storyWhen it comes to visiting Wales, Manon Antoniazzi, the chief executive of Visit Wales for the Welsh government, makes a compelling argument.

“We will provide the warmest of welcomes, outstanding quality, excellent value for money and memorable, authentic experiences, whether you are looking for a great family holiday, a short luxury break, or a thrilling outdoor adventure.”

And if that’s not enough to convince you, Antoniazzi goes on to extoll the region as a culturally vibrant country with renowned opera companies, choirs and orchestras and what she calls a “buzzing” traditional and pop music scene. She also notes the country’s reputation for hosting major sporting events made huge strides in credibility thanks to such forthcoming highlights as the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in 2016 and the Volvo Ocean Race scheduled to take place during 2017-18.

As you may have guessed by now, Antoniazzi is big on Wales. And why not? She was born and brought up in the country’s capital city of Cardiff, but has family links throughout the country to Treorchy, Lianelli, Aberystwyth and Machynlleth.

“I love the journey from south to north, during which the striking urban landscapes of the valleys give way to the rolling Cambrian hills and then increasingly dramatic mountains leading back down to the sea,” she enthuses.

The chief executive notes Wales is a wonderful place for a relaxing holiday, but jokes that if you have to drive around the country as much as she does on business that her energy can be depleted.

“The problem is that I keep getting distracted by the landscapes and having to stop to take pictures,” she laughs.

Antoniazzi describes the country as a “hidden gem.” She asserts: “Although the quality of what’s offered to tourists has been transformed in recent decades, perceptions have not always kept pace with reality. There are many cultural and historical reasons why Wales isn’t as well-known as it deserves to be internationally. In many places, few people realize that Wales is a separate nation within the United Kingdom, with its own ancient history and language. But on the plus side, we can offer visitors maximum quality with minimum crowds. With 641 castles, there’s a fair chance you’ll have one to yourself.”

Antoniazzi’s office channels public money into the tourism sector to support investment, and leads the national marketing of Wales. As is the case with other tourism authorities, Visit Wales is increasingly taking advantage of digital channels to promote the country and make it easier for tourists to discover the region. A recent endorsement from no one less than the President of the United States doesn’t hurt matters either. At a NATO summit meeting at the Celtic Hotel in Newport, President Obama praised Wales’ “extraordinary beauty, wonderful people and great hospitality,” and urged American citizens to visit the country.

Seeing such things come to fruition along with excellent results this year to date in visitation is naturally gratifying for Antoniazzi.

“It’s a very competitive global market,” she notes, “and people expect constant improvement.”

Another upside for herself personally is getting to test out all the new highlights. Those highlights range from luxurious hotels and wonderful restaurants serving delicious local produce, to innovative attractions and highly distinctive, unexpected smaller places to stay.

All of this is deeply important to Antoniazzi. She was raised in a Welsh-speaking home by parents who were keen to ensure that both her and her sister knew their own country well before setting out to explore others. Every year while growing up she attended the National Eisteddfod, which she describes as a great celebration of everything Welsh and which gave her a ringside seat for some of the nation’s best traditional and contemporary culture.

“I subsequently read Celtic Studies at university and so learned a little bit of every single Celtic language, ancient and modern,’ she points out. “I have drawn on those roots all my life, wherever I’ve worked.”