Oxford City Council is making investments now to help the city’s visitor economy rebound after the coronavirus pandemic.
The new investments include:
- £50,000 to Experience Oxfordshire to help support the tourism sector in Oxford over the next two years
- A partnership to deliver a much-needed new hotel in the former Boswells building
- £20,000 to find a long-term solution to tourist coach parking
The City Council and Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) have also provided millions of pounds of grants to businesses in Oxford’s tourism sector to help keep them afloat during the pandemic.
Tourism in Oxford
Oxford’s visitor economy had been booming before the pandemic. According to an Experience Oxfordshire report, tourism generating about £988m for the city’s economy in 2019 – a 9.7% rise from the £901m generated in 2018. About 17,000 jobs in Oxford – some 14% of all jobs in the city – were related to tourism.
But the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the sector. Footfall in the city centre was down 62.3% in July (from 3.1m in 2019 to 1.2m in 2020) and 46.5% in August (from 2.7m to 1.4m).
Helping the visitor economy recovery
The City Council has provided £50,000 of new funding to Experience Oxfordshire, which is the county’s destination management organisation, to help support the visitor economy in Oxford over the next two years (2021/22 and 2022/23).
Experience Oxfordshire will use the funding to signpost and help businesses access grants and wider support, promote Oxford to UK and international visitors, and help the City and County Councils shape longer-term issues around destination management, including tourist coach drop-off and layover.
Separately, the City Council has also provided funding to support Experience Oxfordshire’s participation in VisitEngland’s England Originals campaign. Oxford will be presented as a key historic city in the campaign, which targets domestic audiences to help aid recovery.
New hotel to support the visitor economy
The majority of Oxford’s tourists visit the city for day trips: 84.5% (6.6m visits) are day trips and 15.5% (1.2m visits) overnight stays. However, despite the relatively low numbers, overnight stays generated around 60% of total visitor spend.
Alongside increasing tourism spend on the city’s businesses, overnight stays also reduce some of the negative impacts of tourism on the city, including reducing the number of day-trip tourist coaches dropping off in Oxford.
The City Council has been working to increase the number of hotel spaces in Oxford to encourage overnight stays. It is estimated that Oxford now has about 3,215 hotel rooms – an increase of about 27.7% from about 2,517 rooms in 2010.
Some of the larger new hotels include the 180-bed easyHotel in Summertown, a 180-bed hotel at the Cooper Callas Building in Paradise Street, a 90-bed Premier Inn in Paradise Square, and a 71-bed Travelodge at Templars Square.
The City Council has now also partnered with the Reef Group to convert the former Boswell’s department store into a four-star boutique hotel. A planning application for the hotel, which will be called The Store Hotel, was agreed last month (January).
This strategy is beginning to work. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of overnight trips had increased by 2.8% (from 1.18m to 1.22m), while day trips had decreased by 3% (from 6.81m to 6.61m). Despite the overall 2.1% reduction in tourists (171,108 visits), total income increased by 9.7%.
The City Council’s strategy also aligns with Experience Oxfordshire’s ambition of improving productivity and growth across the visitor economy sector.
Tackling long-term challenges
The City Council has allocated £20,000 in the 2021/22 draft budget to develop a coach drop-off and layover strategy for the city.
The strategy is likely to propose a two-stage approach to tackle visitor coach congestion at key times:
- In the short term the aim will be to increase the number of available drop-off locations to ease pressure on St Giles’, and to encourage coach operators to use the one closest to the main destination of their passengers
- Longer term the aim will be to create improved coach layover facilities away from the heart of the city centre, and encourage alternative options for visitors to travel the last mile of their journey into the city centre
A detailed study of visitor coach routes and passenger destinations, which will help inform the strategy, is due to take place once tourist numbers return to near normal.
The City Council is working with Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority for Oxford, and Experience Oxfordshire on the strategy.
Separately, the City Council is also exploring a range of options to increase and improve the available toilet facilities in the city centre, and working with tour guides and language schools to agree a new protocol for city centre tours, with the aim of reducing congestion in key streets at the busiest times of the year.
Later this year the City Council will consult on a new City Centre Action Plan and a city-wide Economic Development Strategy. The documents will set out the organisation’s longer term plans to help the economic recovery from the pandemic, with the city’s visitor economy a central consideration.
Support during the pandemic
The City Council and OxLEP have been facilitating Government grants to help keep Oxford’s tourism businesses afloat during the pandemic.
Since March 2020 the City Council has issued almost £33m of grants to businesses in Oxford. The majority of these have gone to the visitor economy, including businesses in the hospitality, retail and accommodation sectors.
Separately, OxLEP has provided 79 grants to businesses in the tourism sector.
The City Council, OxLEP and Experience Oxfordshire have also provided a wide range of non-financial support, including helping organisations apply for funding, writing in support of grant applications, and helping businesses meet the latest Covid-19 regulations.
OxLEP estimates that it has provided advice to around 400 businesses in the tourism sector, while Experience Oxfordshire have dealt with almost 9,000 Covid-19 business advice requests since the pandemic started.
During 2020 the City Council – working with Oxfordshire County Council – also supported businesses by pedestrianised roads to provide space for outdoor dining areas. The two authorities also provided free parking at Oxford’s park and rides.
The City Council also worked with Experience Oxfordshire, the Oxford Times and Independent Oxford on a campaign to encourage Oxford and Oxfordshire residents to support local businesses in the run-up to Christmas.
“Tourism is a vital part of Oxford’s economy. Before the pandemic devastated the sector, it provided our city with 17,000 jobs – some 14% of all jobs in Oxford.
“We have spent years trying to restructure the tourism sector to ensure more high-spending overnight stays and less impact on local residents, and it is frustrating that we were beginning to see the fruits of that labour before the pandemic hit.
“We are using the time now to continue that journey and tackle some of the big challenges in the sector, particularly daytrip coaches during the summer months, so that tourism can benefit everyone who lives and works in Oxford.”
Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for City Centre, Covered Market and Culture
“We are delighted to be working with Oxford City Council on the recovery of the city’s visitor economy.
“The funding and strategy they have set out to date will not only help us to attract visitors back to the city, when it is safe to do so, through various promotional activity but also enable to us to provide continued business support to the sector and help shape how the city re-emerges from the pandemic.
"We want to ensure the city of Oxford is front of mind in destination terms for both locals and visitors when people are able to travel safely again as this will provide a much needed economic boost to the sector that has been severely impacted by Covid-19.”
Hayley Beer‑Gamage, Chief Executive Officer of Experience Oxfordshire