Leading a Senedd debate this week on ‘Restoring our seaside towns to their former glory’, Vale of Clwyd MS Gareth Davies focused on the decline of Rhyl as a tourist destination, but said he is confident that with joint working “we can put seaside towns like Rhyl back on the destinations map.”
In the debate Gareth blamed waning visitor numbers on cheaper foreign travel and lack of action by Governments at all levels and called on the Welsh Government “to take leadership on this, and help rejuvenate and revitalise our seaside towns, from Rhyl to Rhoose, Porthcawl to Prestatyn.”
He said he is particularly passionate about revitalising Rhyl as it the town in which he grew up and where his family, who owned and operated a number of businesses in the town, originated before it was even a town.
In his eight minute speech, he chronicled all that was great about the town in its heyday and its sad demise.
“Cheaper foreign travel is believed to have contributed to declining visitor numbers to Rhyl, which accelerated during the 1970s and the 1980s.
“Declining visitors resulted in a decline in fortunes for the town. Many local businesses, my family's included, ceased trading.
“Since 2007 the number of vacant units in Rhyl town centre has doubled, and the town has lost a number of major retailers. It's little wonder, then, that Rhyl is now home to some of the poorest wards in Wales, if not the UK, but Rhyl is still a popular holiday destination despite this, attracting visitors from across the UK. But we cannot compete with cheap foreign holidays. Benidorm might not have Rhyl's charm or excellent scenery, but it does have the advantage of near-constant sunshine and warm waters.
“It doesn't help that you can get a return flight from Manchester to Alicante cheaper than you can get a train to Rhyl. Transport for Wales might need to answer that problem. With more and more budget airlines springing up offering flights to far-flung destinations for peanuts, how can our seaside towns possibly hope to compete?
“The decline I've witnessed in Rhyl has also been echoed in other towns across the Welsh coastline, and, unfortunately, Governments at all levels have not taken sufficient action to halt this decline.
“The title of this debate poses a question: ‘is restoring our seaside towns to their former glory a necessary task or an impossible ask?’
“ I don't believe it's impossible. It certainly won't be easy, but if we all work together - local government, Welsh Government and the UK Government, alongside the leisure and travel industry - then we can compete with foreign travel. We can put seaside towns like Rhyl back on the destinations map. We just need to think creatively, work collectively and collaboratively to sell the benefits of our seaside towns worldwide, and work to help a create a year-round offer and work to innovate and diversify our seaside towns.”
“Our seaside towns are on the shores of some of the world's best scenery. We have some of the best natural beauty in the world. We are a nation steeped in history, abound with fantastic folklore and deep mythology, but we're absolutely terrible at selling it, and that's the problem. Our own citizens are not aware of the treasures on their doorstep, so how can we expect people from further afield to be clued up?
“We might not be able to recreate the Victorian demand for the seaside air - I'm not deluded and time does move on - but we can and must sell the benefits of our seaside towns. We have to integrate and innovate our leisure and tourism markets, promote our outstanding food and drink.
“We can't do cheaper but we can do better. I hope this Welsh Government will take leadership on this, and help rejuvenate and revitalise our seaside towns, from Rhyl to Rhoose, Porthcawl to Prestatyn.”