Oxford to undertake tourism study

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The common wisdom is that Oxford’s tourism is propelled by history, literature, shopping, dining, music and athletics – though not in that order.
Oxford Tourism Council and its Convention and Visitors Bureau hope to supplement their instincts about their visitors with hard data and visitor input. Young Strategies Inc., the North Carolina-based travel research firm that recently completed comprehensive research on Tupelo’s tourism industry, has been hired to mine the data on Oxford’s visitors and to make short- and long-term recommendations based on the findings.
Young Strategies President Berkeley Young said Thursday that full flights and increased bookings of hotels and car rentals in 2012 indicate an improving travel industry.
“There’s pent-up demand from people to go,” he said. “Basically, the industry is in a recovery mode.”
Young said Oxford is positioned well for a major travel trend – travel not as a luxury but as therapy, in which visitors want to sleep in late or take afternoon naps and make their way leisurely among a few choice activities and sights.
“They want you to put it together for them. Even a limited-service hotel has to be able to suggest restaurants and activities,” he said.
Among other trends are last-minute planning by travelers, value seeking, more and shorter trips, new planning technologies and travel more typified by couples and extended groups than by nuclear families.
Young and two colleagues will be in Oxford through Sunday for their visitor’s-eye orientation. Later developments will be a review of the CVB, a lodging survey (Who’s staying overnight? What drives the stays – tourism, courts, university, conferences, etc.), a competitive assessment of the conference center, surveys of Oxford’s visitors and CVB info requests, a strategic planning workshop and, in January 2013, final research report and recommendations.
“We don’t see any crises here,” Young said. “A lot of this is going to be about fine-tuning, but a lot of times in fine-tuning you can find a lot of money.”
A bonus of the tourism assessment will be having fresh eyes looking at Oxford from a visitor’s point of view – especially to see if visitors view issues such as downtown parking with the same frustration that locals do. Young noted a local concern in another town as a comparison.
“In Cody, Wyo., locals feel that $19 for filet mignon is gouging,” he said. “Travelers feel like that’s a tremendous bargain.”
Tourism Council Chairwoman Nicole Boyd said the group undertook the roughly $50,000 study to make the best use of its resources.
“We were concerned about getting the most return for the promotion dollar,” she said. “We see tourism as economic development, and therefore we need to spend the money like you would if you were doing an economic development project. Research is critical to any successful economic development project.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com