A record year for tourism in Oxfordshire last year…. but what does the future hold?

Blenheim Palace, Park and Estate[2]

Experience Oxfordshire, the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for the county, saw a huge spike in the county’s tourism growth last year.

This year’s Economic Impact Report for Tourism in Oxfordshire, a report commissioned by Experience Oxfordshire, shows the county bucking the national trend with a significant increase in visitor spend last year. The study shows an impressive increase in spend of nine per cent, taking the value of the visitor economy in Oxfordshire to £2.5 billion per annum, exceeding the county’s target of five per cent growth for value.

The report shows that the county actually welcomed fewer visitors with a slight one per cent decline in volume to 30.9 million (from 32 million) visitors during 2019  which aligns with the Experience Oxfordshire ambition of encouraging visits that offer the best balance of impact and contribution to the county. The decline was in day visitors with overnight visitor trips significantly increasing.

The report also shows an impressive increase in jobs supported taking the number of jobs in the sector to just over 42,000 across Oxfordshire an increase of nine per cent on the previous year– accounting for 12 per cent of all employment across the county which resulted in the creation of over 3,000 additional jobs compared to the previous year.

In terms of domestic overnight trips visitor nights were up by 2.1 per cent  with spend up by 8.5 per cent  which outperformed the South East region which saw domestic visitor nights decrease by eight per cent  and associated expenditure decrease by 5.5 per cent.

Oxfordshire also outperformed nationally and regionally for overseas visits. Nationally there was an increase of three per cent  and regionally across the South East an increase of 4.5 per cent however Oxfordshire saw an increase in overseas visits of 9.1 per cent . Experience Oxfordshire has been proactively targeting international markets over recent years and these figures reflect the work that has been done in this area.

The strategic importance of encouraging visitors to stay overnight in Oxfordshire is also clear from the report: While 28 million day-trips last year brought £1.23 billion to the county, more than £824 million was spent in Oxfordshire as a result of just 2.8 million staying trips.

The impact assessment clearly highlights the particular importance of the overseas markets to Oxfordshire with the average length of stay being longer and the spend per visit for an overseas visitor being an average of £492 per trip compared to £215 per trip for domestic visitors.

The study also showed a re-balancing of the reasons to visit Oxfordshire with a significant increase in delegates coming for a business visit which increased from 19 per cent  to 29 per cent . However, the main reason for visiting was for a holiday at 45 per cent  and visiting friends and relatives accounting for 20 per cent  of visits.

The report highlights the importance of the visitor economy across the whole of Oxfordshire; with the largest proportion of visitor spending taking place in Oxford and the largest number of visits to North Oxfordshire with Oxford City close behind..

The findings of this report show a stark contrast to the current situation across Oxfordshire where businesses from across the visitor economy are facing extremely challenging times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As the DMO, Experience Oxfordshire, has been lobbying hard for support for the sector and providing advice on how to access funding and support. Experience Oxfordshire have dealt with more than 8,000 Covid-19 enquiries from businesses in the sector across Oxfordshire.

Chief Executive of Experience Oxfordshire, Hayley Beer-Gamage, said:“The figures in this report are bittersweet as it clearly shows that 2019 was a record year for our visitor economy and we were delivering on our ambition in terms of growth and productivity. However, it shows just how far we have to go in terms of recovery for our sector.

“Never has it needed more support to be able to not just thrive again in the future but survive the now.

“The increase in jobs in the sector last year was phenomenal with visitor economy jobs accounting for 12 per cent of all jobs across Oxfordshire. I remain concerned for the job losses that will continue to be seen across our sector as a result of this pandemic and the businesses and livelihoods it will impact”

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, added:“This year has been a testing time, not just for Oxfordshire but for the country, and indeed the world as a whole. The good news is that central Government recognises the value and importance of tourism and we in Oxfordshire have seen many attractions and business benefit from support measures. Oxfordshire is a resilient place and will continue to offer a warm welcome to visitors and we look forward to welcoming them to the fantastic destination the county is with an outstanding variety of attractions we offer.”

Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Unfortunately, over the past nine months, Coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation and will continue to cause concern and real disruption to visitor economy-focused businesses for the foreseeable future. It is however a sector that we all enjoy and one that we hope will flourish again very soon. Given the current Government regulations, our visitor economy – and in particular, those operating across hospitality and cultural industries – do need access to meaningful support to boost recovery and maintain jobs, preserving one of the finest sectors we have in the county. As the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire, we are very much committed to this approach, working alongside Experience Oxfordshire and partner organisations.”