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Beyond the balance sheet

Is the Westgate & tourism working for Oxford's hospitality trade?

Stuart Crook 09/5/2018 3 minute read

Stuart Crook ACA examines if the Westgate shopping centre and tourism can be better managed to benefit Oxford's hospitality operators.

Wellers next roundtable lunch discussion for the hospitality trade takes place on Monday 14 May 2018 at Rhodes House. Tourism in Oxford and the impact of the Westgate shopping centre for the sector will be the theme of the event. The £440m Westgate development has been in the news of late with 9m people said to have visited it since the launch at the end of October 2017.

As reported by the BBC, consultancy firm Caprese actually described the figures as disappointing while also sighting several units that remain unfilled. The City Council however, have attributed the shopping centre as the reason why around 1.2m extra people have visited Oxford in 2018. Given the potential extra people likely to arrive in the peak Summer tourist months, how can independent hospitality operators best make use of this potential footfall coming to the city and county?

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Wellers' lunch will be chaired by Bob Cotton OBE (the former Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association) with other notable guests including Hayley Beer-Gamage (CEO at Experience Oxfordshire and Chairman of The Tourism Society) and Ian Gray (of Oxford City Council). The discussions, for an audience mainly consisting of hospitality proprietors, will look to provide some answers and greater clarity to the issues below. Read on to find out more.

What can the council do to make the city more attractive?

The headlines at the start of the year revealed that restaurant closures jumped 20% in 2017 along with the several profile names shutting down some of their sites. This highlights the need for the Council and Oxfordshire's hospitality trade to work together to ensure visitors are directed to all the attractions and businesses the city has to offer, not just the Westgate. 

Millions of visitors have traditionally come to Oxford every year, attracted by the prestigious University with its history dating back to the 12th century. According to the Independent, Oxford is the seventh most visited city in the UK by overseas tourists with this trade generating £780m of revenue. It raises further important questions:

  • How can access to the city centre via transport links be made easier to help generate repeat visitors?
  • What are the Council's plans to make the Westgate shopping experience work for the wider city and county, not just the retailers in the shopping centre?
  • How will the city and shopping centre be promoted once the initial 18 months of excitement around the re-opening dissipates?

What can the hospitality trade do to help the council achieve this?

Whilst it will be very useful for operators to hear the Council's current and future plans, a key aim of the discussion will be to also foster their thoughts and opinions. Bringing private sector operators closer to local government to potentially ensure the two can work better together for the common good of the city.

Many proprietors will have plenty of thoughts and ideas that policy makers may be able to make use of to enhance the experience for tourists and visitors to the city. An all encompassing experience that highlights all the attributes the city has to offer will likely broaden the appeal of Oxford as a key destination to visit in the UK.

Who is co-ordinating this?

With a number of associations and groups already present in the city there is still a reliance on the councils (city and county) to deliver on the overall vision. However, with dwindling budgets and resources in these areas it more likely requires a coordinated responses from all stakeholders. We will be examining how all of these groups are connected and what responsibilities they can take on to fulfil these aspirations.

How can tourists be directed into the city without causing chaos to those who work and live in Oxford?

Bringing extra footfall comes with several potential challenges. Labour councillor and Lord Mayor, Mary Clarkson, complained in 2017 about the situation in the summer months when tourists descend upon the city. Pavements and cycle lanes become blocked as coaches struggle to park up. 

So whilst attracting tourists throughout the city is a fine aim, it needs to be carefully managed to accommodate workers and their struggles to commute into and out of Oxford.

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The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 08/05/2018.

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