to maintain self respect and to keep alive its unique language and culture through a combination of subversion, adaptability and good humour.


"Wales is a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe with magnificent landscapes, a cultural heritage stretching across 6,000 years, and rich natural resources. It is the home of Celtic Christianity, but throughout its history it has mounted bloody and short-lived rebellions designed to resist the depredations of a powerful neighbour. Against all the odds it has retained its language, its culture and its pride whilst encouraging toleration and liberal values and adapting to dramatic change. In its history it has not suffered the same deep social traumas as Scotland and Ireland, but it has seen the best and the worst effects of mining and quarrying, heavy industry and the Industrial Revolution. It has learned how to be tolerant, subversive and seductive, and how to be spiritual and mischievous at the same time. Its people are romantics, prone to wild swings of emotion; both melancholia and euphoria feature in the national psyche. Welsh people have a powerful "sense of place" and an abiding fondness for family histories, legends, ceremonial and ancient traditions. Eccentricity is embraced, while great value is placed upon learning. There is a tendency towards radical protest and an ever-present desire for social reform. Today, Wales is a place where pride and humility coexist -- and the warmth of its welcome to visitors is legendary.” (See Note 1)

Tourism strategy (and the Welsh USP) should be based on the above, or on some version of it. It is not appropriate to say “Wales has a multitude of narratives, and they all need to be told" — because the central message is then drowned out by the noise. Nor is it satisfactory to say “Welsh speakers know what Wales is all about and know what “hiraeth”, “bro”, “croeso" and “gwerin” mean, and the rest of us should simply accept that and get on with life.” English-speaking Welsh people have an equal claim on “Welshness”, and their achievements, perceptions and aspirations have eqivalent value. It is more important than ever to stress that those of us who see Wales as our home have a shared story. So let’s see if we can define what that is, see if we can obtain a broad level of acceptance for it, and use it as the central strategy for selling Wales to the world.

Beneath this level promotional or marketing tactics should be devised which home in on specific aspects of the narrative — eg. landscapes, language, activities, food traditions, music, spirituality and pilgrimage, symbols of a violent past (castles and fortifications), sport, industry, writers and artists, eccentrics and celebrities. Visit Wales already does fantastic job on most of those, and on many more topics — and here the keywords can come in: authentic, creative, innovative, alive, epic, memorable, inspiring, fresh, legendary, iconic, rich, distinctive, accessible, contemporary, immersive, inclusive. 

Here are a few more adjectives that came up in a seminar when we all tried to define “the essence of Wales”: generous, warm-hearted, eccentric, mischievous, sensitive, intuitive, whimsical, enigmatic, musical, poetic, dramatic, spirited, steadfast, ironic, ebullient, demonstrative, enduring, colourful, lyrical, resolute, mysterious, proud, faithful, accessible, loyal, adaptable, enchanting, quirky, understated, unpretentious. Some of these slightly softer and more subtle words might also have a “marketing value” worth exploring……...


Note 1:
This version of the narrative is based very much on the writings of Jan Morris. The version given by Michael Sheen in his famously passionate November 2017 lecture — with Wales portrayed as a victim, viciously and cynically exploited and suppressed by a powerful and predatory neighbour — is in my view not sufficiently nuanced, and would be impossible to use as a key component of a tourism marketing strategy aimed principally at English holidaymakers!

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