North Wales is set to see a boom in Japanese tourists after top travel bosses sampled the delights of the region at first hand.
The leaders of major tourism firms from the Land of the Rising Sun were given a whistle-stop tour of World Heritage sites in North Wales, with visits to Conwy as well as Llandudno, Portmeirion, Anglesey, Caernarfon, Ruthin and Porthmadog.
Organised by North Wales Tourism, the body that represents private travel and hospitality providers, the Japanese delegation also tasted high quality local produce and enjoyed a Welsh National Opera performance at Venue Cymru.
The seven-strong group from the high-powered Japanese Association of Travel Agents (JATA) has now vowed to add North Wales to their European tour itineraries.
They cited the outstanding tourist attractions, excellent local hotels and the hospitality of the North Wales people among the region’s greatest assets.
JATA’s Team Europe Tourism Promotion Council has already pinpointed 30 must-see destinations in Europe for Japanese travellers – with Conwy the only place in the UK to make it on to the list.
Tokyo-based Tomoko Ikegame, manager of JTB World Vacation, said: “I can easily see why this region was chosen. It is my first visit to North Wales and after just a few days I am very excited about all it has to offer.
“It’s very beautiful and everyone we have met has been so friendly and welcoming. I certainly want to come back and I’ll have no hesitation recommending tour groups to come here to explore.”
North Wales Tourism managing director Jim Jones, who recently visited Japan to drum up trade, accompanied the group on their trip.
He said: “These are among the most prominent travel representatives in Japan and the message they will take back home is of real significance when it comes to pointing tour groups in our direction in the future.
“Initial comments have been very positive so we are extremely hopeful that they will bear fruit in the 2017 tourist season and beyond.”
In Conwy, the delegation took in the town’s historic castle, met business owners, sampled local food and drink, and enjoyed a tour of the thriving high street and quayside.
Sayaka Eda, Europe Travel Center representative with Club Tourism International, Tokyo, declared the medieval walled town a definite highlight of their trip.
She said: “I think it’s different and better than London. There is so much of historic interest here and the small, independent shops are a delight.
“Japanese visitors will definitely appreciate the fascinating culture of the area.”
The party also visited award winning master butcher and sausage and pie maker Edwards of Conwy. The company has grown from a small concern employing just three staff when it opened in 1983 to a global contender with 80 employees today.
Retail manager Terry Elliott welcomed the Japanese visitors and told them of the history of the business, which now exports to Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, as well as continuing to cater for local customers.
He said: “It’s always good news to think that Conwy’s name is being talked about abroad and for us to be recognised by travel authorities in Japan like this is a real thrill.
“We look forward to welcoming more Japanese tourists in the future.”
Tour group member Akihiko Hosaka ,who travels to a different European country every month, declared the pork pies he sampled at Edwards among the best traditional delicacies he had eaten anywhere.
He said: “We were unlucky with the weather on our visit to Conwy but it was worth walking through the rain to taste those pork pies. They were delicious.”
The group also sampled mead, the oldest alcoholic drink in the world, at The Knight Shop in Castle Square. Toby Tunstall from the store said it was important for the town to open its arms to new tourist business and Japan was a key target market for the future.
He added: “It’s good news to know that JATA has shown such significant interest in Conwy and North Wales as a whole.
“A lot has been done by local tourist attractions and businesses, and by the North Wales tourist authorities to foster this relationship and it is pleasing to see it paying off.”
The group also visited wine and spirits specialists Vino Mundo in Conwy’s cobbled high street, where owner Julie Mills took them through samplings of Penderyn Welsh whisky and liqueurs, and then spent the night the Castle Hotel, Conwy.
During the four-day tour group also took a boat ride along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at Llangollen, before staying overnight at Ruthin Castle Hotel, then toured the Conwy Valley and Bodnant Gardens before heading to Caernarfon Castle.
They visited Halen Mon on Anglesey before stopping off at Llanfair PG to be photographed by the iconic rail station name board. Following an overnight visit to the Grade II French-style inspired castle hotel Chateau Rhianfa, the group headed to Llandudno’s Dunoon Hotel and a vici reception with Councillor Graham Rees.
The final leg of the tour saw the group visiting Llechwedd Slate caverns for a deep mine experience – plus a cheese and ale tasting – a tour of Portmeirion Italian village, a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway and a workshop with local hospitality suppliers at the Royal Sportsman Hotel in Porthmadog.
Mr Jones thanked the region’s businesses, hoteliers and retailers who contributed towards the success of the visit.
He said: “Their enthusiasm about meeting our visitors from Japan has been heartening. At lot of work is going in to promote North Wales to the further reaches of the world and it is important to have everyone on board when events like this occur.
“The support we have had from the local community in welcoming this delegation has been extremely encouraging and can only help further the cause.”
North Wales Tourism is one of the UK’s leading tourism organisations, supporting businesses across the region’s six counties. Its aim is to build and maintain a prosperous and sustainable tourism industry in North Wales.