Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, July 10, 2007

TO BE fair it wasn’t raining every day we were on the Llŷn.
One day it was just blowing a gale.
No-one told me that gills were this season’s must-have for a holiday on the peninsula.
But I suppose the Llŷn was not alone in being drenched last week, and we did have one final day of glorious sunshine that we spent on Llanbedrog beach that reminded me of the idyllic holidays spent in that part of Wales as a child.
In a way not much has changed, the Llŷn is still blessed with unspoilt stretches of beach that are as good as any you would find the world over.
But while the Llŷn remains unspoilt, it is that lack of change which seems to be the greatest threat to its future.
One of the great things about the place is that it has resisted the march of corporate culture. It still has its own quirky, individual shops and cafés that are not part of some global, homogenized chain.
They’re owned and run by local people and their profits stay on the Llŷn because their owners live there.
But, you have to say that 24-hour-a-day convenience shopping is not part of that culture and, perhaps rightly, they shut up shop on the dot.
That’s fine, so long as your competitors do the same, and as long as the Llŷn was served by small shops, that was the case.
But now the big boys have moved in, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda are all within easy reach and they stay open way into the night when the small shopkeepers have long pulled down their shutters.
The arrival of the big supermarkets on the Llŷn is I think the death knell for many of the small traders there, unless they can adapt fast.
Tourists can now head for their holiday home, call in at Asda Pwllheli on the way and load up with all the food they need for the week. The cash that they would have spent in locally-owned shops simply swells Asda’s profits and little benefit is felt locally. OK Asda provides jobs to local people and may buy some of its produce in the region, but it will never benefit the local economy to the same extent as it would if the shopping was done at a local small business.
This is going to change the nature of the relationship between people who live on the Llŷn and tourists, a relationship that is already uneasy at times.
For the most part, while the holiday home debate rages, it was accepted that tourism contributed a huge amount to the economy of the region.
However, when you remove from the contribution the money that is now going to supermarket shareholders instead of local shopkeepers, then the local community are going to see tourists as less beneficial than they were previously.
There’s no easy answer to this, small shops cannot hope to beat supermarkets on opening hours, price or range. But what they can do is be more authentic than the supermarkets.
People don’t come to the Llŷn for convenience – let’s face it, if you were doing what is convenient you would be hopping on an easyjet flight to somewhere much hotter for about the same money that you spend on petrol getting you into Wales.
So if they come to the Llŷn for its beauty and character, it’s not unreasonable to think they might be prepared to forego their supermarket shop and shop locally instead. And they would be more tempted to do this if the local shopkeepers promoted local produce.
Some of them are doing this already, but it needs to be pursued aggressively. You are never going to beat Asda on the price of a tin of beans, so don’t try. Instead source your food locally and make sure that for an authentic taste of the Llŷn then it is your shop that tourists have to come to, not the nearest supermarket.
Some shops might be more specialist and might not see the supermarkets as their competitors. But what the supermarkets do is reduce the traffic of shoppers on the high street, and the passing trade falls off so there is no room for complacency.
This not meant to sound pessimistic, the Llŷn remains a beautiful place that will always attract visitors – but the question is how much benefit will the Llŷn derive from those visitors.
Even in rain that is being driven straight into your face by winds whipping in off the Irish Sea the Llŷn is lovely. It remains the wild edge of the world and my favourite part of Wales.

WHAT wasn’t so lovely was the regular appearance of jetskis off the beaches of the Llŷn.
I think the majority of visitors, and locals, who go to the beaches there do so to find a little tranquility and to enjoy the unspoilt nature of the coastline.
How you do that with a jetski fizzing up and down the shoreline is beyond me.
Of course, some might argue that banning them will damage tourism. But a couple of jetskiers can ruin the enjoyment of a beach for hundreds of other visitors, so what little benefit they bring is vastly outweighed by the damage they do.
They are a vile invention, they serve no useful purpose, they pollute the environment and they ought to be banned completely from the North Wales coast.

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