Discussion with Experience Oxfordshire
Starting at 6:30pm, experience Oxfordshire has asked to meet with Councillors early in the Review Group process to explain what information is available, how the industry operates and how people arrive in the City.
The Group welcomed Hayley Beer-Gamage and Joanna Simons from Experience Oxfordshire, and received a presentation from them.
Experience Oxfordshire, as the official destination management organisation for the County, was still in receipt of a funding contribution from the Council, which would be graduated down over three years to zero in 2022. In 2011 Experience Oxfordshire were given a ten year lease for City Council owned premises on Broad Street. The rent was £85,000 per year and increased to £95,000 following a rent review in 2016. The Council paid the rent by awarding a second annual grant to Experience Oxfordshire. The total grant contribution budgeted for 2018/19 is £173,000, made up of the £95,000 rent reimbursement plus a £78,000 service grant. However, the City Council had just announced a reduction in grant by £20k in 19/20 and a further £25k in 20/21 then taking it to zero from 21/22.
The presentation highlighted a number of improvements that had been made to the visitor economy and experience since the establishment of Experience Oxfordshire in 2011. This was when the DMO was established and the City Council’s tourism delivery was outsourced, noting particular improvements since 2015 when Experience Oxfordshire undertook a change of leadership. The presentation also showed extensive trend data on various matters relating to tourism in Oxford. Key matters highlighted as part of the presentation included:
· There were no successfuldestination management organisations in the UK which did not receive some level of public sector funding.
· Experience Oxfordshire host the only official walking tours in Oxford, with professional walking guides and limited group sizes, avoiding pedestrian pinch points. Users of this service had increased from 30,000 to 50,000 in recent years.
· Only one in six people transact at the visitor centre, but 500,000 people were supported by the centre each year. This required a lot of resource to manage and its main function is service provision.
· Prior to the establishment of Experience Oxfordshire, there were a number of challenges for the city, with a declining visitor economy, demand exceeding supply for overnight stay, perceptions of being expensive and unaffordable and a lack of access to key academic institutions.
· There is now a focus on boosting overnight stays, as they bring more value to the local economy and better impact.
· 11% of visitors are from overseas, but they contribute 40% of the overall visitor spend. Overseas visits had increased 25% since 2012.
· Increasing tourism numbers could be managed if more efforts were made to counteract seasonality, and disperse people more widely throughout the year, and throughout the City regions.
· The main overseas visitor markets were from the USA, France and Germany. China and Poland are the fastest growing markets for Oxford.
· No two models of destination management operate the same. Each area has its own unique approach, and there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model.
· Experience Oxfordshire field in the region on 1000 media enquiries each year.
The Chair asked how Experience Oxfordshire would deal with the reduction in Council funding. Hayley explained that the level of funding reduction was not anticipated, and it may stop certain streams of work from being delivered and that the private sector would not be able to plug the gap. She highlighted that there was a significant return on investment for the Council, and cited some examples of where Experience Oxfordshire’s intervention had secured high value international visitor contracts that benefited multiple businesses and stakeholders.
Hayley also highlighted the significant saving that the Council had made outsourcing delivery to the DMO as it us to cost the Council in the region of £1.5million pa to operate. Annual funding is currently also received from County Council and Cherwell District Council. The County’s contribution was £25,000, and Experience Oxfordshire employed 30 members of staff with a 14FTE equivalent. Hayley also explained that majority of private sector partners were paying for a range of marketing, PR and business support services rather than destination management and local stakeholders such as the Councils should continue to support this remit.
During discussion, it was highlighted that coach companies are often booked by international organisations up to three years in advance, making it difficult to engage and coordinate coach congestion and parking. It therefore requires a targeted travel trade approach to managing the issues, which Experience Oxfordshire has been involved with recently.
The Group discussed the impact of large groups of day visitors which spend little money in the City, and block pathways in some instances. There was concern about the growing trend of day visitors, and a stagnation of overnight visits. The Group agreed that more overnight stays would be beneficial in comparison to short term day visits.
The Group commented that part or self-guided tours would help avoid pedestrian congestion and overcrowding in some areas, and this should be looked into. Hayley explained the new AR app was deigned to do just this and also that you will get visitors that want different types of experience and both self-guide and guided were important. The app was also designed to see behind closed doors to help mitigate some impact on academic institutes and alleviate tensions between education/academia and visitors. Hayley said that licensing or council accreditations to prevent ticket touts and free tours, particularly on broad street would be welcome and improve visitor experience.
Hayley encouraged the Group to consider that any decisions that may cause barriers to coaches carefully (a congestion charge or poor parking for example) or other visitor groups to the City, may limit future visits. Once a tour operator chooses an alternative destination, it would be very hard to get them back. In response to questions, she said that coaches could benefit from better parking facilities which have on site conveniences, and a better place for drop off and pick up which is time limited. She suggested that Oxford should not want to give the impression that coaches are not welcome, but rather make arrangements where they cause less inconveniences by having improved access and facilities.