The Current Context
To understand the Council’s role in tourism management, and receive background information from Council Officers in line with the requirements of the Scoping Document.
Key areas for discussion as set out in the Scoping Document include:
· Options for an Oxford Visitor Card
· Options for a Transient Visitor Levy or Tourism Tax
· Inappropriate coach parking
· The condition of the public realm
· Wayfinding signage and walking routes
Matt Peachey, Economic Development Manager, explained that tourism to Oxford and Oxfordshire has continued to grow with the value of visitor expenditure now exceeding £2 billion per year for the very first time. 27 million visitors a year came to Oxfordshire, with around 8m coming to Oxford, contributing £873 million of value in the City. The sector also supported nearly 35,000 jobs in Oxfordshire - one in every 10 jobs across the County. It was highlighted that Oxford was an ideal point from which to explore other wider attractions such as Blenheim, Bicester Village and the Cotswolds.
The three key surveys used to measure volume and expenditure in relation to tourism was the GB Tourism Survey (domestic overnight trips), the International Passenger Survey, and the GB Day Visitor Survey. The 2018 VisitEngland destination summary report was also discussed, for which the sample base was UK holiday makers.Matt highlighted that much of the data and measures used in these surveys should be considered indicative of trends, rather than clear-cut, and there was often a lag in the data. He also said that whilst footfall was a useful indicator in some circumstances, it did not necessarily correlate with spending in shops, and the number of tourists visiting.
Key findings from these various surveys included:
· Year on year increases in the total jobs supported through the tourism sector;
· Year on year increases in the total contribution to the economy;
· A minor decrease in staying nights of 1% in 2017, and a subsequent significant increase in day trips for 2016 and 2017;
· Visitor satisfaction for Oxford was 39% compared to the average of 48% for other cities. Likelihood to revisit and loyalty to the destination were also below the average;
· There were approximately 2614 overnight rooms available in Oxford, with an additional 601 given planning permission, taking the total to over 3200. This would be a significant increase on recent years.
The Group were informed that there had been previous partnership efforts to improve the coordination of the destination offer, and whilst there had been some successes, some other actions could have been better implemented. Particular challenges were highlighted I relation to funding public realm improvements, for example.
The West End of Oxford was also discussed, in that it was to undergo comprehensive redevelopment, expanding the city centre to the west, as a series of strategic developments take shape. The Group heard that the Council would continue to seek to attract public and private investment for vital infrastructure or tourism products as part of its aims to create a successful and sustainable economy. Experience Oxfordshire had also been successful in attracting funds from Government for Tourism promotion and from its tourism sector partners to promote the county-wide offer. Officers also explained that there had been limited interest from local businesses in developing a business improvement district (BID).
A key theme for the Group was the value that a tourism levy or tax might add. Officers said a number of places have started exploring the case for levying forms of tourism tax, as it is also common across Europe. A number of councils in the UK, Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cornwall and most recently Bath councils had all discussed the possibility of introducing a tourist tax but none have gone ahead yet, as it would likely require national legislation.
The Group agreed that further consideration would need to be given to how such a tax could be administered, the pros and cons, and how a congestion charge might be used in relation to coaches. The Council also intended to make a bid into the Future High Streets fund from Central Government, and expressions of interest were needed by 22 March 2019. The Group also wished to understand more about room occupancy rates, and the potential for public access to private toilets scheme, such as has been done in previous years.
Councillor Fry left the meeting at the end of this item.