Europe’s largest supplier of historical arms and armour says the boom in staycations is helping tourism in Conwy to battle back from the coronavirus crisis.
According to Toby Tunstall, who manages The Knight Shop, in Conwy, the collapse of the so-called air bridges has led to an increase in the number of families looking for a break closer to home.
With a quarter of the UK’s population living two hours away or less, he said North Wales was the ideal destination for them.
It was hailed as good news by retired science teacher Toby, who manages the shop of behalf of his sons, Bryan and Graeme, who run the business from their head office in Mochdre from where they sell arms, armour, swords, helmets and Medieval related weaponry to mail order customers worldwide.
Toby revealed pandemic has had a devastating effect on the business but tourist numbers are rising in Conwy and there is light at the end of what he says has been a very long tunnel.
He’s hoping they and other tourism-related businesses can salvage what they can from the curtailed summer season and extend it to help them survive over the quieter winter months.
Toby said: “It’s certainly busier and people are returning to North Wales to see what’s on offer. We are seeing lots of returning visitors but what is even more pleasing is the number of new visitors.
“There are without doubt a lot of people, staycationers, who are visiting the region instead of jetting off on package deals to Spain or elsewhere in Europe. And what is fabulous is they appear to like what they see and are making it clear they intend to return.
“Visitor numbers are still not what we would expect at the height of summer but they are definitely rising. And so far as Conwy is concerned having the castle back open is a big boost.
“People who are coming here for the first time are genuinely taken aback by what they see. They look at the castle and it’s clear they are astounded.”
He added: “International visitor number are way down, as you would expect, but British tourists coming to North Wales for the first time are giving us a real boost.
“What we need now is a long period of good weather so the season can be extended well into September and beyond.”
Toby says the Knight Shop employs four people while the Mochdre head office from where the mail order side of the business is run employs many more.
He said: “The business was started by my sons and my role is to manage the shop in Conwy. We supply all sorts of arms and armour, Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance right up to more modern military kit. There is also a big mail order market for dragons, fairies and mystical characters.
“But tourism is such a massive feature in the North Wales economy. It was looking bleak under lock down but I’m increasingly optimistic we will eventually recover from the Covid-19 crisis. And British people coming to North Wales for perhaps the first time and then returning will play a big part of any sustained recovery.”
It was a message echoed by Nick Jackson, the chief executive of the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay.
He said: “Things were looking critical and I really feared for our future. We are not out of the woods by any means but there is now some hope.
“We are working on a much reduced maximum number of visitors, 1,000 a day, with everyone having to pre-book online.
“The first few days were quiet and I was panicking but we are now operating at the maximum number per day which is pleasing.
“We have introduced lots of precautionary features including a one way system around the zoo and numerous hands sanitizer stations. But I’m really pleased that visitors are returning.
“However, we are very dependent on the weather and I’m praying for a long spell of good weather through August, September and into October to help us.”
However, Nick says while he’s delighted visitors are flooding back the zoo still faces serious financial issues in the months and even years ahead due to Covid-19.
“The worry is we may not be able to continue our mission of conserving and protecting native red squirrels and pine martens here in Wales and critically endangered animals such as snow leopards internationally. These projects are vital if we are to play a part in saving these species.
“It was awful seeing the zoo empty of visitors for so many months. We had to furlough some staff but keepers worked throughout, the welfare of our 400 plus animals has to come first.
“The problem is of course that sea lions, chimpanzees, snow leopards and tigers, for example, need a lot of nutritious but expensive food. They aren’t cheap to feed! But with people coming back to the zoo in numbers there is room for a degree of optimism.”
Adam Williams runs Tir Prince Raceway and fun park at Towyn as well at the famous Llandudno Pier and says visitor numbers are now around what he would expect for August.
He said: “We lost three months and that’s half the season. Like every tourist attraction we have had to introduce lots of measures to keep both visitors and staff safe.
“We have spent a great deal of money on signage, hand sanitizing stations and introducing one way systems where we can.”
“Winter will be difficult but visitors are coming back in numbers and that leaves me optimistic for the future although we can’t pretend it will be easy.
“What we now need is an extended season but that will be weather dependent. The message is clear though, North Wales is well and truly open and ready to welcome visitors.”
Ashley Rogers, Commercial Director of the North Wales Business Council, said “It’s excellent to see the majority of our tourism businesses now open and safely welcoming visitors.
“Our businesses have worked extremely hard, under difficult circumstances to open under social distancing regulations and are doing their bit for the region’s economic recovery.
“If British people are staycationing this year then North Wales has a huge amount to offer them, both existing and first time visitors.”
Debbie Bryce, Chief Executive of West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce said: “The hospitality and tourism sectors in North Wales have been amongst the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“However, with an increase in the number of people looking to stay in the UK this Summer, there is hope that these key sectors can recover sooner than first feared. “North Wales is home to some of the UK’s finest tourist spots and is an ideal destination for would be staycationers.”
Ben Cottam, Head of External Affairs at FSB Wales said: “Tourism businesses are facing their toughest challenge ever. However, by their nature, these businesses are resilient and innovative and we know that they are working hard welcome all those from across the UK and beyond who are choosing North Wales as their holiday destination this year.
“Our communities depend on the viability of these businesses and so it’s more important than ever that people support local attractions and shop locally.
“This community effort can not only help these businesses in the short-term but help develop North Wales’ tourism offering to the world in the longer-term and be a core part of economic recovery.”