Tourist attractions hit hard by local lockdowns in or out of restrictions

It has been over three weeks since the first Welsh county entered local lockdown.

Unlike the five-mile rule that was in place during the nation-wide lockdown, local lockdown rules mean that those in the county are not allowed leave the area, and no one from outside the local authority is allowed to enter.

With almost all of south-east Wales in local lockdown, and half of north Wales, businesses who depend on visitors to and from these areas are starting to see the affect.

Emma Corfield-Walters owns Book-ish, one of the few independent book stores in Wales.

The shop, which was crowned best independent book shop in the UK in 2020 is situated in the Powys town Crickhowell.

On the very south east of the county border, people from surrounding areas such as locked-down Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly may travel to work in the Cardiff.

However, the quaint little town is a popular tourist attraction, and not only is it the type of place people would visit if holidaying in Brecon, but it attracts regular weekly weekend visitors from all across south Wakes.

“It is a bit like Cowbridge in that sense,” explained Emma.

“It is the type of place that people would come for lunch and a mooch.”

Emma said her customers come from all over
(Image: John Nguyen/PA Wire)

Emma explained that a lot of her customers come from south of Powys, and visit almost on a weekly basis.

This week, the business experienced its worse day since it reopened in June, with everywhere south of Powys having entered lockdown.

“It is really difficult, we are on the border here in Crickhowell. Independent book shops in Wales are few on the ground, there are around six in south-east Wales, so our customers come from all over.

“In terms of the places in lockdown, that is where our customers come from, some come from an hour and half away every Saturday, it is that kind of place,” explained Emma who has owned the shop for 10 years.

Book-ish also has a café connected to the shop, and the lack of visitors due to local lockdowns is making things very difficult for business.

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“It is difficult in a tourist town when you have a saturation of cafes, we usually have enough visitors to sustain us all, but now we don’t.

“We have been thinking of ways to entice local people in but it is hard, everyone has their local café which they stick to.”

The café side of the business was only open for a week before the first local lockdown came into force.

Emma decided against reopening in the months of July and August after hearing stories from friends about how busy they were. She said she was told of times where staff members were rudely spoken to and harassed by customers.

“The book shop was open and the café was closed because it was bonkers in Crickhowell and I didn’t feel it was right to bring my staff back in to that environment, it was really hard with the eat out to help out, I didn’t think it was fair on my team.”

The book shop and the café is now relying on locals as well as holidaymakers staying in local B&Bs, many of who come from England.

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“We are part of an organisation called Totally Locally, which is starting a Fiver Fest on October 10. We are also going to start a campaign shop early for Christmas because who knows what is going to happen then.”

The shop is also relying on online orders, which is how the business managed to trade throughout lockdown. Emma is also concerned about what a Powys-wide lockdown could mean for the business, with many of the towns being hundreds of miles apart.

“We were mildly busy yesterday and it is about getting the message right about encouraging people to get out but trying to get the safest environment we possibly can.

“The most important thing is people’s health, it is really difficult not to send mixed messages to people.”

Quaint tourist towns like Crickhowell outside of local lockdown areas are not the only places seeing an impact following the ban on travel outside of lockdown areas.

Many businesses and tourist attractions inside local lockdown areas rely solely on customers from outside their area.

99% of Bike Park Wales’ customers are from outside Merthyr Tydfil
(Image: Patrick Olner)

Bike Park Wales, the UK’s first full scale mountain bike park, said 99% of its visitors come from outside the borough.

The mountain bike park attracts visitors from all over the UK as well as Europe and is situated in Merthyr Tydfil, which has been in local lockdown since September 22.

As a result, the bike park decided to close on September 21.

A statement published on the attraction’s website said: “We are devastated to announce that due to the localised lockdown announced in Merthyr Tydfil today we are left with no option but to close the park again until restrictions are eased.

“Merthyr is the smallest borough in Wales and over 99% of our visiting riders come from outside of the borough, as they can no longer legally visit us we are left with no choice.”

Other outdoor activity centres in lockdown areas are also facing the same issues.

Carlyn Treloar, the office manager at Taff Valley Quad Bike and Activity Centre in Upperboat, said over two weeks of business was cancelled almost overnight when RCT went into lockdown two weeks ago.

“Out of around 30 bookings, we had three groups left, only three groups within RCT that could still come to us,” she explained.

“When the local restrictions came in, our diary literally went to nothing again.”

All of the activities at Taff Valley Quad Bike and Activity Centre are outdoors
(Image: Taff Valley Quad Bike and Activity Centre)

The activity centre provides a range of activities on a farm in Upperboat, from quad biking, archery, clay shooting and axe throwing as well as muddy assault courses.

Carlyn explained when the activity centre reopened in July they started to receive more bookings and got busy again, but due to restrictions on households mixing, the bookings were smaller, which meant more work for less the income.

“We were starting to have enquiries for bigger groups of eight to 10 people, but that dried up overnight.

“The majority of people who visit us are not from the area. So many people don’t even know we are here.”

The activity centre has been running for 27 years and Carlyn has been there for 17 years.

One difficult aspect with the fall in customers for the business is figuring out what to do with the staff.

(Image: Taff Valley Quad Bike and Activity Centre)

Carlyn explained that due to the nature of the activities, the staff they employ have a range of specialist skills, so they need to rota in staff members based on the activities customers want each day.

“On top of people not being able to travel to the area, you then have the cancellations from people who have symptoms or have been told to self-isolate.”

In an attempt to increase the amount of people who can use the attraction, the business is hoping it can move part of the business – quad bikes – to some of its land which actually falls into the Caerphilly Borough.

Carlyn explained that way they can have customers from both RCT and Caerphilly.

“In July and August we had customers from all over, Ireland, England, Scotland. We had no problems, everything went fine and now we can’t even have them from half an hour away.

“We only need to have the business from south Wales.”

One part of the business before Covid-19 included arranging activity weekends for stag and hen parties and other ocassions. Carlyn said this hasn’t been able to return since the reopening and can’t see it happening anytime soon.

“There are a lot of people in the valleys who don’t see us as a tourism place, but we are. There is so much to offer locally and that has been growing in recent years.

“It is going to take us years to get over this.”

The business is urging people from RCT to consider visiting not only them but also other local businesses who would usually rely on customers from outside the borough.

Local lockdown seems to have put most tourist attractions on pause, just as they attempt to claw back remaining business from the peak season.

In Cardiff, the popular attraction Techniquest has delayed its re-opening by a month as local lockdown restrictions came into place in the capital city last week.

Techniquest has delayed its reopening following a renovation

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said:”We have already put government safety measures in place, but with the news of a local lockdown, we realise that many of our visitors who have pre-booked for October visits will no longer be able to travel and will have to re-schedule their visit with us.”

A new date for the reopening has now been set for November 14.

WalesOnline – Cardiff