A £6m project to refurbish Harlech Castle has resulted in an increase of more than 35% in visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site
The figures were revealed by Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates on a visit to the iconic site on Monday, February 6, as he officially opened a new Education Resource Centre, completed as part of the project. The improvement works were carried out by the Welsh Government’s historic environment service (Cadw) with funding from the Heritage Tourism Project (HTP), which has supported 40 historic sites across Wales since its launch in 2009. The project, which focuses on enhancing visitor experiences and attracting new audiences to Welsh heritage sites, has delivered new displays and interpretation, better access, and collaborations with local arts organisations to bring the sites to life. The increase in visitors has seen income rise by 69% and the refurbished shop has welcomed a sales increase of 439%.
Among the changes made to the Castle was the instalment of a “floating” footbridge which allowed visitors to enter the site through the original entrance for the first time in more than 600 years.
Also benefitting from the investment was the former Harlech Castle hotel which saw the ground floor transformed into a modern visitor centre complete with a shop, café, toilets and interpretation area, while the first and second floors were refurbished into five-star apartments. The project has generated nation-wide praise since its completion, receiving recognition at the regional and all-Wales Local Authority Building Control Awards, as well as winning the Institution of Civil Engineers’ coveted George Gibby Heritage Award. It was also highly commended at the 2016 British Construction Industry Awards in the Building of the Year (up to £10m) category and is named a finalist for the 2017 Civic Trust Awards.
“The aim of this project was to better present the Castle’s history and improve its visitor offer to create a first-class heritage attraction to reflect its World Heritage Site status,” Mr Skates said. “The redevelopment has established Harlech as a year-round, all-weather destination with the aim of extending the tourism season into the shoulder season. Driving commercial success of this nature is a principal behind the work on Historic Wales and these astonishing achievements at Harlech demonstrate what is to be won.
“Across Wales, our historic environment supports more than 30,000 jobs and contributes over £840m to Wales’s economy each year, so it’s vital that we continue to invest in strengthening our heritage tourism offer to attract even more visitors. The outcome of the HTP project demonstrates first-hand how these developments can have a positive impact in attracting new audiences and enhancing the experience, while giving our historic sites a sustainable future. As we celebrate the Year of Legends in 2017, I encourage people to visit Wales’s incredible historic sites to discover the rich stories, myths and legends behind them, such as the tales of the Mabinogion at Harlech Castle.”