Tourism in Wales is taken intensely seriously. As with Scotland and Northern Ireland, a large budget is spent on attracting visitors, upon whom so many jobs depend. In England, by contrast, successive governments have culled the promotional funding as effectively as the nation's livestock, leaving the English Tourism Council the formidable task of repairing the damage to the country's image with a fraction of the funds their counterparts across the borders enjoy.
The dismal prospects for tourism in England were set to change after the election. When the foot-and-mouth crisis was at its height, government ministers were wheeled out to proclaim that no one need ever venture beyond these shores again, so manifold were the glories of domestic tourism. The Blairs went off to York, while John Prescott temporarily exchanged the Jags for the Grand Union Canal.
With the Government safely re-installed, everyone who works in domestic tourism was looking forward to a higher profile. At the very least, the industry whose crucial importance to the countryside and cities was universally agreed, deserved a minister of its own. It was also hoped that the Department of Trade and Industry would take over to address the tattered image and economic woes of tourism.
So what did we get? The Department of Culture, Media and Sport kept its hands on tourism, even though it resolutely refuses to acknowledge the "T" word in its title. The DCMS also gained responsibility for licensing pubs. Perhaps it was while Government and officials were celebrating that new acquisition that the present almighty muddle arose.
Two jobs were on offer, the previous incumbents – Kate Hoey and Janet Anderson – having been unceremoniously sacked after the election. The newly upgraded senior post was Minister for Sport. The more junior was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for Tourism in England.
Two candidates were available. One, Richard Caborn, is an Englishman who knows little about sport, as he demonstrated on Radio Five Live last Sunday; he failed to answer questions on a par (that's a golfing term, by the way) with "Which famous playwright used to live in Stratford-upon-Avon?"
The other, Dr Kim Howells, is a Welshman who knows plenty about sport: he takes great pride in his membership of Pontypridd Rugby club and two cricket clubs. Best of all, his Pontypridd constituency is convenient for Cardiff, where the Millennium Stadium looks like becoming, by default, the premier sporting venue for the whole UK.
Inevitably, Mr Caborn got the sports job, while English tourism is now in the tender hands of Dr Howells, a former South Wales miner and steelworker.
England's tourism rivals need not quake too much about the chance of dramatic developments from the new minister. Dr Howells' job description suggests tourism will command little of his time. His other ministerial responsibilities include "broadcasting/film and press/ censorship; creative industries; Millennium (support to the Secretary of State); DCMS interest in IT, e-government; social policy, access and equal opportunities". Oh, and the erstwhile National Union of Miners firebrand also picks up the job of handing out pub licences.
Almost two million people are striving to rejuvenate an industry that has had a dreadful winter and faces a calamitous summer. Are they supposed to interpret this appointment as evidence of the Government's commitment to tourism?
Italy is one of the many nations that takes attracting visitors more seriously than we do, but tourism bosses must be regretting Genoa's bid to host the G8 summit next month. After the strife at the EU summit in Gothenburg, the hub of the Italian Riviera will be sealed when the heads of state arrive. In the city centre, sightseers will be foiled by a "maximum security zone" enforced by the authorities. From 18 July to 22 July, access will be allowed only to residents and to those "who work or perform useful public services".
Tourists and others who fail to perform useful public services are to be kept out. Railway stations and the airport will be closed for the duration, and British Airways and Ryanair have cancelled their flights to the city for the duration. While the bigwigs are in town, even the port that inspired Christopher Columbus is to be sealed.
The event will also disrupt the travels of thousands of holidaymakers whose destination is nowhere near the Italian city. Many flights to the Mediterranean routinely fly over Genoa, but planes are to be banned from airspace "adjacent to the areas being used for the summit".
Sometimes silence says more than words. As his train approached Doncaster this week, the conductor made an announcement that began, "If you're travelling to Scunthorpe, Grimsby or Cleethorpes..." There followed a weighty pause, during which passengers imagine him mouthing "I'm very, very sorry" or "Don't bother". He finally completed the sentence in a way that was fairer to these unkindly maligned destinations: "Please change here."Reuse content