OXFORDSHIRE’s tourism businesses could take years to recover from the effects of the coronavirus on the economy.

That is the warning from an expert who stands up for local tour guides, accommodation providers and tourist attractions.

The warning comes after national tourist board Visit Britain released a report showing the UK was forecast to suffer a £24 billion loss of tourism related income.

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Hayley Beer-Gamage, the chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire, said: “The value of tourism to Oxfordshire is £2.3 billion each year.

“International visitors are only 10 per cent of all visitors, however, that 10 per cent accounts for 40 per cent of overall expenditure.

“That is a very serious impact… we would like to hope that things start to creep up quicker, but I think the fact that the national tourist board has come out with that prediction is very concerning.”

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Hayley Beer-Gamage, Chief Executive of Experience Oxfordshire. Picture: Experience Oxfordshire.

The Visit Britain report released at the end of August also predicted that the country’s visitor economy might not recover fully until 2024.

Earlier this year, Experience Oxfordshire, which promotes tourism across the county, closed its offices on Broad Street after it lost public funding.

Then the pandemic struck the UK, and the ‘destination management organisation’ has since been helping local businesses threatened with going bust by lockdown to help grant funding from the government, local councils, and other organisations.

It has dealt with more than 8,000 calls for help from businesses in Oxfordshire related to Covid-19 in the past six months.

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Ms Beer-Gamage added she hoped the prime minister’s message that people breaking new coronavirus-related restrictions would face heavy fines would filter through.

She said: “Businesses are not making money at the moment. They are surviving. It is the equivalent of going through three winters.”

She added: “This pandemic is impacting multiple sectors, but it has not hit any other sector as hard as the visitor economy.

“Key to being able to maintain the sector, this government has to really start fining people that are not following the rules. Businesses should not suffer because a small minority of people are not following the rules.”

The damage which other sectors of Oxfordshire’s economy are facing was discussed by Oxfordshire’s Growth Board, a committee which is spending £215m of Government cash to promote a housing and business boom.

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Tourists in Oxford: Footfall in Oxford is recovering, but is still lower than in the average UK city

Richard Byard of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) laid out the situation facing the local economy at the Growth Board Meeting on Tuesday (September 22).

Mr Byard said some sectors of Oxfordshire’s economy, like manufacturers, communications, and technology, were likely to see the ‘V-shaped’ recovery which the Government had hoped for.

And he added that research and development had witnessed an expansion in the county since March, with more and more companies looking for new offices in recent months.

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But he also said that other sectors would likely suffer for a long time, alongside tourism businesses.

These included the arts and entertainment, retailers and restaurants, and delivery companies.

Mr Byard also raised concerns about the huge number of people who have started to claim Universal Credit in Oxfordshire in recent months: a total of 17,700 in August, up from 6,600 in March.

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While town centres across Oxfordshire had started to recover footfall since lockdown, according to the OxLEP officer, Oxford city centre stood out as having a lower than the UK average footfall.

Mr Byard said: “Oxford is trending below the UK average for footfall in the city centre. It is higher than London, but lower than Cambridge. The team are just trying to understand what is different in Cambridge.”

He also said that OxLEP was now undertaking research to figure out ways the county’s towns and villages could stage a recovery from Covid.

Oxford City Council’s leader Susan Brown, who is a member of the growth board, said the city was likely more reliant on tourism than Cambridge.

But she added: “Actually in common with other places neighbourhoods within the city have done very well, and shops there have done very well.”

There have been calls in recent weeks from Oxford’s MPs to extend the furlough scheme, which has helped to support workers through the start of the pandemic and is due to end in October.

Labour’s Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds has called for a ‘targeted’ extension to help sectors of the economy which have suffered most, and Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran said it was ‘essential’ the scheme was extended as job losses hit.

In a speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Boris Johnson assured MPs the Government would put it’s ‘arms around every single worker’ during the pandemic as it continues.