Anne-Marie Hicks

In an exclusive with Travel And Tour World, Anne-Marie Hicks, Marketing Manager Experience Oxfordshire shares her views on the tourism opportunity of Oxford an Oxfordshire. She also tells her opinion on meetings’ industry of Oxford and Oxfordshire and how Experience Oxfordshire is working to promote the destination.

Travel And Tour World: Tell us about the tourism scenario after COVID-19.

Anne-Marie Hicks: Anecdotal feedback from the Hotels in the City Centre and across the county indicates that weekend leisure bookings are currently high. Occupancy levels at the weekends have been around 70% with most being single night stays booked at the last minute. These are all from the domestic market with up to 30% coming from London.

Travel And Tour World: What are the challenges you faced due to this ongoing COVID-19 crisis?

Anne-Marie Hicks: The COVID-19 crisis has hit the visitor economy hard. We are still missing the international and business travellers to the county. Business travellers and commercial group bookings are few and far between and mid-week occupancy levels have been typically 20-25%.

The effect of COVID-19 combined with Brexit has seen many in the hospitality and service sector roles move on to other opportunities or indeed leave the country. This has left a real void in the Visitor Economy for Oxfordshire with all sectors struggling for applicants resulting in a plethora of vacancies preventing a full recovery and stalling growth for many businesses.

Despite the increase in the ‘staycation’ market, it is unlikely that any real recovery in numbers and turnover will be experienced until the second half of 2022. The lack of international visitors, due to the ever-changing international COVID-19 travel restrictions means numbers will be down through 2021.

Travel And Tour World: Tell us about the MICE scenario.

Anne-Marie Hicks: As with the Visitor Economy, the MICE offer for the city and county is diverse to say the least. Experience Oxfordshire has access to over 70 University meeting venues across the city; outside term time this is supplemented by over 6000 bedrooms. Add to this a network of over 40 hotels in the city offering Conferencing space and you begin to see the possibilities and that’s without considering everything the county has to offer in terms of more rural locations to hold events.

Travel And Tour World: How Experience Oxfordshire is working to attract more MICE delegates?

Anne-Marie Hicks: The technology is the key for a safe reopening. From digital reservations to touchless payments to temperature monitoring, all these tools help to reduce the spread of the virus.
Moreover, we can say that the vaccines are a result of technology as well. This is the most effective way to safely reopen tourism.

Travel And Tour World: Share something about the main focus areas of Tour Scanner. Did the organization have any key takeaways from the pandemic?

Anne-Marie Hicks: Experience Oxfordshire continues to promote the destination and its partners to the MICE operators across the world.

We are embarking on a 12 month project to position ourselves as the main recipient for RFPs in Oxfordshire. Increasing awareness of Oxfordshire amongst MICE and Travel Trade buyers and maximising reach for Experience Oxford, its venue partners and its venue finding website.

During this project we will be developing a new CRM system to track and monitor RFPs, creating a strong and robust communication plan to ensure that Oxfordshire is top of mind when a PCO, Incentive House, Wedding Planner, Venue Finder or Event Manager is looking for a destination for their next event.

We are dedicating resources to further deepen our relationships with domestic and international MICE buyers, and to build new partnerships too.

Travel And Tour World: Tell us about the upcoming events in Oxford and Oxfordshire.

Anne-Marie Hicks: As we begin to understand how to navigate more clearly out of the Pandemic, conferencing enquiries are pouring in for 2022/23 with many international bookers keen to come over to the UK at the earliest convenience to see for themselves what Oxford and Oxfordshire has to offer. We are pleased to organise FAM trips with the assistance of our Partnership network, allowing for complimentary tours and stays in many cases to help bookers make the right decision for their clients.

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