The newly appointed Chairman of VisitBritain, Nick de Bois CBE, called for collaboration and ambition from Oxfordshire’s visitor economy businesses when he joined sector leaders and guests recently at the annual Experience Oxfordshire’s Ambassadors’ Dinner.
Speaking at Gees Restaurant in Oxford, De Bois complimented Experience Oxfordshire for their ongoing collaboration with national tourism agency VisitBritain/VisitEngland and their work on behalf of the county’s visitor economy. He warned the gathering that, having had almost exclusive access to the domestic market, due to travel restrictions in 2021, the sector must work together and re-focus on consumer needs now that the global tourism marketplace has reopened.
Nick de Bois said: “Looking to the future there are great opportunities for the tourism sector in the UK, but we face some specific challenges. At a time of economic difficulty our research shows that we are perceived by international travellers as an expensive destination. There’s also work to be done to improve the overall “welcome” we offer, to attract the visitors of the future. I urge Oxfordshire businesses and local authorities to come together and form a coalition of the willing to define, protect and promote what is already a compelling offer.”
Over dinner de Bois responded to a range of questions relating to current issues impacting the sector: the value of the business visits and events market, labour force and skills shortages, the importance of data in monitoring the sector’s performance and making the case for government intervention.
Nick also encouraged businesses to engage with the business support services on offer from VisitEngland, from guidance and tools on its Business Advice Hub, including on accessibility and sustainability, to the ‘Taking England to the World’ trade programme, supporting businesses to reach new customers and grow their revenue.
As the author of last year’s independent review of destination management organisations in England, which advocated for the creation of Destination Development Partnerships (DDP), de Bois commended Experience Oxfordshire for rallying the local visitor economy membership in response to current challenges and upcoming opportunities. Under a new delivery structure DDPs, working with Local Visitor Enterprise Partnerships, would receive central government funding to respond to the high-level strategic challenges currently facing the sector. A pilot project to assess the effectiveness and potential of DDPs is soon to be announced.
Responding to De Bois’ call for action, Experience Oxfordshire Chairman, Joanna Davidson CBE, said: “The range of businesses and organisations who have come together tonight is testament to the sector’s willingness to listen and debate. Oxfordshire’s visitor economy is well-placed to work together for a positive, sustainable future.”
Cllr Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council said: “I commend Experience Oxfordshire’s leadership in organising this event offering us an opportunity to meet with VisitBritain’s new Chairman at the beginning of his tenure. Tourism is a vital part of our local economy and we must work together to ensure that Oxfordshire maintains its international profile so we can continue to attract as many visitors as possible to our beautiful county.”
Dominic Hare, Chief Executive of Experience Oxfordshire Ambassador, Blenheim Palace, said: “Prior to the pandemic, international visitors accounted for nearly a third of all overnight stays in Oxfordshire. The global tourism marketplace is highly competitive. We hear Nick de Bois’ advice and, given the current geo-political landscape, we must make every effort to deliver above and beyond expectations to all visitors in Oxfordshire.”
Jeremy Mogford, owner of The Oxford Collection expressed his pleasure at hosting the Ambassadors’ Dinner: “We’ve recently received an award from the Oxford Preservation Trust for our work here at Gees. This was my declaration of love for a city and a business I am passionate about, so we were delighted to partner with Experience Oxfordshire and host a forum here in our Gallery to discuss opportunities and challenges for tourism in Oxfordshire. We have faith in, and support Experience Oxfordshire in representing and speaking up for the county’s visitor economy.”
Attendance at the event included representatives from commercial businesses, service providers, local authority members and senior staff from across the county:
Bicester Motion, Bicester Village, Blenheim Palace, Bourne Leisure, Cherwell District Council, Experience Oxfordshire, Great Western Railway, Hedges Law, JACKfm, John Lewis Oxford, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a Belmond Hotel, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Bus Company, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford United Football Club, OxLEP, Richardsons Accountants, Stagecoach Oxfordshire, The Evergreen Agency, The Oxford Collection, The Randolph Hotel by Graduate Hotels, VisitBritain/VisitEngland, Wellers Accountants.