Despite a multi-million pound campaign to boost tourism, Wales is “standing still” in attracting foreign tourists, an expert has said.
Simon Calder added it is “really concerning” visitor spending dropped by 17% at a time when the pound is weak.
A record 39.2m visitors came to the UK in 2017 – but headed mainly to London and Scotland, new figures show.
The Welsh Government said its tourism barometer survey was “overwhelmingly positive” overall.
Numbers of foreign tourists rose by 0.5% but their spend dropped by 17% in the 12 months £5m was spent on the Year of Legends campaign, which aimed to give visitors legendary experiences.
Mr Calder said the lack of flights from major countries meant Wales was regarded as “an add on” to a trip to England rather than a destination in its own right.
“These figures are really concerning for the Wales tourism industry,” he said.
“Scotland in particular has done very well while Wales is effectively standing still.”
The tourism analysis published by the Welsh Government describes UK-wide increases being driven by visitors from north America and non-European countries.
Overall, 20m headed for London (up 4% on 2016) and 3.2m for Scotland (up 17%).
In comparison, there were 1.1m visitors to Wales (up 0.5%).
However, while these visitors’ spending increased by 14% in London to £13,546m and by 23% in Scotland to £2,276m, the figure dropped in Wales by 17% to £369m.
Mr Calder added: “The spend is really troubling because the pound is pretty pathetic and you would expect it to go up.
“This could be down to the length of time people can be persuaded to stay if they are using Wales as an add on to a trip to England.”
He said tourists’ imaginations had been captured through the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland and North Coast 500 in Scotland.
However, even with “fantastic movie set locations”, people needed to get to Wales.
“There has a been a huge increase in flights between Edinburgh and north America, that will explain a lot of the increase,” Mr Calder said.
“Wales will be hoping the new Qatar link does the same.”
While he said it was too early to know if it would be a success, it made Wales one stop from large cities such as Shanghai.
The Wales Tourism Alliance described the figures as “disappointing”.
Domestic UK overnight visitors to Wales fell in 2017.
There was a 3% decrease to 9m who spent £1,628m (a 3.6% drop) while UK-wide there was a 1% increase to 120.68m, who spent £23,683m (a 2.6% increase).
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said its tourism survey showed 80% of businesses reported a greater or similar level of business compared to 2016.
“There is no doubt that tourism is a hugely competitive global sector and we will continue to work with the industry to further improve what we have to offer in Wales and maximise opportunities to introduce new audiences and grow both overseas and domestic visitors so we can look to build on the 10 million overnight visitors we welcomed in 2017,” she added.
The spokeswoman said themed years have been “very well received” and the £5m invested in the Year of Legends marketing campaign helped generate an additional £365m for the Welsh economy.
In 2018 so far, more than 100 cruise shops have visited Wales, bringing 51,000 passengers from countries such as the USA, Canada and France.
This represents a 15% increase on 2017, with the 54 stopping at Anglesey, 30% more than last year.