TOURISM businesses are struggling to recover after the pandemic with two-thirds reporting trade for 2021 worse than before the first lockdown in 2019.

And they fear this year will also be well down on pre-Covid levels.

Experience Oxfordshire, the which represents tourism in the county, has released the results of two surveys it commissioned to ascertain the level of confidence among tourism businesses and the views of potential visitors.
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Despite almost three in five still expecting their business performance to be below 2019 levels, some were more optimistic.

Some 24 per cent of respondents to the business survey said that trading for the end of 2021 was better than expected. And 31 per cent said they expect their performance for 2022 to be better than 2019.

Recruitment and retention of staff remain problems for some and the growing popularity of shorter, more frequent breaks have forced businesses to adapt.

Traders said they could be helped by more marketing and communications to domestic audiences, continuation of government grants, a suspension or reduction of business rates, and action and investment to attract more visitors.

Potential visitors were enthusiastic about the county’s charms, however, with respondents to the survey expressing overwhelmingly positive views.

Eight out of 10 said they found Oxfordshire appealing as a leisure destination and almost nine out of 10 would consider visiting the county in the future.

An impressive 85 per cent associated Oxfordshire with history and heritage, 75 per cent with museums and galleries and 64 per cent with arts and culture.

Over half commented on the attractiveness of the countryside and just under a third mentioned walking, cycling and the range of gardens and gourmet pubs and restaurants.

Oxford, Henley, Woodstock and Bicester – home to the Bicester Village designer retail outlet – were the areas most respondents had previously visited.

Covid was cited as the main reason for not yet making the trip but most respondents said they now felt sufficiently confident to travel.

Experience Oxfordshire’s CEO Hayley Beer-Gamage said: “Our economic impact report 2020 showed the staggering effect, and consequent decline, that the pandemic had on tourism in Oxfordshire.

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“These recent surveys show how, as we build back the visitor economy, there is real interest from visitors in spending time in Oxfordshire.

“But business still has challenges to face and, therefore, recovery across the sector is likely to be uneven. Support for, and intervention on behalf of, the visitor economy remains essential.

“It’s heartening to see from the consumer survey, that among potential visitors, Oxfordshire retains its place as an attractive and desirable destination to visit.”