Wales in Los Angeles

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American Welsh Kate in LA

I have been in Los Angeles to see the LA Times Travel Show, one of the largest in the US. I expected to see stalls promoting parts of California, the Caribbean and Asia but Wales? Apart from a stand urging Americans to visit Ireland, this stand was the only other one from our countries.

Kate Carrigan is an east coast lady who has decided that it is worthwhile to travel right across the US to promote Wales and her tours to it. For nearly 10 years she has been urging – and then taking – Americans to visit the country with her Special Group Tours company. In a hectic schedule, this is her second consumer travel show out of three in just six weeks to spread the message. She has done Philadelphia, Los Angeles and next up is Boston.

You have to ask, why she does it? Simple she says: Kate began by coming from the US to London and working for a Welshman. She was sold on the country and, in 2003, decided to offer small group tours lasting four days with the emphasis on Wales. Although she concentrates on Wales, her most popular trip is one combining Kent with the Chelsea Flower Show.  As a member, she managers to get all her clients in early giving them a chance to see things without the bustle of the bigger crowds. Her other popular English tour combines the Cotswolds with Jane Austen’s haunts.

But what are Kate’s own favourite places? When it comes to cities, she loves London but Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coastline is her preferred overall destination – partly owing to the puffins and other birds that one is able to see on this wind-swept place. It’s magical  she says but, because crossing to the island is dependent on the weather, it’s not a place Kate can always take her visitors to.

Why Wales? Because the country is ideally made for a short break visitor. Where else in just, four days, can tourists take in a Roman amphitheatre, castles, a male voice choir in rehearsal (one of the highlights of her tours), a narrow train journey to the top of Snowdonia and a coastal path that has some of the most stunning scenery in the world? Wales is blessed with an abundance of unique festivals too. “We may have Eisteddfodau in Pennsylvania and other places,” she observes, “but Llangollen, the national eisteddfod and the local ones are the real thing. To some Americans, visiting Wales is akin to getting off the beaten track. My tours appeal to independent travellers, who like to travel with a degree of comfort. And they can add my service as part of a longer trip, but to a country that comparatively few Americans visit”.

Kate offers two different four day tours in Wales; one based in the north, using Llandudno as its centre and one in the south based in a farmhouse just outside Newport.

As a traveller herself, where does she want to go that she has not yet been?   It transpires that there are three places on Kate’s hit list: step forward Shetland, The Galapagos Islands and Madagascar. And apart from Skomer, which place has fascinated her the most? Cambodia, she ventures.

At her stand she had arranged for a daily supply of Welsh cakes to be available but these soon disappeared in the first hour! Not only was she introducing Wales to Americans, she was introducing the cuisine as well. “There was lots of interest and the stand has been much busier in LA than Philadelphia, which is a much newer show. Business has been good over the last few years, despite the recession. And because you can see so much Wales easily and in a short time it is seen as good value for money.” Now that should please the ears of Visit Wales!


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