The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales
Last week (7 – 11 March) I visited the United States of America as part of the Welsh Government’s global celebration of St David’s Day. I spent time in Washington DC and New York and the focus of my visit was business, tourism and promoting Wales. Throughout my visit I received excellent support from the British Embassy in Washington, the British Consulate in New York, UKTI and, of course, the Welsh Government’s own staff on the ground.
In Washington I met a series of significant investors and trade partners, and hosted a reception at the Embassy for a wider network of influential guests. Some of these already invest substantially in Wales while others represent important future prospects. My message to them is that Wales is a superb location for business, with a skilled workforce, close links between industry and education, easy proximity to London but with the benefit of lower overheads, and access to the European market – the world’s largest integrated trading block. I also underlined the stability of Wales as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Wales has been a significant partner for US investment for many years. This relationship has borne fruit in both directions and I believe the USA will continue to be an important trading partner for us for many years to come.
At a business breakfast in New York I emphasised our approach to innovation in the economy. I was delighted to be supported at this event by Sir Terry Matthews who endorsed Wales, with the full weight of his unique experience, as a great location for business. I emphasised that devolution of powers and the relative geographical smallness of Wales puts us as a government in a unique position to work quickly and flexibly with businesses to support their needs. I was pleased, too, that representatives of Bangor University were also in New York reaching out to their alumni and developing their academic links.
In New York I met tourism operators with experience of organising US-Wales tours to hear feedback on how we receive visitors and how we might aim to improve performance. This was invaluable. There was consensus that Wales is a great location for the individual fly-drive holiday, but faces some infrastructure limitations for the larger group visitor market. The populous areas of South and North Wales are well served by adequate roads – suitable for coaches – and a viable choice of hotels. Parts of Mid Wales face limitations as a group visitor destination primarily because of the paucity of suitable hotel accommodation. The American inward tourist spend per night is significantly higher than the general average and, over time, we need to work on the facilities deficit in areas where this limitation applies. Operators made the point that London and Ireland are primary destinations for large numbers of US tourists and an important part of the opportunity for Wales is to develop an attractive offer by way of transit between the two.
It is perhaps worth recording for Members an interesting example of anecdotal market research. Travelling on the Staten Island ferry we were approached, unprompted, by a lady – she’d seen we were wearing Welsh badges and insignia – who reported that each year she leads a group of walkers for a holiday on the coastal paths around St David’s. She gave a glowing report of the outstanding beauty of the area and the warmth of the reception her American party invariably receive. I took heart from this. Tourism is a massively important part of our economy and we have a strong platform on which to build.
Wales’ links with the USA date back to the very foundation of the Union. I was honoured to be guest of honour at the 177th annual dinner of the St David’s Society of the State of New York. The links continue to thrive today and our language and culture add an important dimension to our footprint. I had the honour to attend a Broadway performance starring our own Mathew Rhys; Bryn Terfel – who was performing at the New York Met - sat next to me. I attended a special showing of the Oscar-nominated film “Solomon a Gaenor” at the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage. It’s clear that Wales continues to share its creative talent at the highest level with the US and far beyond. Equally, I met many other Welsh men and women who contribute to life on both sides of the Atlantic in business, law, public affairs and creative industries.
The USA remains an important partner for Wales and, in spite of the tremendous difference of scale, I firmly believe we have something unique and significant to offer. In an ultra-competitive world we in Wales have to re-double our efforts to cement our reputation and to seek out new business partners. I value Wales’ relationship with the United States of America and the Welsh Government will do all we can to maintain and develop the profile of Wales in America and all that we have to offer.