The Welsh government wants more foreign tourists. So much so, that they recently put out a call for ideas about how to attract them.
The solution that my colleagues and I have put forward is simple – Wales should embrace their dragons and their legends and use them as the nation’s unique selling point. Wales should become “the land of dragons and legends”.
As someone with a Welsh family on my husband’s side, Wales has always been one of our most cherished holiday destinations, especially when my son was young. From its rich culture and history, dynamic cities and scenic landscapes to its beautiful coastline, Wales has so much to offer as a holiday destination. I still remember the big smile on my son’s face when he finally managed to pull out a gigantic crab after hours of crab fishing in Aberystwyth.
But, despite Wales’ rich tourism offering, it is unlikely to attract deep-pocketed tourists from the likes of the US, China or Japan, as the country lacks a distinctive association with tourist landmarks or cultural symbols, in the mind of international tourists.
What are Wales’ cultural attractions?
Britain’s cultural attractions are the top visiting motivation for international tourists, followed by the variety of places on offer. Unlike, for instance, London – with Big Ben, the Tower of London and the British Museum among other landmarks – or Scotland – with Edinburgh, the Highlands and the Loch Ness monster – Wales is less well known, due to its lack of distinctive features that are exclusive to it.
Yet Wales does have its unique cultural and historical heritage. Wales is one of the only two countries in the world that has a dragon on its national flag – believed to possibly be the oldest flag still in use The other being Bhutan. Wales’ attachment to its dragon, the Y Ddragi Goch (the Welsh red dragon), is pretty strong. Over the years, various stories have been told about the red dragon with the earliest dating back to AD655.
In Historia Regum Britanniae, written between 1120 and 1129, Geoffrey of Monmouth, one of the major figures in the development of British historiography (the study of the writing of history and of written histories) and the popularity of tales of King Arthur, connected the dragon with Arthurian legends. One such connection includes Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, and another to the prophecy by the warlock Merlin of a fight between a red and white dragon, symbolising the historical struggle between the Welsh (red dragon) and the English (white dragon).
Today, the Welsh red dragon symbolises the fierce pride of the Welsh people.
None of the other UK nations can claim such a legendary cultural symbol as the dragon. Similarly, the legends of the powerful warlock Merlin are also exclusive to Wales, as well as many Arthurian legends. Wales’ dragon and the connection to Merlin present a unique selling point to brand and differentiate Wales against other UK nations when promoting tourism to international tourists.
Following the success of fantasy and adventure movies and TV series, such as Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings, many places have been put on the map. And these are bankable connections – just think how enthusiastically New Zealand draws on its connection to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Tourist numbers shot up 40% in the five years after the first Lord of the Rings film and the franchise continues to be a huge draw. In fact, tourism around The Hobbit Trilogy accounted for US$772 million of international tourist receipts (£628 million) between 2013 and 2014.
This highlights an opportunity for Wales to capitalise on its existing association with dragons and legendary figures. Wales would be wise to use these legendary cultural symbols to brand Wales as “The Land of Dragons and Legends”. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed and would position Wales as the first and only national destination brand that is strongly associated with the stories of mythic dragons and legends in the world.
Tactics to increase the connection
This is not an exercise that needs to start from scratch. References to Wales’ Red Dragon, the great magician of Merlin and the famous King Arthur are already being made by Visit Wales, although their visibility should be further improved.
For example, by creating a specific landing page dedicated to dragons and legends under Visit Wales and by promoting the tagline of the land of dragons and legends in all its tourism promotion and marketing activities, both online and offline. These include tourism websites, social media campaigns and hashtags, such as #IloveWales, #Landofdragonsandlegends, tourist information brochures, posters and signage around tourist information centres and tourist resorts. Promoting the same message in all its tourism activities helps strengthen the association international tourists’ have of Wales as the land of dragons and legends.
Future tourism development could also gear up towards the promotion of dragons and legends. For example, by curating and dedicating museum exhibitions on dragons; by organising dragon walks and Merlin’s trails around towns and coastal lines, which would link cultural and natural tourism offerings in one.
Also, creative theme parks or organised tourism activities could refer to popular movies or TV series, offering unforgettable experiences. For example, the BBC series Merlin was partly filmed in Wales in spots including the Brecon Beacons National Park, Castell Coch, Caerphilly and Chepstow Castle. The show could be used to appeal to children and families through offerings such as magic workshops and potion lessons in these locations. Similarly, films such as First Knight, which was shot in Gwynedd, North Wales, could be used to promote jousting experiences or tours connected to the Arthurian legends in locations they were shot.
In this way, when international tourists are planning where to go on holiday, they recall Wales as a land of dragons and legends, with multiple tourism values on offer, on top of its beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventures.