Cadw Dragon’s monster effect on Welsh tourism

Friday 28 October 2016

Visitor figures off the ‘scale’ as families flock to see colossal creation

The Dragon at Beaumaris Castle

The Dragon at Beaumaris Castle

As Raglan Castle welcomes the arrival of the now-iconic Cadw Dragon, the Welsh Government releases new visitor figures showing a record-breaking season for Welsh heritage, as a direct result of the Dragon’s tour across its historic sites.

The visitor figures revealed by the Welsh Government today (28 October) show that 135,000 families explored Cadw sites between July and September, contributing to a total visitor figure of more than 600,000 — the highest number ever recorded for this quarter.

Cadw’s Historic Adventures campaign went viral on St David’s Day after the Dragon was unexpectedly seen breaking the banks of Caerphilly Castle. The Dragon then spent the summer touring iconic castles across Wales leading to Cadw reporting a 22 per cent increase in family visitors on the same quarter last year — from 110,885 in 2015 to more than 135,173 this year.

In addition to the surprise March 1 reveal at Caerphilly, the Dragon campaign also saw the creation of a CGI video released just before the summer holidays. The video, created by students from the University of South Wales, featured the sites included in the Dragon’s tour and was seen by more than 1.5 million people.

The Dragon attracted 121,000 visitors to the sites on its tour, with flying visits at Flint Castle, Caerphilly Castle, Chepstow Castle, Beaumaris Castle, Rhuddlan Castle, Kidwelly Castle, Caernarfon Castle and Harlech Castle — an increase of 86 per cent across these sites compared to 2015.

The figures have been welcomed by Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in Wales, which includes Culture, Tourism and Heritage. He said: “This quarter has brought with it a hoard of impressive achievements for Cadw sites across Wales.

“Old records have been broken and new ones set as castles, abbeys and other historic monuments welcomed the largest number of July to September visitors in Cadw’s history.

“It shows that innovative ideas like the Cadw Dragon help to spark a renewed interest in our heritage which not only has a positive impact on our historic environment but also on Wales’s wider economy.

“These figures continue to demonstrate the real value and significance of heritage attractions and their important place within Wales’s tourism offering.

“I hope these iconic sites can continue to inspire the people of Wales and tourists alike to discover Welsh culture and heritage during the remainder of Wales’s 2016 Year of Adventure.”

First stop on the tour was Flint Castle, a thirteenth century ruin which welcomed 2,000 visitors during the Dragon’s two-day visit in July.

While more than 17,000 people met the Dragon at Rhuddlan and Beaumaris Castles, resulting in a 685% and 71% increase in footfall for the north Wales sites respectively.

The Dragon also proved a hit at sites in south Wales, attracting 82,468 visitors during its time at original home Caerphilly Castle, 9,157 visitors during its stint at Chepstow Castle and 5,769 visitors at Kidwelly Castle — more than doubling last year’s figures.

A one-day stop in Caernarfon Town Square led to the town’s Castle seeing a 30 per cent increase in visitors that same day, while neighbouring site Harlech Castle — where the Dragon spent the remainder of September — attracted 36 per cent more visitors.  

The tour inspired thousands of visitors to see both the sculpture and its dramatic historic surroundings up close while extending the benefit to local communities, with many businesses near to the castles reporting boosted trade thanks to increases in footfall to the areas.

Lynne Evans, owner of Glanmors Café in Caerphilly, said: “The café was heaving during the last two weeks of July — we couldn’t understand why we were so busy until we realised that the dragon was back at the Castle!

“We had hundreds of family visitors, stretching from Caerphilly locals to people from further afield in Cardiff — it was absolutely tremendous to see the café so busy. The whole town was buzzing with talk about the dragon and Glanmors certainly benefitted from it.”

Debbie Lewis, manager at WHSmith Caerphilly, said: “It was wonderful for Caerphilly to be involved in such a high profile talking-point in Wales. It seemed like everyone in the community was talking about the dragon and the store was very busy as a result.

“We saw an obvious increase in tourists too, having met customers from elsewhere in the UK, America, Canada and even China — all of whom were very excited to meet the dragon.”

According to a recent Visit Wales Visitor Survey the historic landscape is an integral feature in Wales’s tourism offer, with 42 per cent of those surveyed having visited a castle or historic site during their stay.

This season’s visitor figures have also had a positive impact on Cadw membership, which is at an all-time high. Cadw now has more than 29,000 members — an increase of 18 per cent vs the same period last year.

Interestingly, 2016 also saw family memberships become the most popular purchase, nearly 25 per cent of all Cadw members are now families, a far higher proportion than at any time since Cadw was established 31 years ago.

The Dragon will reside at Raglan Castle until 14 November 2016, before creeping up on another unsuspecting site. Visitors wanting to meet the beast at Raglan Castle can do so by normal site-admission.

Cadw visitor statistics by site: July–September 2016
• Flint Castle: 2,000
• Caerphilly Castle: 55,520
• Chepstow Castle: 27,750
• Beaumaris Castle: 41,842
• Rhuddlan Castle: 17,329
• Kidwelly Castle: 18,719
• Caernarfon Castle: 97,574
• Harlech Castle: 53,201