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Hold Back The River

James Bay

Oxford's visitor information centre to shut permanently

The closure is partly because of a predicted drop in footfall, post lockdown.

The Visitor Information Centre on Broad Street has been vulnerable for some time, after losing financial support from Oxford City Council.

That's according to Experience Oxfordshire, the tourism management company which runs it.

The centre welcomes over 500,000 visitors a year and provides a vital service in supporting and advertising numerous local businesses.

But EO says there hasn't been enough income from people using the centre to make up for the shortfall in council funding in recent years.

It's been shut since March because of the coronavirus lockdown, and won't be re-opening.

The local Lib Dem group says Oxford is now the only major tourist city in the UK without a Visitor Information Centre, and the closure comes at a time when Oxfordshire's tourist industry 'fights for survival' from the Covid crisis.

It also means all jobs at the VIC are now at risk.

One of EO’s directors said it was ‘not viable to operate an information centre without public sector subsidy’.

But Oxford City Council says it's also experiencing significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic.

It hopes a new digital model of the information centre will be launched, but says it's facing a funding shortfall of £10 million this year.

Oxford city Councillor Mary Clarkson said the authority was not in a position to give EO more funding due to the pandemic but was working on ways of promoting domestic tourism alongside it.

The city council cut its £173,000 annual grant to Experience Oxfordshire by £20,000 in 2019, then reduced it by a further £25,000 this year, with no grant given from next year.

Christopher Wigg, board director of Experience Oxfordshire said: “We are extremely disappointed that the City Council have taken the decision to no longer support Experience Oxfordshire and that the immediate result of this is the closure of the VIC.

“It is simply not viable to operate an information centre without public sector subsidy and there is no information centre in the country that operates without a level of public sector support.”

He added: “Oxford should be investing in welcoming visitors and we do hope the council will review this in the future and Experience Oxfordshire will be able to work with them again.”

EO will now mainly provide a visitor information service through its website and social media channels, and its reduced workforce will continue to answer calls and emails.

Councillor Mary Clarkson said the city council had provided the equivalent of £1.8m funding to EO since 2011 and would continue to allow the organisation to use the visitor centre building rent-free.

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