Promoting Digital Skills in Mid Wales: Real Ceredigion Experiences
Cardiff Met is the Wales partner in the Next Tourism Generation (NTG) Alliance that promotes digital and sustainability skills training. This blog outlines the Real Ceredigion Experiences project that delivered digital workshops, highlighted the advantages of adopting technologies and published a Starter Guide to Improving Digital Sales that can be downloaded for free. Louise Dixey from Cardiff Met in collaboration with Val Hawkins of MWT Cymru highlight the policy context and project insights in this blog. This project reflects best practice that can be replicated in Wales and further afield.
The Policy Context
Enhancing digital skills in tourism businesses has been a priority for the Welsh government for over a decade. The Sustainable Tourism Framework for Wales advocates training and skills initiatives for uptake of ICT to ensure the competitiveness of the industry (Welsh Government, 2007). The National Strategy for Tourism 2013-2020, Partnership for Growth, focuses on “building the capacity of the industry to utilise the latest technology to reach and influence potential customers” to enable profitable performance (Welsh Government, 2013, p.9).
The new Regional Skills Plan that covers Mid Wales highlights that globalisation, technological advancements and changes in consumer habits have brought significant change to the sector. The Plan highlights that, “These changes will surely have skills implications, including an increased demand for advanced digital skills including the use of virtual reality, management of data and data analysis. It is thought that skills in the areas of social media, marketing and data protection will continue to be important and therefore it is essential that employees are given regular training in this area to keep in line with advancements” (Regional Learning and Skills Partnership, 2019, pp.75-76). It is important to note that digital skills gaps in tourism are not limited to Mid Wales but evident across the country and prevalent in the wider economy.
A strategic objective of the Ceredigion Destination Management Plan 2013-2020 is to invest in a skilled workforce and encourage tourism SMEs to take-up training opportunities to fill skills gaps (Ceredigion County Council, 2014).
The Real Ceredigion Experiences project targeted visitor attractions, activity providers, guided tours, events and festivals in the county. A pilot group of eight businesses participated in the project and identified the following barriers to engaging online:
- A lack of time and limited resources
- Insufficient digital knowledge and expertise
- Low confidence in digital selling and marketing
In order to address these barriers, businesses attended three one-day workshops:
- Boosting your Sales (Social media and websites)
- E-Commerce (Powering your sales platforms)
- Vroom Vroom Video (Video development)
A Starter Guide to Improving Digital Sales was developed as a toolkit for all types of tourism businesses in the region. The Guide features case studies and explains digital marketing, key digital tools, how to address barriers to increasing digital sales, the pros and cons of online booking systems, the importance of search engine optimisation, the essentials of a strong brand, key reasons to use and tips for building video content, avoiding website pitfalls, digital trends in 2019, pointers for social media and a digital marketing plan template.
Testimonials from participating businesses feature in the Guide. Example comments include:
“I have developed a much greater understanding of the benefits of social media and video content and the need to develop a better marketing strategy. Don’t be afraid to make radical changes!”
Steve Hartley, Dolphin Boat Surveys
“Such a helpful programme which has encouraged me to develop video content, set up a YouTube channel as well as Hootsuite to manage social media. I also learned the importance of changing my website to be mobile-friendly and to let the customers do the talking for you, through their online reviews!”
Julie Akkermans, Cae Hir Gardens
“During our participation in the Real Ceredigion Experiences research programme, we developed a range of responses for TripAdvisor reviews and social media comments, so we have content to hand. Our video now includes more laughter and happiness so that the customer experience is better demonstrated. It is so useful to talk with other local businesses in order to learn from them. We are tailoring our digital sales platform to be better suited to our business and enable a better – and easier customer experience.”
Rhydian Evans, Adventure Beyond
- MWT overestimated the skills levels of the participating businesses and had to cover more basic digital techniques than was initially anticipated at the project planning stage.
- Recruitment and engaging suitable businesses to take part in the pilot provided difficult largely due to lack of time available for the businesses to commit to attend all workshops that was an essential element of the pilot programme. A similar project should be held in the low season.
- New cluster groups /information networks did not develop. However, most participating businesses were and continue to be active at a local community level and participate in local and regional tourism groups.
MWT Cymru is the regional membership and marketing organisation for tourism businesses in Mid Wales. It is a business-led, not-for-profit organisation committed to supporting the growth and development of a sustainable tourism industry.
The Real Ceredigion Experiences project received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group (administered by Ceredigion County Council) which is funded through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
Ceredigion County Council (2014) Destination Management Plan Ceredigion 2013-2020.
Regional Learning and Skills Partnership (2019) The Regional Employment and Skills Plan for South West and Mid Wales 2019.
Welsh Government (2007) Sustainable Tourism A Framework for Wales.
Welsh Government (2013) Welsh Government Strategy for Tourism 2013-2020: Partnership for Growth.