A NEW report highlights that Oxfordshire’s tourism industry remains in a precarious position following the coronavirus pandemic.

The document, prepared for the Future Oxfordshire Partnership’s scrutiny panel, states that while the county’s economy has been ‘resilient’ to Covid-19, tourism has struggled.

The tourism industry contributed £2.4 billion to the local economy prior to the pandemic, with the help of 30 million visitors a year.

In April, two-thirds of tourism businesses reported trade for 2021 was worse than before the first lockdown, with fears this year will also be well down on pre-Covid levels.

READ ALSO: Two-thirds of Oxfordshire tourism businesses struggling after pandemic

A report by Nigel Tipple, chief executive of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), assesses the performance of the county’s economy as it emerges from the challenges of the pandemic.

The report states: “Whilst it will experience a short but focused contraction, the Oxfordshire economy has, on the whole, been resilient to the challenges created by the pandemic.

“The county’s diverse business base and technology sectors have adapted to the main shocks created.

“However, there are areas which have been exposed: most notably the visitor economy which has struggled to recapture market share.”

Witney Gazette: Shoppers at Bicester Village. Picture: Jon LewisShoppers at Bicester Village. Picture: Jon Lewis

The Future Oxfordshire Partnership, formerly the Oxfordshire Growth Board, is a joint committee of the five district councils in the county, plus Oxfordshire County Council, together with strategic partners.

Mr Tipple’s report says the county’s tourism sector was hardest hit by the pandemic, and is recovering with ‘great caution’.

“The visitor economy, comprising retail, tourism, leisure, arts, culture and heritage, is a vital component of our economy,” the report states.

Witney Gazette: Easter at Blenheim Palace. Picture: Ed NixEaster at Blenheim Palace. Picture: Ed Nix

“It supports over 40,000 jobs and is the largest employer of women, provides vital employment and apprenticeship opportunities for young people, offers flexible employment which is critical for working families and also offers important routes back into work for people seeking to return to employment having had long-term health matters.

“The sector has been the hardest hit by the pandemic and is beginning the process of resetting itself and recovering with great caution, amid real concerns for the future.

“Considering the precariousness with which the sector still finds itself in, and the multi-faceted long-term nature of the challenges it faces, it is essential that support for the visitor economy sector is strategically sustained.”

READ MORE: Oxfordshire struggles following Covid collapse of tourist industry

Hayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire – the county’s official destination management organisation (DMO) – warned the rise in cost of living could impact the tourism sector later in the year.

She said: “In response to the unprecedented circumstances of the last two years, Experience Oxfordshire has worked hard to support the visitor economy by providing business advice and delivering targeted marketing activity.

“Experience Oxfordshire was held up as a case study of best practice in the recent de Bois DMO review for our business support during the pandemic.

Witney Gazette: Hayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire. Picture: Denis KennedyHayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire. Picture: Denis Kennedy

“Our aim has been to keep businesses informed and encourage visitors to view Oxfordshire as a safe and enjoyable place for a future visit. 

“Anecdotal evidence tells us that this strategy has worked and as we move into the summer, visitors are returning. 

“Our fear is that, come the autumn, the rise in cost of living, alongside the slow return of international visitors, will impact on that recovery and therefore as we look towards the autumn and into 2023, we need to ensure businesses continue to get appropriate support in order to strengthen our product offer and maintain a constant and consistent communication with our target markets.”

While tourism continues to weather the storm, Mr Tipple’s report was more hopeful with regards to unemployment, compared to the national figures.

The document states the latest out of work benefit claimant count data, for March, reveals that Oxfordshire’s unemployment rate is 2.4 per cent – lower than the national rate of 4.2 per cent.

However, the report adds: “Job vacancies as measured by job postings (weighted to take account of multiple postings) are at a record high with many sectors reporting chronic labour shortages – including the visitor economy and logistics.”

Read more from this author

This story was written by Liam Rice, he joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Liam covers politics, travel and transport. He occasionally covers Oxford United.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Liam.rice@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailLiamRice