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Visitor and hospitality sectors adapting and innovating to take on new realities in a coronavirus world

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The COVID-19 crisis hit hospitality, tourism, and events businesses hard. The visitor industry alone is worth £2.2 billion a year to Oxfordshire and thousands of people work in it. So how can it rebuild?

Rod Macrae has spoken to people about the crisis, smart and inventive responses and the types of help that can turn disaster into opportunity.

The impact of coronavirus

Experience Oxfordshire Hayley Beer-Gamage

Experience Oxfordshire Hayley Beer-Gamage

Hayley Beer-Gamage: Chief Executive, Experience Oxfordshire
It was an instant and almost total shutdown. From being one of the first sectors to close, we are going to be one of the last areas of the economy to re-open and recovery will be slow.

And now things are opening again?
The short notice given that businesses were given to re-open was unhelpful and constantly changing guidelines and requirements have confused business owners and customers alike. They did not instil confidence when it was most needed. However, businesses and organisations from across the sector are working hard to re-open as safely as possible and comply with the necessary government guidance. It is a relief that a large majority (albeit not all) businesses are allowed to re-open again, but it is an incredibly challenging time for the sector and a hugely different market to be operating in. Visitor profiles have changed significantly, and the loss of the international visitor will be felt across the board. The August ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme is a positive initiative to stimulate demand, and more businesses are likely to be viable with safe distancing down to 1 metre plus. But there is no denying this is a hugely difficult year.

What is the most important thing for businesses in the sector to do?
Innovate. Change to what can work now that so much has fundamentally changed. It is a mistake to assume things will return to how they were before. People talk about ‘pivoting’. Well, hospitality and tourism businesses can potentially find new ways of doing things to be able to trade efficiently and safely.

For instance, we have seen a big uptake in online booking systems for restaurants and destinations and timed ticketing at attractions. Providing reassurance and demonstrating that to consumers is crucial. Hundreds of businesses have adopted the ‘We’re Good To Go’ national accreditation which goes a long way to doing that.

Ultimately through being creative, we hope that confidence will return. It is also a time to talk to local residents of Oxfordshire and instil pride in place in Oxfordshire as a destination and also look to attract more domestic overnight visitors by businesses collaborating, something that Experience Oxfordshire works hard to facilitate. However, key to success of re-opening is that the public will need to do their bit too and ensure they follow government guidelines around safety the measures they need to take responsibility for when they are visiting destinations.

Lasting changes – a helping hand

Rob Panting

Rob Panting

Rob Panting, OxLEP
We see and support the need for adaptability. Hospitality and tourism are fundamentally resilient industries, but this has been a crisis. As Hayley has said, success will come from innovations. All sorts of changes have been made already, but even more are going to be needed too. These adaptations, creative solutions and new approaches are all innovations. How businesses have responded to the crisis proves that you do not need to be a tech company to innovate.

Is there help available to help introduce these changes?
Yes. At OxLEP Business, we have programmes which can really help businesses to deliver their new ideas, solutions, and approaches. Our ISfB (Innovation Support for Business) programme is offering tailored advice, access to expert support and some funding through its ‘Go Create’ grants. Through the programme businesses can access help, one-to-one support and help reaching the resources needed to make changes.

People do tend to think that innovation is the preserve of the tech sector, but that is not the case and right now, we believe there is a substantial amount of excellent potential amongst our hospitality industry.
There is no doubting the value of expertise, experience, and advice when it comes to making changes and introducing new approaches to a business.

What kind of grant support do you get with a Go Create grant?
A Go Create grant is 25% funding, which can make a huge difference when you are introducing new things to a business. Getting £1 for every £3 of investment can make all the difference between getting what is essential for your future and not committing at all.

We are seeing excellent transformations and innovations that will really put businesses in a strong position to do well in a different-looking world.

Meet the Innovators

Jericho Coffee Traders
James Armitage has also made significant changes. Already fond of doing things differently, “We brought back 4 out of 11 Jericho Coffee Traders team members who had been furloughed to manage a surge in online orders and home deliveries. By reviewing our marketing and updating our website we have transformed our proposition. An ecommerce consultant has helped us do this right and it has worked.”

What advice do you have for others?
“Recognise that you don’t always have the skills yourselves. Take help and support such as OxLEP Business’s ISfB package. For us getting the help we needed was a smart move.”

St. Margaret’s Hotel, north Oxford

Tim Koudi at St Margarets Hotel in Oxford with PPE equipment

Tim Koudi at St Margarets Hotel in Oxford with PPE equipment

Tim Kourdi is a super innovator. He owns and manages the 11-bedroom hotel in north Oxford.
“We partnered with activity businesses to promote ‘reasons to come and stay’ in the area to appeal to a new market which we’d never done before. We have also used the time in lockdown to develop confidence-boosting marketing videos and redesigned the website for St Margaret’s Hotel. Our clients can see that their room will have been deep cleaned and sealed before they occupy it. We want to offer maximum reassurance.”

Your advice for others in the sector?
“Treat this challenge the same as starting a business all over again. Learn, watch what others are doing and adopt what is good for you. The good news is that in many ways it is a level playing field now. You can compete with the ritziest of hotels because no matter how upmarket a hotel, one bad coronavirus hygiene review and they are in trouble.”

For more information about the ISfB (Innovation Support for Business) programme and other SME help available in Oxfordshire, visit www.oxlepbusiness.co.uk
Email: business@oxfordshirelep.com
Tel: 01865 897181

To plan your future visit to Oxfordshire visit www.experienceoxfordshire.org
Follow #OpeningUpOx to see what is open across the county.
For more information on Experience Oxfordshire’s work go to www.experienceoxfordshire.org/partner
Email: partnership@experienceoxfordshire.org