THE tourism industry in Oxfordshire, which contributed £2.5billion to the local economy before the pandemic, is not expected to bounce back until late 2023, according to the body responsible for attracting visitors to the county

Hayley Beer-Gamage, CEO of Experience Oxfordshire called for urgent investment in tourism following fears over the pace of economic recovery following the coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

Her demands follow a meeting between MPs and representatives of the county's tourism sector.

Witney MP Robert Courts, and Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds met businesses and representatives of Bicester Village, Blenheim Palace, and the Oxford Bus Company to discuss the Government's Tourism Recovery Plan and the impact of Covid on the economy.

Pre-pandemic Oxfordshire welcomed 30 million visitors per year which contributed £2.5billion supporting 42,000 jobs. It is thought visitor numbers and spending in 2020 halved and tourism is expected be the last sector to fully recovery.

Discussing the Government's Tourism Recovery Plan, Ms Beer-Gamage, said “It’s a fantastic and ambitious plan but it needs significant financial support and funding for it to be implemented and provide that long term recovery support.

"We bolster the private sector support and are working hard with our partners to ensure growth in the visitor economy, but it’s not without its challenges. With inbound tourism not looking likely to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels until late 2023 and with added competition not only across the UK but our European neighbours as well as long haul markets, we need to ensure all of the hard work which had previously been implemented to nurture those markets such as China and the US doesn’t go to waste.

“We need to be planning now for their return rather than in the future.”

One of the biggest problems faced by the hospitality industry, locally and nationally, she said, was a lack of staff. She said hotels were operating at a reduced capacity and some restaurants had been forced to close due to a lack of staff.

She said hospitality was still seen as low skilled and low paid work and that things needed to change to encourage potential job seekers that it is a career for life with new opportunities.

thisisoxfordshire: Hayley Beer-Gammage of Experience Oxfordshire

Hayley Beer-Gamage of Experience Oxfordshire

She said the withdrawal of tax-free sales meant the UK did not represent the same value for money as it once used to, and said the lack of Chinese tourists – who were the second biggest spending group with pre-pandemic sales accounting for £1.7billion of revenue – was having a big impact on the visitor economy.

Mr Courts said “The lack of workforce is a problem across the country and in part this is due to economic dislocation from the pandemic.

"Many people returned home, whether that be to other regions in the UK or other countries, some have changed industries altogether and the major challenge we have when someone leaves the hospitality industry is they don’t return.

"The Government has a number of training schemes in place to ensure we have the skills packages available to encourage people into hospitality. We know there are a lot of jobs available, and training is essential to the recruitment into those roles.”