OXFORDSHIRE’s tourism businesses are losing hundreds of millions of pounds a month because of the coronavirus lockdown, and it is only set to get worse as the summer approaches.

Experience Oxfordshire, an organisation which promotes tourism in the county, has warned of massive losses in a report into the economic shock of the pandemic and lockdown, which has forced most businesses to close.

It said the local tourism economy had already experienced ‘significant losses’ of between £112.5m and £137.5m per month, and said monthly losses were set to rise further as the peak visitor period between May and August approaches.

Meanwhile, managers at the county's biggest historic tourist attraction, Blenheim Palace, said the closure of the house and grounds was costing £2 m a month.

Experience Oxfordshire's Covid-19 Visitor Economy Business Impact Study reveals 84 per cent of businesses reporting they have lost more than half their usual revenue.

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Picture: Ed Nix.

With future bookings for events or accommodation being cancelled, more losses are also expected.

More than a third of Oxfordshire businesses responding to a survey for the report said between 76 per cent and 100 per cent of their forward business has been cancelled.

Oxfordshire’s visitor economy provides 40,000 local jobs and the study demonstrates that a third of businesses have not been able to retain their staff during the pandemic.

But 76 per cent of these businesses have reported their staff have been furloughed, rather than made redundant.

The survey results also point towards a concern around the aftermath of the effect of Covid-19, with worries over the re-building of public confidence frequently quoted.

Some tourism businesses also told EO they were uncertain whether they will be able to re-open due to not being able to afford rents in the absence of business returning.

Chief Executive of Experience Oxfordshire, Hayley Beer-Gamage, said a ‘phased recovery’ was needed to help businesses make their way out of the lockdown.

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Picture: Ed Nix

Ms Beer-Gamage said: “This study clearly shows the severe impact that Covid-19 is having on Oxfordshire’s visitor economy. An industry that has historically thrived and grown, and provided vital social and economic value, is now at serious risk.

“We need to be able to manage a phased recovery and understand what that looks like for the sector, which is now extremely vulnerable. Our study is already showing potential loses of over £1billion in 2020 and this is set to increase further as lock down, phased opening and social distancing continue.”

She added that Experience Oxfordshire, a destination management organisation which is funded by businesses and local councils, would lobby for more government money to help the tourism industry.

The Blenheim Palace estate, which usually relies upon visitors to make its money, is among the businesses which have been hit by the lockdown.

CEO Dominic Hare said:” Ironically, the weather has been fabulous – were it not for Coronavirus, it would have been a very successful spring.

“Being closed costs us circa £2m per month, but the bigger impact is on the businesses which surround us which benefit from the visitors we draw into the area. Last year our visitors spent nearly £50m outside of our gates so that is another £4m per month.”

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Blenheim Palace has mown a message into its South Lawn to thank frontline workers. Picture: Pete Seaward.

He said Blenheim was trying to support other small businesses nearby with its reserves and by encouraging them to open online shops if is was possible.

He added: “The impact of this awful virus runs deep and neither we or the community around us will get this money back.”

According to Experience Oxfordshire's report, more than 100 businesses took part in the survey to assess the damage to the tourism sector.

The majority of these businesses, 39 per cent, were based in the city of Oxford itself.

Experience Oxfordshire is offering a range of business support and advice which can be found at experienceoxfordshire.org/partner/business-support