Q. Please tell other members a bit about you and your business
A. John Lloyd of Aberllefenni Slate Mine and I formed Corris Caverns Limited with a view to developing the Braichgoch Slate Mine in Corris into a visitor attraction. We were well aware of the appeal of exploring underground slate workings but we were equally conscious that the story of slate mining was well told elsewhere. Eventually we decided to draw on the wealth of Welsh myths and legends as a theme using the underground workings as a dramatic backdrop.
We were able to capture the water running through the tunnel to create an underground river and we commissioned a specially designed boat from the boatyard in Ynyslas to carry visitors along the river, through the magic waterfall and into a time of myth and legend. So King Arthur’s Labyrinth was born and it welcomed its first visitors in the summer of 1993.
The Labyrinth is located adjacent to Corris Craft Centre which had been developed by the then Development Board for Rural Wales (DBRW) and we were able to rent one of the studios as the reception for our new venture. A couple of years later DBRW put the Craft Centre on the market and, thanks to a friendly bank manager, we were able to buy it. The Craft Centre now accommodates eight independent craft producers, the Dyfi Distillery, a café and a Welsh food shop, and the receptions for both the Labyrinth and Corris Mine Explorers.
Q. How has the industry changed from your perspective over the years?
A. I have been involved with tourism in Wales for almost 50 years and, as you might imagine there have been enormous changes over that time. In the 1970s there was real and justified concern about the quality of the tourism product on offer but over the years that has completely changed. Efforts by the industry and ever higher expectations by customers have ensured that Wales now has a first class tourism offering.
Competition has increased, not only from alternative destinations in the UK and abroad but also within Wales. Every year there are more visitor attractions vying for visitors’ attention, time and money. Every year, more traditional farm buildings become self-catering accommodation. Every year, more activities are offered. On balance this is a good thing but succeeding in business becomes more challenging year by year.
Tourism in Wales is now less seasonal and short breaks make up a greater part of the business but many jobs are still seasonal and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the years?
A. Covid has been one of the biggest challenges and there is no need for me to go into detail as we have all had a tough time over the last year. However, I would like to add that without the financial help from the Government our business would not have survived this far and with it the forty or so jobs supported by all the activities at the Craft Centre.
The operation of a business using former mine workings as a visitor attraction is a constant challenge. The safety of our visitors and employees has to be the top priority and this requires constant vigilance, inspection and maintenance.
The immense underground caverns and tunnels of the Labyrinth are cool, dark and damp. This creates a difficult atmosphere in which to operate electrical equipment and the increasingly complex digital sound and light controls which lie behind our underground presentations. Everything has to be carefully protected to avoid the disruption which can so easily be caused by the ‘gremlins’ lurking in the shadows.
One of our biggest challenges was to build additional craft studios at the Craft Centre in the early 2000s. In order to do this we had to obtain funding from Europe through WEFO and from Cyngor Gwynedd through the Local Regeneration Fund. This was not straight-forward for anybody but it was made more difficult by our being a commercial organisation. However, after several years of effort and with the active support of the European Funding department in Cyngor Gwynedd we were able to build an additional four studios at the Craft Centre which have been fully occupied ever since.
Q. What do you enjoy most about running your business?
A. Working with an enthusiastic and competent team to provide a destination which people enjoy visiting.
Q. Why do you think it's important to be a member of MWT?
A. MWT are an invaluable support and source of advice about everything to do with tourism in Mid Wales. If they don’t know the answer, they know someone who does.
Their websites and social media work are an essential element in the overall marketing of Mid Wales and we make full use of Guestlink to provide an on-line booking platform for the Labyrinth at a low cost.
One of the benefits in normal times is the opportunities that MWT offer for networking with other people in the business and, during the pandemic, it has been a channel for government advice and other help to deal with the abnormal circumstances we find ourselves in.
A key aspect of MWT work is the representational role they perform, passing on to government and others the views of the industry and the problems that it faces, the help that is needed and potential solutions to problems. This activity has never been more important than over the last year when the whole tourism industry has been fighting for survival.
MWT, working with their colleagues in the Wales Tourism Alliance, provides a strong voice for tourism in a way that is impossible for individual businesses.
Thank you, Ian.
Click here to visit King Arthur's Labyrinth' website
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