Wales is ‘standing still’ with foreign visitor numbers, despite a multimillion-pound marketing campaign, according to travel writer Simon Calder.
Speaking to the BBC, he said it was ‘really concerning’ that visitor spending dropped by 17% at a time when the pound is weak.
A record 39.2 million visitors came to the UK in 2017, but they headed mainly to London and Scotland.
Numbers of foreign tourists to Wales rose by 0.5% but their spending dropped by 17% in the 12 months that £5 million was spent on the Year of Legends campaign.
Calder said the lack of flights from major countries meant Wales was regarded as ‘an add-on’ to a trip to England rather than a destination in its own right.
“These figures are really concerning for the Wales tourism industry,” he told the BBC.
“Scotland in particular has done very well while Wales is effectively standing still.”
Overall, 20 million overseas visitors headed for London (up 4% on 2016) and 3.2 million for Scotland (up 17%) – while there were 1.1m visitors to Wales (up 0.5%).
Their spending increased by 14% in London to £13.5 billion and by 23% in Scotland to £2.3 billion – but the figure dropped in Wales by 17% to £369 million.
Calder added: “The spend is really troubling because the pound is pretty pathetic and you would expect it to go up.”
He said tourists’ imaginations had been captured through the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland and North Coast 500 in Scotland.
“There has a been a huge increase in flights between Edinburgh and north America; that will explain a lot of the increase,” Calder said.
“Wales will be hoping the new Qatar link does the same.”
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The most recent results from our Tourism Barometer Survey were overwhelmingly positive, with 80% of our businesses reporting a greater or similar level of business compared to the same period last year.
“There is no doubt that tourism is a hugely competitive global sector and we will continue to work with the industry to further improve what we have to offer in Wales and maximise opportunities to introduce new audiences and grow both overseas and domestic visitors so we can look to build on the 10 million overnight visitors we welcomed in 2017.
“Our themed years have been very well received; the result has been that Wales is a destination with a clear, compelling and confident story to tell.
“In 2017, Visit Wales’ marketing generated an additional £365 million for the Welsh economy, and of course one of the highlights of our Year of the Sea 2018 has been to welcome the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race to Wales. Next year we look forward to our Year of Discovery which will be about building on the previous 3 themes and acting as a bridge into 2020 and beyond.”