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by Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – From football to Faulkner and biking to blues, tourism is big business in Oxford.

A year-long study made public on Thursday showed visitor spending was up 14 percent last year over 2011.

“Visitors to Oxford contributed nearly $105 million to our economy,” Oxford Tourism Director Mary-Kathryn Herrington told members of the Oxford-Lafayette Economic Development Foundation on Thursday. “Visitor spending provided $506 in tax relief to each Oxford household.”

Berkeley Young, the North Carolina-based consultant who oversaw the study, said Oxford is its own main attraction.

“I have seen towns all over America spend millions to try to create what you have,” he said. “You have one of the best courthouse squares and downtowns in America, bar none. It’s got a diverse offering of shopping, dining, history and charm.”

Young said low hotel occupancies (except for about 42 event-related nights per year) can be changed with more luxury rooms and tourism marketing that emphasizes weekdays and non-event weekends.

The city already draws visitors for leisure, university-related events, conferences and business, but Young said Oxford needs to advertise more especially to retirees and conference planners.

He also noted the Oxford Conference Center would greatly increase its conference business if it had 400 adjacent hotel rooms. Hampton Inn East opened across the street with 88 rooms in Fall 2011, and TownePlace Suites with 94 rooms is expected later this year.

Young said Oxford’s part-time Sunday alcohol policy, insufficient signage for downtown driving and parking, limited hours at some shops and the lack of a master community calendar are negatives for visitor.

“The whole issue there is consistency,” he said.

Young said Oxford is positioned to grow its already successful tourism industry.

“The staff of the Oxford CVB is one of the best I’ve encountered,” he said. “They are smart, savvy and ready to go to bring visitors.”

Young’s final request to the audience was designed to attract new conferences almost immediately.

“Every person here – give the staff the name of some group you’re on the board of or are a member of,” he said. “We want to promote Oxford and grow the economy (the other) 323 days a year.”

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