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Experience Oxfordshire reports positive start to post-pandemic recovery

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Overall there was a 56% increase in both the number of visitors and related expenditure in 2021 compared to 2020, rising from 14.5m to 23.3m visitors and from £1bn to £1.6bn in expenditure.

Experience Oxfordshire, the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for the county, has released new data which shows a positive start to the Oxfordshire visitor economy’s post pandemic recovery.

The Economic Impact Report for Tourism in Oxfordshire (2021), a report commissioned by Experience Oxfordshire, shows a significant recovery in the volume of trips to the county and related expenditure compared to 2020, but indicates that there is still a long way to go before returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Overall there was a 56% increase in both the number of visitors and related expenditure in 2021 compared to 2020, rising from 14.5m to 23.3m visitors and from £1bn to £1.6bn in expenditure. In contrast the record-level 2019 figures were 30m and £2.5bn respectively. In 2020 jobs supported by the visitor economy had dropped from 42,000 to 25,000. 2021 has seen a 13% recovery to 28,830 tourism related jobs.

Research from the national tourist board, VisitEngland, shows that Covid restrictions significantly influenced travel patterns in 2021 with visiting friends and family as the main reason for travel, followed by holiday taking. The main reason for visiting Oxfordshire in 2021 was for holiday (61%), and those visiting friends and relatives accounted for 27% of all visits. The number of business-related visits, however, dropped for a second year running. In 2019 business visits accounted for 29% of all trips to Oxfordshire, dropping to 9% of all trips in 2020 and dipping further in 2021 to just 7% of visits.

Of the Oxfordshire districts, Cherwell received the most visits during 2021 (26%) closely followed by Oxford city (24%) with the highest visitor spend continuing to take place in the city at 32% of all spend across the county. An encouraging sign for the hospitality sector, is that the largest amount of expenditure was on food and drink, accounting for 37% of all visitor spend.

Responding to the report Experience Oxfordshire’s CEO Hayley Beer-Gamage said: “The findings of the report reinforce both the importance of the county’s visitor economy and its vulnerability. Business tourism, for example, accounted for 29% of all visits pre-pandemic – the sector will continue to need intervention and support to build this back. Oxfordshire has a rich portfolio of visitor experiences to offer and if we are to build on these positive increases, and retrieve our losses, it’s essential that we keep Oxfordshire’s profile, as a great destination to visit and to do business in, current and visible.

During 2021, Experience Oxfordshire supported businesses across the county with Covid-related businesses advice. We ran marketing campaigns in association with VisitEngland, the national tourist board, transport operators and key stakeholders in the county. We took every opportunity to champion our visitor economy in the media and to key influencers and were consequently recognised in the de Bois Review of Destination Management Organisations as a best practice case study. We hope that local and national government will continue to support our work delivering recovery plans together with our partners and the wider sector.”

Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Whilst it is heartening to see this report and the welcome increase in visitor numbers across the county, we continue to live in challenging times and recognise that we need to continue to promote the county as a great visitor destination. We commend Experience Oxfordshire for their work in supporting the county’s visitor economy and would encourage businesses to engage with the organisation.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council and Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy & Partnerships commented: “Tourism is a really important part of our city’s economy and supports many jobs. We were very conscious of the impact that the pandemic had on tourism and the businesses that rely on it and we supported them with a range of grants. We continue to prioritise those most impacted through our funding. We will continue to work with Experience Oxfordshire on promoting the City as a great destination, while also encouraging people to come by public transport. An important factor is to increase the length of time people spend in our city, increasing each individual’s spend, which is why we have worked hard to improve the number of hotel spaces our city has to offer.” 

Councillor Ian Corkin, Deputy Leader of Cherwell District Council and Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and Economy said: “We are pleased to see these signs that Oxfordshire’s visitor economy is on the road to recovery and that Cherwell continues to attract a good proportion of the county’s visitors and spend. The council continues its mission to support existing visitor economy businesses whilst investing in the sector’s future. With the new Banbury Castle Quay Waterfront, Bicester Village, Bicester Heritage and excellent rail/road links we believe Cherwell is well placed to play its part in attracting visitors to the county.”

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