BANKRUPTCY HOTSPOTS; As tastes change, resorts urged to adapt or die.
WITH its iconic beach huts, sandy beaches and family-themed attractions, it was the natural choice for thousands of holidaymakers just a few decades ago.
But now a stretch of North Wales coastline has been labelled one of the bankruptcy hotspots of the UK - and is being warned to adapt or die in the face of changing tastes.
In an alarming new report, tourism experts are warning that low wages and high unemployment mean coastal towns and cities are outstripping inland areas in financial failure leagues.
The report from ClearDebt - based on figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - reveals a "disproportionate" number of coastal towns and areas going bankrupt in the last 10 years across the UK compared to inland areas.
It lists Denbighshire - home of beach holiday favourites Rhyl and Prestatyn - as one of the worst affected in the whole country for rates of personal insolvency, with the report pointing to a reliance on traditional industry as a possible reason and increasing competition for tourists from abroad.
Welsh tourism expert John Wake warned that "traditional" seaside resorts based on the Blackpool model such as Rhyl and Prestatyn must face a painful "rebranding" exercise which could take decades - or face decades of further decline.
The report shows six of the 10 areas with the highest insolvency rates were coastal, and details how this trend was even worse in 2010, when 80% were coastal areas while only a quarter of all local authorities are coastal.
It said that part of the worst-hit areas' problems could be their "continued dependency on tourism", with Denbighshire's coastal spots joined by the likes of Scarborough, Blackpool and Torbay as worst-hit.
It showed Denbighshire suffered an insolvency rate of 49.3 per 10,000 last year, making it the fifth worst in the UK, while Ceredigion - which is similarly dependent on tourism - had a rate of just 19.9.
Andrew Smith, director of external affairs at ClearDebt, said the rate was so much higher in coastal areas where their "traditional economic strength" was in domestic tourism.
"Historical figures for coastal regions actually say that having access to the coast is an asset. But now, while it is down to the individual, it is much less likely to be the case that you'll get into debt in non-coastal areas," he said.
"But having said that, that doesn't appear to be true of Ceredigion - they appear to be bucking the trend.
"Most tourism-centred economies have not decided to diversify, like Blackpool, which appears to have significantly higher unemployment and much higher number of people on benefits." The report compares the fortunes of Denbighshire against the similarly coastal and tourism-dependent Ceredigion - which takes in the coastal towns of Aberporth, Llangrannog and Aberystwyth - which it pointed to its fewer people employed in the public sector and manufacturing.
"Yet despite these factors and lower average weekly earnings, Ceredigion outperforms Denbighshire in a number of key economic indicators, the most notable being its personal insolvency rate," the report said.
It added: "Perhaps more significant in Ceredigion's superior economic performance is its longer coastline, which has allowed it to rely in the past more on tourism than the coal industry, whereas coal mining in Denbighshire once employed around 12,000 men.
"Beach tourism may not be the industry it once was in the UK, but it has stood the test of time better than coal mining."
Mr Wake agreed that Ceredigion coastal towns including Aberaeron and Aberporth were experiencing boom times as they were able to adapt to changing trends.
"The problem with towns like the Blackpools of the world is that there is an image problem," he said.
"Some of the problems have meant they haven't diversified like some other towns on the Welsh coast.
"I was in Aberporth yesterday and even though it was overcast, there were no parking places to be had. It was packed, because the image is terribly good.
"You also have to bear in mind that with it being pounds 6.50 a gallon or however much it costs to get to these places, it gets compared to getting to Cyprus for a few hundred quid."
He said that struggling towns of the "Blackpool model" will face an uphill struggle to re-brand themselves.
He said: "You are what you are, and you've got what you've got.
"Once you have got a poor image, it is very hard to change that. If you try to change the image quickly, it's not going to be viable.
"You cannot have the top end of the market visiting certain resorts now. The target audience - which in places like Blackpool seems to be stag parties, nights out and those looking for the fun and the razzmatazz - is struggling, while coastal towns like Aberporth and Llangrannog that have a higher-end market are doing very well."
He said that towns that might have struggled today, but diversified into other markets, have shown how towns can slowly recover - but that any town looking to transform itself would take "decades" to do so.
"There has got to be a major re-branding so it makes it attractive for people to visit," he said.
"If they keep going the way they are going, going downhill, there is no real answer for them.
"There are a few towns like Porthcawl and Barry Island, where a couple of decades ago the brand was a negative one, but they have re-branded.
"Porthcawl has festivals like the Elvis Festival going on, which attracts thousands of people from all over the world, and instead of knocking down their pavilion they've done it up."
A spokeswoman for Denbighshire County Council said that Rhyl and Prestatyn were changing.
She said: "Both Rhyl and Prestatyn are going through unprecedented change at this time with major investment from Welsh Government, Denbighshire County Council and partners to regenerate the West End area of Rhyl.
"Investment is also being targeted along the Rhyl promenade to improve the tourism offer.
"Rhyl has a newly appointed town centre manager and there are a number of large-scale and small-scale regeneration projects throughout the town.
"In Prestatyn, a multi-millionpound retail development is under way, which will boost the town and create employment."
She said Rhyl's designation as part of the North Wales Coast Strategic Regeneration Area would continue regeneration in the town.
"A great deal of work is ongoing to address the underlying causes of deprivation in the town and creating the conditions which are necessary for businesses to thrive and for the community to flourish," she said.
COMMENT: PAGE 30 WARM ICE CREAM A TREAT FOR WET DAYS A SEASIDE resort has come up with what it says is the perfect antidote to a washout bank-holiday weekend - warm ice cream.
The Welsh cake-flavoured treat - spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon - is the brainchild of artisan confectioners Baravellis and Destination Conwy.
Launched this week in Llandudno, its inventors say the unusual ice cream has a "warming quality" capable of combating the wettest of Welsh weather.
Sam Nayar, from Destination Conwy, said: "Ice cream is a summer essential, so we wanted to create a flavour that could be eaten come rain or shine while including something traditionally Welsh.
"Kids and adults alike have gone wild for the product so far here in Llandudno.
"Lancashire has its hot pot, Cornwall a pasty, Yorkshire its pudding and now North Wales has its very own signature dish."
Mark Baravelli, from Baravellis, added: "Ice cream is so versatile and there is a plethora of flavours out there.
"However, a warming ice cream is totally unusual and different.
"We think it is a fantastic pairing and can see the product doing very well, especially with how much rain we've had this summer!" Welsh cakes have been made in Wales for centuries and can be eaten hot or cold.
They include a mix of spices, such as warming nutmeg and cinnamon, to give a distinctive flavour.
Porthcawl, where the annual Elvis tribute weekend takes place Sunseekers on Rhyl''s Central Beach on August 3 1952 and below, Barry Island in the sun in 2012 Rhyl's run down West End
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|Publication:||Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Aug 26, 2012|
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