THE Mid Wales tourism industry has been urged to grasp the air of staycation positivity that is engulfing the region to make it one of the UK’s most desirable leisure destinations.

The message of optimism was delivered at the 13th Mid Wales Tourism & Business Conference, held at the Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells, by a number of prominent speakers representing the industry.

“The industry is bouncing back and this summer has been one of the best, if not the best ever, for a large number of us,” said Rowland Rees-Evans, chairman of MWT Cymru, who organised the conference.

“We have seen record numbers of people coming into Mid Wales. Staycationing looks as if it is going to be with us for some time to come, especially if people don’t have the confidence to travel abroad.

“Mid Wales has become a recognised destination and our job is to ensure it stays that way. We know that places like North Wales and Pembrokeshire have been very popular destinations for some time but I think Mid Wales is starting to catch up and long may it continue.

“Our challenge is to make sure that we can get these visitors to come back.”

But Mr Rees-Evans also warned of “dark clouds looming over the horizon” as the industry grapples with staff shortages, supply chain issues and the expected return of VAT to 20 per cent from 12.5 per cent. There will also be the 1.5 per cent increase in National Insurance staff contributions for businesses to factor in.

“As an industry we are going to have to manage these changes carefully because they will affect our bottom line,” he said.

The human resource shortfall was also highlighted by Arwyn Watkins, managing director of Cambrian Training Company, the conference’s lead sponsor, who urged delegates to challenge the current education system to ensure that apprenticeships are given equal importance for school leavers as staying in education currently is.

“Changing the compulsory education system won’t win votes for politicians, but it will address the needs of the area which is more important,” said Mr Watkins.

But the new chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance, Suzy Davies, also encouraged delegates to “seize the day”.

“We intend to continue as the strong and united voice for tourism in Wales whilst at the same time being a critical friend to the Welsh Government by campaigning for better economic conditions,” she said.

“I want to assure the industry that we are a champion for the private sector. Visit Wales and the Welsh Government can’t do everything so we look forward to working with them. We have to get the balance of partnership right.”

That message of unity was supported by Steve Hughson, chair of Mid Wales Regional Tourism Forum, who praised the recent Visit Wales marketing campaigns that had raised the profile of the region to unprecedented levels.

“What is being done at the moment in the name of Mid Wales is absolutely magnificent,” he said.

Other enlightening presentations were delivered by travel journalist York Membery, who gave insider advice on how to deal with the media, while Nerys Howell and Sian Roberts, from Loving Welsh Food, gave a light hearted lesson on improving customer service.

Community-led collaboration in Newtown and Rhayader was the topic of discussion addressed by Bill Stow, of Rhayader 2000, Michael Booth, from Dwr Cymru, and Open Newtown’s Stuart Owen, while Lucy Von Weber, head of marketing at Visit Wales, reviewed their recent promotional campaigns and shared the latest data and research which led to their powerful autumn advertising campaign.

Brand specialist, Roger Pride, director of Heavenly, delivered advice to delegates on how to ensure their businesses are being noticed in a crowded market place.

In summing up the conference, MWT Cymru chief executive, Val Hawkins, said it had injected fresh energy into the tourism sector and encouraged delegates to spread the positivity across the region.