West Oxfordshire develops its visitor economy
West Oxfordshire District Council has embraced tourism and the visitor economy, providing a wide range of services to help sustain and support this industry. It has developed excellent partnerships and innovative ways of working to ensure success.
Key learnings for other councils
- Recognise the strategic strengths in cross-disciplinary partnerships inside your local authority
- Invest in cross-boundary partnerships that help strengthen your area's tourism
- Develop effective partnerships with the industry that are based on tangible projects, measureable outputs and industry feedback
- Choose marketing partners that make sense to your visitors, irrespective of administrative boundaries
- Use council-wide services to help support public realm activity and infrastructure.
Let go of projects and processes when they cease to be relevant or no longer work. West Oxfordshire no longer holds an annual exchange literature event. Instead, the event has evolved into Explore Oxfordshire, which is supported by the tourist industry. This event gets a good media profile and encourages the industry to share experiences.
Do not underestimate the role of advocacy inside your council, gaining political buy-in and support. This has been crucial for West Oxfordshire, ensuring that the local authority continues to prioritise and support tourism.
The West Oxfordshire District is situated in the South East region of England and comprises attractive market towns and villages in a largely rural setting. One-third of the area is a designated part of the Cotswold's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). West Oxfordshire District has a population of 96,000 (2001) and rising.
The district is but a short distance from the dreaming spires of the city of Oxford. In addition, it has proximity to main access roads and other key destinations, including Blenheim Palace and Cotswold's Wildlife Park. All contribute to the high number of visitors to the area.
The district attracts four million visitors a year, including 500,000 who stay overnight. The visitor economy is estimated to be worth £225 million to the district and provides 4,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs (Cambridge 2007) in the district.
The majority of visitors are on a leisure day trip or short break. The council uses ArkLeisure to segment their markets into ‘traditionals', ‘cosmopolitans' and ‘functionals'.
Their main short-haul overseas markets are Belgium, Germany and France. Long-haul markets include North America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. The district has experienced a growth in Russian visitors in recent years. It is exploring the long-term potential of the emerging China market. Overseas visitors are attracted by the Cotswolds ‘brand', Blenheim Palace and proximity to Oxford.
The problems and how we tackled them
The main target is to increase the value of tourism to local economy of West Oxfordshire. West Oxfordshire aims to be in the top 25 per cent of councils in the Destination Performance UK (DP:UK) Rural South. The council is focusing on a ‘value over volume' approach to achieve this placing an emphasis on marketing and on sustainability.
West Oxfordshire District Council has had to stretch limited financial resources and use people resources to best effect. In recent years there has been a move away from a dependency on the council to pay for marketing. Businesses now financially support the marketing activity of the council's tourism team.
This has been achieved by West Oxfordshire taking a lead role in tourism marketing within the county and by developing good industry relationships. The owner of the Cotswold Wildlife Park, one of the largest attractions in the district, sits on West Oxfordshire Strategic Partnership (WOSP). Business interests thus sit alongside the strategic director of development at West Oxfordshire District Council.
In addition, industry sub-group meetings are held twice a year, including ‘attractions', ‘events', ‘hotels, conferencing and B&B', ‘self-catering' and ‘camping and caravanning'.
There is also an annual Tourism Forum. This forum brings together all sectors of the tourism industry to report back on the previous year and plan for the year ahead. This event regularly receives more than 100 tourism representatives from the local industry and provides a valuable networking opportunity. It also helps to raise the profile of the work the council does to support tourism.
Visitors respond to destination ‘brands' and themes, not to local authority and regional boundaries. This is a particular challenge for West Oxfordshire. The district looks towards Oxford as a ‘lead brand'. However, as part of the Cotswolds, it also looks towards the Gloucestershire Cotswolds in the South West region. Therefore the destination brand the 'Oxfordshire Cotswolds' was developed for West Oxfordshire which has gained national and international recognition.
West Oxfordshire has very strong relationship with its regional tourist board, Tourism South East (TSE). It takes a strategic approach to partnership working with other local authorities throughout Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. This is done where there is added value in collaborative destination marketing.
Cross-boundary work includes holding the position of vice-chair for the sub-regional group, (BBO Committee - Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire). This public-private sector group helps tourism developments throughout the region and allocates funding for specific projects. In addition:
- holding the position of vice chair for the Destination Managers Forum for TSE, covering the whole of the South East region
- sitting on the Partners for England advisory panel for local authority engagement and was one of the first authorities to sign up to the Tourism Charter
- taking a lead role in ensuring the allocation of £200,000 for a three-year programme of overseas marketing through the local area agreement (LAA) Reward Grant funding.
Tourism sits within one of the three council directorates that comprise Planning and Sustainable Communities, Housing Services, and Leisure and Tourism.
Tourism is thoroughly embedded in the council plan, vision and priorities. The main vision is to maintain and enhance West Oxfordshire as one of the best places to live, work and visit in Great Britain. There are five main priority areas, in all of which tourism has significance, however two are key and are to:
- encourage tourism, leisure and cultural opportunities for all and promote healthy living
- work in partnership to sustain vibrant, healthy and economically prosperous towns and villages with full employment.
Tourism is also embedded in ‘Shaping Futures', the Sustainable Community strategy for the district. It is featured in ‘The community and the economy', ‘Transport', and ‘The environment' and ‘Climate change' sections of the strategy. Tourism also features in the emerging local development framework (LDF).
Outcomes and impact
In 2009, tourism represents nearly £225 million to the local economy of West Oxfordshire. That represents a 15 per cent growth over the last five years; a steady, sustainable growth. The council recognises the significance of that. It has embedded tourism and the visitor economy within its vision and priorities and across a wide range of service areas to help sustain and support this.
Excellent partnership and innovative ways of working sit at the heart of its success. The council takes a proactive approach to working across departments within the authority, cross-boundary and cross-region. That gives confidence to the industry that the council is representing the tourism sector where it matters.
A partnership approach appeals to the industry and is delivering for them. Feedback indicates that, especially in the current economic climate, businesses consider they get support from the council. They are keen to work together to enhance the West Oxfordshire ‘product'.
New ways of working means that the new Tourism strategy takes a joined-up approach to developing the potential of tourism and delivering tourism services. It is focused on eight areas of activity that are all partnership-led:
- Coordination of tourism partners – internally and externally
- Marketing the Oxfordshire Cotswolds ‘brand'
- Information provision – including strengthening the opportunities to use new technology
- Employment, training and business support – with council playing a facilitation and support role
- Research – including commissioning economic impact data, best practice and exploring further areas for cross-disciplinary collaboration
- Future opportunities – markets and products, including the Olympics in 2012.
17 July 2012