IF THERE is anything that us Welsh can learn from our Irish cousins, it is the way they have marketed their culture throughout the world. Their success has been outstanding – their tourist industry is absolutely thriving with 6.7million people visiting last year.
I do not think there is a city across Europe that does not have an Irish pub. Indeed New York City hosts a St Patrick’s Day parade each year on March 17. Even though millions will not have visited places like Donegal, Limerick and Cork they are known throughout the world.
That is why the NATO summit is a golden opportunity. For two days all eyes will be on Wales, and Gwent in particular. It will be the first NATO summit to be hosted in Wales, as well as the first time a serving US President has set foot on Welsh soil.
This really is our chance to put Wales - its people, culture and business - in the shop window of the world.
In particular, I am pleased Welsh food producers will be hosting a food market in the Celtic Manor for delegates. I especially hope that some foods made in Islwyn, like Brace’s bread and the Just Love Food Company’s nut-free cakes, will be sampled during the two-day summit.
Above all, I hope the NATO summit will be a launch pad to export Wales around the world in much the same way that Ireland has so successfully done in the past few years.
Like Ireland, we need to learn to capitalise on high-profile visits. President Obama’s 2011 stop-off in the country only lasted 24 hours, but images of him and his wife sipping Guinness in a Moneygall pub were broadcast globally.
These visits and events help business gain access to new markets; schools and colleges benefit from speakers and education programmes; and charities gain from the increased publicity. It provides an economic boost which, when added up, runs into the tens of millions.
This is why we need to grasp all the opportunities offered by this summit with both hands, and not shy away from boasting about what we have to offer.
Wales has a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote itself. It may not happen overnight, but let us hope Welsh culture becomes as familiar as the Irish in the years to come.