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Survey Finds Brexit Likely to Damage Productivity of the Travel Industry


ETOA - European tourism association


16 Aug, 2017

ETOA has surveyed its members to establish the impact of any restriction on the employment of non-UK EU nationals among those based in the UK.

Over 100 companies completed the questionnaire. Collectively, they employ a total of over 35,000 people. Of these, one third would be classified as “Non-UK EU nationals”. 80% of the companies felt it would be “difficult to impossible” to replace these workers with UK nationals.

As many job roles which are difficult to fill from the domestic workforce can be filled, without administrative burden, by EU nationals, it is hardly surprising that only 16% of the companies have tried using the Tier 2 visa mechanism which is required to recruit workers from outside the EU. Of those that have, 85% found the process “difficult to impossible”. If this system were to be extended to EU workers, then nearly 80% of companies predicted a substantial detrimental impact on productivity.

Language skills are particularly important if you are buying from or selling to people in continental Europe. ETOA members, broadly, need to recruit poly-lingual graduates who are happy to work in the UK. They may only represent 30% of their workforce, but the jobs of the remaining 70% are contingent on their roles.

Not only are their skills difficult to obtain within the UK, but the non-UK EU workers have proved that they are willing to travel long distances to work, and are prepared to adapt. This manifest motivation and flexibility mean that non-UK EU nationals make up the most productive part of the workforce. It is hardly surprising that any curtailment of the supply of these people will be detrimental, particularly to productivity.

“People are the most important asset of any organisation and our members’ exports are founded on their ability to employ the best”, said Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA. “It is not merely a matter of being free to employ people, it is also a question of deployment. Tour operators carrying UK clients need the freedom to employ UK nationals as tour guides and local representatives in Continental European destinations. Thousands of UK nationals work across Europe in all sorts of roles: the reciprocity of freedom of movement is coveted and needs to be retained in any Brexit deal.”

“But the greatest problem at the moment is uncertainty. Part of ETOA’s membership is optimistic about the situation, a greater proportion is very pessimistic, but the greatest proportion are extremely concerned. Brexit may radically affect their ability to function as a business, but they are hoping, if not for the best, at least for something which is not catastrophically bad. Currently, 20% of the companies are actively contemplating relocation.”


Selected comments submitted by ETOA members:

"We rely heavily on German, French and Spanish nationals both for their language skills and destination knowledge as we operate groups in those countries..."

"Any future delay, red tape or indeed costs associated with the process of having to obtain visas would certainly diminish our productivity and could seriously damage our business and ability to service our clients."

"If free mobility ends, we relocate. "

"EU nationals have a higher service orientated culture and are more often can speak in a two or three different languages. This is very beneficial to the hospitality industry. "

"To replace these skills within UK staff the education of our young people needs to change to speak different languages and to understand the service culture."

"UK workers as a rule do not speak any languages! which is why we have so many foreigners. Uk should look at their education before coming up with such stupid plans! "

"It would severely affect our business if we were not able to hire EU nationals relatively easily.  There are simply not enough UK citizens who want to do hotel work as they deem it a servile industry (unlike the Europeans who understand it's a profession). "

"Location in central London leads to very few UK nationals applying for any jobs posted. Overwhelming majority of EU nationals apply. "

"Our business is heavily dependent on linguistic skills and a deep understanding of the cultural identity of the source markets in which we operate consequently a reasonably high proportion of our staff are EU citizens working in the UK. We benefit from the native speakers and their deep understanding of the markets in which we operate. "

"It is deeply concerning that we will be heavily restricted in our ability to attract staff with sufficient ability in the modern languages we require and from experience know the numbers of graduates with modern languages is limited with the skill level required."

"The main issues are languages and salary. All our EU employees speak 3-4 European languages which we need. UK workers are not so multi-lingual. Sadly they are also from countries with high youth unemployment so are OK to work for lower salaries to gain experience. Multi lingual UK workers are always looking for much higher starting salaries."

"We employ non-UK EU staff in a number of specialist conservation areas, as well as visitor welcome. Our visitor welcome would be greatly reduced if we could not easily employ staff with language skills. The majority of our visitors come from continental Europe and it is vitally important to be able to communicate in several languages when promoting the Cathedral, or welcoming visitors."

"I am Italian and have many European friends in London. I have been reassured more than once from my organisation that nothing will change for European employees, however the general feeling in the city is that something is changing and we are not welcome here as we used to be. Going forward we might be discriminated for being Europeans and looking for a new job might not be as easy as it has been so far. I am making plans to return to Italy as this isn't the type of atmosphere we moved here for...and so are most of my other European friends. London has always been a transitory city with people coming and going but I am not sure how many new Europeans will keep coming in going forward...challenging times ahead."

"Our concern is that our guides will require work permits/visas to guide in Europe. This would have catastrophic effects on our business model. A disaster!"

"Brexit and all of the uncertainty it brings is proving bad for our business.  It is said that we are seeing a boom in 'inbound' visitors to the UK - We have received some modest benefit from this but on balance the uncertainty and instability, both politically and financially, is really negative.  The value of £GBP no doubt reflects the lack of confidence in our economy and in our political masters.  We are resigned to the prospect that things may get worse before they get better - Already the press are reporting long days because of new border controls affecting UK tourists travelling to Europe and this is before the big politically arguments have even warmed up.  It's no longer just grim up north, it's grim all over!"

"The UK tourism industry heavily relies on EU workers - we are already seeing a lot of EU candidates reconsidering their future to remain in the UK. There has been a noticeable drop in EU candidate applicants since June 2016. The UK candidates don't have comparative language skills or the desire to work in tourism and hospitality - it’s still not recognised as career within schools or universities to the same extent it seems to in Europe."

"There is no contingency plan as yet, although the status of non UK workers in the ongoing EU / UK negotiation is closely monitored. As we have 20 office throughout Europe we have some flexibility when it comes to relocation. The current situation is proving a challenge already in recruiting EU workers. Candidates are worried of applying and of their future situation once the UK is out of the EU. Generally the level of uncertainty of EU workers free movement and the lack of clarity, guidelines and communication with trade association is increasingly worrying and frustrating."

“The travel industry by virtue of its business, deals with multiple destinations where myriad languages are spoken. The UK education system is notoriously poor at teaching languages. Many travel companies have to employ people with language skills to assist with running and maintaining their businesses. If employing such people becomes even more difficult than it is today, how do we remain competitive in the global market?”

“The potential impact is quite frightening- currently a huge percentage of our team are working in Europe via UK passports which may potentially no longer be an option and alternately we also have a large contingent of EU passported drivers who whilst able to work on the continent may be affected here in the UK- ultimately any changes to working rights will have a dramatic affect on our business and our delivery to our customers.”

“Virtually impossible to employ any UK nationals who speak a European language who will work in the leisure industry.”

“We employ around 2000 seasonal, minimum wage/lower paid staff each year and have been trying to expand. To meet our staff needs we have been increasingly looking for students and staff from overseas as local/UK employment streams have dried up.”

"The Tourism business is based on the mobility of the workforce. I do speak 3 languages and have lived in 3 different countries in Europe. My experience in all those countries is what makes me a good professional being able to deal with various different markets.”

“Tourism will be loosing professionals and that will have a big impact on the amount of tourists coming to the UK in the long Run."

“Brexit will have an extremly negative effect for EU staff wishing to learn English in our operations equally we ourselves may relocate our UK ops away from the UK so UK staff would lose their jobs as a result.”

“Relocation/contingency not on the cards at my level but I assume it is at board level. Very concerned about finding the right skill set we need, particularly languages to communicate with European suppliers... Very difficult to find Brits with fluency in multiple languages.”

“Presently actively considering relocation from the UK to mainland Europe.”

“Brexit will impact very negatively on our business overall, will make it harder and more costly to find suitable staff with European languages and cultural knowledge and make it harder to trade across Europe.”

“Brexit reflects negatively on the UK as a brand and is a long-term deterrent to attracting overseas visitors (vital export cash!) to the country. Once the current currency fluctuations bubble passes I expect to see a downturn in visitors from EU countries. In the wider industry, hospitality staff are dominated by EU nationals, making it harder to employ these people will negatively affect both the industry and the product on offer.”

“We are enrolled and have a Employer VISA-scheme certificate, however as most of tourism jobs are not on the list of desired skills, nor do tourism jobs pay as high as those in for example banking (who are in the same pool of visa applications), we have been unsuccessful three times in our application.   We do not see the benefit of having a physical office in the UK instead of operating as an online-only based business from Europe, so this will be our contingency plan as the government fails to announce concrete Brexit plans to UK business.”

“Being a London based business, we are very heavily reliant on EU nationals for our staffing. UK citizens have proved to be far inferior in terms of reliability and productivity in comparison to EU nationals (NB pay rates are the same for all). Without a good supply of reliable, well educated, reliable and respectful staff - which EU nationals generally are - our business will be negatively affected. In fact it already is.”

“As an International company employing people in many countries with different employment laws, there is usually a way to recruit the right locally based person for the job,but the less red tape the better, and nationality should not be the deciding factor, just qualification. (This subject for us applies to EU and Non-EU, so we already face these issues).”

“As an outbound tour operator, the most influential part of Brexit on business has been the affect on Currency rates with GBP versus Euro and an increase of between 15-20% on our selling rates to all Euro zone destinations.”

“As long as Taxation in the UK gets reduced and an easy business visa of in and out of the UK is provided and maintained I believe we have no reason to relocate the company. Hopefully we should be getting protection from EU laws like the recent mark up and profits disclosure case (TOMS).”

“As many international companies we are working with modern communication tools which enable us to place competent personnel in almost any location. As we do not have walk-in trade, our only challenge in positioning our business outside the UK is staff training.”

“Over 80% of our visitors are from overseas. Our staff need language , cultural welcome and hospitality skills. Whilst we have the greater bulk of our workforce from the UK , the skills brought in from European neighbours have helped make our experience customer focused and award winning over 27 years of trading .”

"We could of course replace EU nationals with UK citizens but this would take time and would be difficult in that the language skills required are severely lacking. It would also be a huge burden to have so many new recruits to be trained at one time"

“The company has several students working on an internship basis for periods of 3 to 6 months, so would the work permit and immigration visa fees also be applicable in these cases? I believe that, rather than having to obtain a work permit and sponsorship for EU citizens, they should instead be required to obtain a residency permit locally (e.g. via the local council), within 30 days of arriving in the UK, which is the system used in various other EU countries where, without this document, it is not possible to obtain state benefits and other services, such as medical insurance and bank accounts. However, if there will be an immigration process, the fee needs to be greatly reduced for EU citizens.”

“Unless the Brexit outcome is reversed or massively 'softened' to maintain membership of the single market and customs union at the very least, the referendum result, which was nothing more than a Conservative party gamble and built on pack of lies and false promises, has the potential to cripple the UK and cost generations for years to come. The sooner those in charge wake up and grasp the nettle the better.”

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