WALES must not “miss the opportunity” of grabbing a slice of the multi-million-pound cruise holiday market, Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said yesterday.
Holyhead in particular is working to attract high-value cruise ship visitors, with a target of 30 vessels visiting each year by 2013.
Cruises are growing in popularity, with the average age of holidaymakers falling. Operators are searching for new destinations, and an EU-funded project, Celtic Wave, is attempting to market Welsh, Irish and Scottish ports.
Mr Jones said Assembly Government officials were looking at the potential for cruises calling at Holyhead and Milford Haven.
“I was interested to see this morning that a cruise ship had been to Newport and also visited Cardiff. The cruise market is something that’s underdeveloped in Wales and we have to be looking at opportunities where they arise,” Mr Jones told MPs on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.
“What’s interesting is that ... more and more people are looking for holidays by cruise ship, so cruise operators are looking for new destinations all the time. So I think the port operators themselves recognise there is a real opportunity to be looking at areas like the Celtic countries.
“What is important is that we don’t miss the opportunity that’s there as a result of that interest.”
Officials have been looking at ways to support the embryonic cruise liner trade at Holyhead for some 18 months, and are grappling with EU rules that prevent governments subsiding firms to the detriment of European competitors.
While tourism and economic development are devolved policy areas, ports remain the responsibility of Westminster, although Mr Jones said the Assembly Government had no plans to ask for the anomaly to be addressed.
The cruise market has potential to bring in significant sums to the Welsh economy, with some visitors spending up to £120 each on a stop-off at a port destination.
An announcement will also be made later today on the Assembly Government’s roads programme, although a long-touted plan to dual the A40 west of St Clears appears to have been ruled out.
Mr Jones said: “Pembrokeshire County Council would like to see the A40 dualled, but the case currently doesn’t stack up for a dualling. But what we have done is make sure the improvements we are making could accommodate a dual carriageway road [in future].”