PRESELI TOURIST ASSOCIATION – 1980-2010
A Potted History
During 1979/1980, the then Wales Tourist Board was criticised strongly for its lack of contact with tourism operators at the ‘grass roots’ level. At that time North Pembrokeshire and the Preseli Hills were lacking in effective representation, though there was a strong group of town businesses speaking through Newport’s Chamber of Trade. As a consequence, two tourism operators from North Pembrokeshire, Ray Cori and Tom Hazelden, set about forming the Preseli Tourist Association in 1980. Ray was its first Chairman and Tom and his wife Beryl dealt with secretarial and financial matters. Thanks to financial support provided by Richard Howells from Preseli DC, the newly formed Association was able to produce its own promotional leaflet in 1981, and further support from the district council saw the creation of the Preseli Tourist Federation. This provided a focus for a number of other tourist associations from the middle and north of Pembrokeshire.
Ray Cori also chaired the Federation from 1980-1987 and was able to push forward active representation for tourism operators in the whole of the north of the county.
In the early days, a number of PTA members were also heavily involved with the Newport Chamber of Trade and Tourism, which led a delegation to see Geraint Howells MP at the Houses of Parliament to campaign against WTB switching a huge amount of its marketing budget from the home market to the overseas market. This hit the headlines and resulted in the WTB Board coming to Gellifawr and meeting a joint delegation drawn from both The Chamber of Trade and the PTA. This joint approach proved to be very fruitful with the WTB shifting its marketing emphasis back somewhat over the following few years. As a consequence Ray Cori, Peter Heard
and Mike Cooper worked closely with these two organisations over a number of years, eventually achieving the establishment of a working group which, for the very first time, brought together representatives of the PTA, the Newport Chamber of Trade, the National Park, Preseli DC, the WDA, WTB, CADW, National Trust, etc. in an endeavour to co-ordinate the marketing and development spend of all these organisations in North Pembs. This group proved to be very successful for a time resulting, for example, in the development of car parking at Pentre Ifan and the marketing of the “Bluestone Country” brand. Its influence on the National Park doubtless also contributed to the Park’s decision to acquire Castell Henllys. However, the success of the group led to mischievous elements challenging its so called “self-appointed” nature, with the consequence that the National organisations had to withdraw, and the group disbanded.
One positive outcome from this period (in the 1980’s) was a much better balance in the marketing of Pembrokeshire’s special qualities and diverse regional landscapes. Previously, because of the predominance and the strength of the Tenby-Saundersfoot holiday industry there had been a strong emphasis on the south coast as THE Pembrokeshire holiday destination. But with the decline in agriculture, farm diversification, and the increasing popularity of holidays based on walking and cottage-style self-catering, the marketing of “quiet tourism” became much more effective. PTA members were closely involved in this process, not least through links with Preseli DC and the National Park, which gradually came to accept that the marketing of assets was an acceptable activity, and that tourists were people that they would have to learn to live with!
Pembrokeshire’s diversity was recognized and Bluestone Country was joined by
“The Landsker Borderlands”, “Last Invasion Country”, and “Dewisland” as desirable destinations for those who wanted something different from the offerings of Tenby and Saundersfoot. With the amalgamation of the two district councils into Pembrokeshire CC, Peter Heard undertook considerable battles on behalf of the PTA concerning the design and internal arrangement of the new CC annual tourism guide, so as to ensure that all parts of the county obtained fair exposure to potential visitors.
Ray Cori together with Peter Heard were also instrumental in trying to establish a car sightseeing “Tourist Trail” around Bluestone Country. The two of them drove around with a small tape recorder, making notes of interesting places to visit. Long after Ray’s death, Fay discovered these tapes which, whilst indistinct, confirmed that Ray was driving whilst Peter took notes. Whilst the Council took up the idea and fossil traces of occasional “Taith Preseli” brown signs can still be found affixed to roadside posts, funds ran out for the complete project envisaged by Ray and Peter, and the planned narration on tapes and CDs never saw the light of day.
Whilst covering a very sparsely populated area with relatively few active tourism operators, the PTA has never lacked in expertise and it has packed a punch well above its weight. During its short history it can boast having amongst its membership, a Chairman of the Newport Chamber of Trade, a Chairman of the British Holiday Homes and Caravan Parks Association, two Chairmen of the Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators, a Chairman of the British Hospitality Association (Wales), a Chairman of the Regional Tourism Company for South and West Wales, and a Vice-Chairman of the Regional Tourism Partnership. A number of our members were involved in the early days of the Newport and
Nevern Energy Group (also founded in 1980) which later became the West Wales Energy Group and then the West Wales Eco Centre. There were many links between energy-saving initiatives and the “greening” of the local tourist trade. A number of our members involved in the local crafts scene have been instrumental in organizing this sector so that it has become a key part of the local tourist economy. Both the Pembrokeshire Craftsmen’s Circle and Pembrokeshire Craft Markets have worked with PTA support to ensure adequate recognition from Pembs CC and from the Wales tourist industry. Speaking on behalf of PTA Brian John was involved with the Carningli Rural Initiative (based in Newport) and then with Menter Preseli, SPARC and PLANED – with other members too seeking to ensure that the North Pembrokeshire tourist economy was both recognized and adequately supported through European and national funding initiatives. PTA has had a considerable input into the “local plan” process for Newport and other communities, always arguing for full recognition of tourism as a fundamental (and growing) part of the local economy. In the wake of the “Sea Empress” disaster (1996) and also the Foot and Mouth crisis the PTA committee was heavily involved in attempts to counter the damage done to the tourist economy in that and following years, and in pressing for adequate compensation and reduction in business rates to be provided to tourist operators who had suffered loss.
Many successes, but a few losses too. There were plans, back in the 1990’s, to set up a joint tourism project between Bluestone Country and County Wexford in Ireland, flagging up these two areas as key “heritage” locations but also as “adrenalin holiday” and “wildlife experience” destinations on the model already developed in New Zealand. We came close to obtaining substantial European funding, but the bid failed because of (how weird is this?) opposition from the
Irish Tourist Board! Now, more than a decade later, if you look at the average rack of tourist leaflets in Pembrokeshire, you will see “adrenalin trips” on offer everywhere – with coasteering, jetboat safaris, dolphin watching and even (courtesy of Photoshop) puffins in places where they have never been seen before!! And our brand name of “Bluestone Country” was effectively appropriated by that gigantic holiday development near Canaston Bridge. As soon as that development went into the planning process, Pembs CC backed off from supporting our “regional branding” efforts. Such is life.
However, with the establishment of Pembrokeshire Tourism as the voice of the tourist trade, covering all sectors and areas of Pembrokeshire, PTA has debated on a number of occasions whether it still has a role. Each time, members have decided that it should continue as a “social and mutual support organization” where members could meet and discuss topics of concern, and also to visit places of interest. Over the last few years the consensus has been that any contentious or political issues should be, quite appropriately, referred to Pembrokeshire Tourism. Naturally, many of the current members belong to that organization as well.
Here are a few examples of events which have been organized for members over the last decade: visits to the National Botanical Garden of Wales, Castell Henllys, Aberglasney, Llanerchaeron, Skomer Island, Carew Castle, Llangloffan, Milford Haven Waterway, and the National Woollen Museum; talks and presentations on local wildlife, web marketing, first aid, local archaeology, and the work of blue badge guides; and of course our unforgettable annual summer barbeques at Penlan Uchaf Gardens (courtesy of Dilwyn and Suzanne Vaughan) and annual quiz nights organized and run (with appropriate lack of
respect for any rules whatsoever) by Peter and Jane Heard. Some education, many excellent meals, and a lot of fun...
Membership has gone up and down but has generally been around 30 businesses in number. Membership is drawn from North Pembrokeshire, in particular from ‘Bluestone Country’, but there have always been members from other parts of Pembrokeshire, South Ceredigion and the Teifi Valley. Membership is open to all businesses with an interest in local tourism. At present we have around 30 paid up member businesses and 1 Life Member. Among our members we include writers and craft producers, restaurateurs and retailers, accommodation providers from the caravan, serviced and self-catering sectors, proprietors of attractions and gardens, farmers and marketing businesses, photographers, accountants and publishers.
The following have served as Chairmen since the founding of PTA in 1980: Ray Cori, Mike Cooper, Dilwyn Vaughan, Peter Heard, and Diana Vickers. The following have served as Secretary: Tom and Beryl Hazelden, David Thomas, Mike Cooper, John Leigh, Hywel Williams and David Vickers. There have been just two Treasurers: Cliff Field and Jane Heard.