'Welcome to Wales?', by Dylan Phillips

Forum: Tourism and Language Use in Western Europe

'Welcome to Wales?', by Dylan Phillips

[This is a translation of the article 'Croeso i Gymru', by Dylan Phillips, which appeared in Golwg. It is published with the permission of Golwg Cyf.]

New findings on the effects of tourism on the Welsh language

It is hardly surprising that hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers flock to Wales every year since this small country boasts such breathtaking scenery. But what price do we pay for giving these visitors such a warm welcome?

At an international one-day conference held at the Celtic Centre in Aberystwyth on 28 April 2001 a report entitled 'The Effects of Tourism on the Welsh Language in North-West Wales' was launched. This report reveals a close relationship between tourism, in-migration and language decline, and although it acknowledges the important contribution of the tourist industry to the Welsh economy, it warns that tourism during the twentieth century operated as a catalyst in the Anglicization of many communities throughout the Welsh-speaking heartland.

The issue of tourism is a complex one. The industry contributes nearly a billion pounds to the economy of Wales each year, and according to Wales Tourist Board figures as many as one in every ten persons in the Welsh workforce are somehow connected with the tourist sector. By today, the industry is an integral part of the Welsh economy and is extremely important to the prosperity of many communities - especially in the rural areas of north and west Wales. As a result of the difficulties of the agricultural industry and the lack of investment in other industries, Welsh-speaking areas depend heavily on tourism for income and employment. For better or worse, tourism sustains the Welsh-speaking heartland.

However, the experiences of popular tourist towns such as Rhyl, Llandudno, Prestatyn, Benllech, Aber-soch, Borth and Llangrannog prove that in the long term the price paid for tourism is the erosion of language and community.

Although tourism has been a boom industry in the western world since the end of the Second World War, scientific studies of its impact on the linguistic profiles and cultural heritage of regional and minority languages within Europe have been conspicuous by their absence. This is surprising given that an appreciable percentage of the most popular tourist destinations, especially on the Continent, are to be found in countries and regions where autochthonous regional or lesser-used languages are spoken.

This report, which is part of a wider project on The Social History of the Welsh Language, conducted by the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth, is the product of field-research, undertaken over a period of twelve months, which measures the effects of tourism on three communities in the Welsh-speaking heartland - namely Llanberis (Arfon), Llanengan (Dwyfor), and Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf (Anglesey). The project was funded by the European Union. By means of a questionnaire distributed to the inhabitants of all three communities important information was collated on the background and work of the local population, their birthplace and their reasons for moving to the area (in the case of in-migrants); their ability to speak Welsh, their use of the language, and their attitudes towards the language; their connections with the tourist industry, and their opinions regarding the importance and the effects of tourism on the community, especially as regards the Welsh language.

For those who live in tourist resorts or other parts of the country popular with visitors, the report may hold very few surprises. However, the report does corroborate circumstantial evidence with hard facts, and offers concrete objective proof that the effects of tourism pose a very serious threat to the language's future. And the most harmful effect by far is the way in which tourism encourages in-migration.

The landscape, the natural environment and peaceful surroundings, far from the hubbub of city life - the very same reasons which attract tourists to Wales - are among the most important factors in attracting in-migrants to rural Wales. Sometimes people move in order to escape the rat-race or in order to retire. But the Centre's study proves that there is a far more direct connection between tourism and in-migration. The research reveals that three-quarters of the in-migrants born outside Wales had previously spent a holiday in the area. In the case of Llanengan, as many as nine of every ten in-migrants born outside Wales had previous holiday connections with the area. In addition, the research revealed that many of these in-migrants also owned holiday homes or caravans in the area. Indeed, it appears that a direct connection exists between holiday homes and the retirement of in-migrants, since 41 per cent of holiday-home owners in the three communities studied bought the property as a future retirement home.

In-migration also tends to have a snowball effect. It seems that in-migration precipitates further in-migration, since nearly a third of the in-migrants questioned in this study revealed that they already had family and friends living in the area before they moved. As a result, in-migrants tend to congregate in certain villages and communities. One respondent, originally from Liverpool, stated that she had moved to Benllech specifically because more English people lived in this part of Anglesey.

As for the effect of in-migration on the Welsh language, the research clearly revealed that the greater the number of non-Welsh-speaking inhabitants within a community, the more the use of the Welsh language was curtailed. Welsh-speaking inhabitants use their mother tongue extensively in a wide range of community activities and events, but the greater the number of non-Welsh-speaking in-migrants living within the community, the greater the pressure on Welsh speakers to use English.

On the whole, most of the inhabitants of the three communities, both native inhabitants and in-migrants, appreciated the value of the Welsh language. However, a significant percentage of the non-Welsh-speaking in-migrants believed that their children were exposed to too much Welsh at school. Some parents feared that Welsh-medium education hampered their children's educational development. Therefore, despite scholarly and scientific evidence proving the advantages of bilingualism and Welsh-medium education, it is evident that a number of non-Welsh-speaking parents are still unconvinced of the value of bilingual education and that a small minority are openly hostile.

In the face of this evidence, it is not surprising that a high percentage of Welsh speakers believe that in-migration is the biggest threat facing the language. Many strongly believe that house prices are too expensive and beyond the reach of local people, and that there is too much competition for local houses from outside the area. It wasn't surprising, therefore, that three-quarters of the native inhabitants and Welsh speakers recorded their support for measures to control second homes.

Many were also unsatisfied with the tourist industry, especially in relation to the language. As one would expect, nearly all the respondents welcomed the economic and employment benefits of tourism, but also had strong reservations regarding the social and cultural disadvantages. The vast majority believed that greater use should be made of Welsh within the tourist sector, and many strongly opposed developments such as marinas, holiday villages and static caravan sites.

Therefore, what are the lessons to be learnt? By bringing profit to Welsh-speaking areas, creating jobs for their inhabitants and promoting a national identity based on the native language and its unique culture, the tourist industry could prove to be highly beneficial to the language. Respondents were certainly aware of the advantages of tourism in relation to the economy and employment, and were happy to see further development of the industry, on condition that this was locally controlled. It is clear, too, that respondents believed that more widespread use should be made of the native language within the tourist sector and that they were keen to ensure that the industry was developed in a way which would benefit the language.

On the other hand, the majority of inhabitants in these areas believed that tourism had contributed to the decline of the native tongue in one of its greatest strongholds, by encouraging the in-migration of non-Welsh-speaking people to the area.