Reaction to EU Referendum result June 2016

EU Referendum June 23rd 2016

On 23rd June 2016 the British public voted to leave the European Union. Tourism Society members give their reactions below (listed in order of most recent).


From Bernard Donoghue FTS (first published by: Travel GBI 29/6/16)

We are living through one of the most turbulent economic and political weeks in decades. It is now clear, or at least as clear as anything can be at the moment, that neither those who campaigned to leave, nor those who campaigned to remain in the EU gave serious thought to, or drew up plans for the immediate repercussions of a leave vote.

Turmoil doesn’t begin to adequately describe the situation at the moment. For Alva, we have always been clear that leaving the EU would impact on three major things: money, reputation and employment.

Many UK arts and cultural organisations are heavily reliant on EU funds for capital projects, programmes, cultural links and fostering relationships. Planning to fill these significant funding gaps becomes an immediate priority.

Outside of tourism, I chair the London International Festival of Theatre – LIFT – which is currently running in London.

Ten out of our 26 productions have been made possible through the EU Creative Europe programme, funding which will no longer be open to us in the future.

And EU regional monies have not only built up but sustained many local and regional economies in the UK, from Cornwall, to Wales, Hull and Northern Ireland, through transport infrastructure ad capital developments.

Some commentators have said in recent days that a weaker pound will be attractive to overseas visitors and encourage them to visit. But that is to assume that overseas visitors only decide with their wallets.

And it’s also to ignore the dramatic falls in share values of dozens if not hundreds of tourism companies including major airlines and hotels. I don’t think that a weaker pound is a price worth paying.

Our reputation as a welcoming, tolerant, inviting, respected country has taken a battering too. We know from nation brand benchmarking that the UK is well regarded for having stable governance and a stable economy and has historically been perceived as being not as welcoming as many other leading tourism economies.

Think back to the huge boost to the brand of UK PLC that the Olympic opening ceremony, let alone the whole of the Games, generated for us – the confidence, the celebration, the inclusiveness. That was just four years ago. I want that country back.

We also know from huge amounts of evidence that every time we impose visa requirements on other countries to visit the UK, visitor numbers from that market falls.

We know that we don’t receive the Chinese numbers that we should because we are outside Schengen; just think what requiring visas from EU countries will mean.

Lastly it’s about people. Tourism, especially in London and our major cities, is highly dependent on an EU workforce. We couldn’t survive without them.

We owe them a huge debt of thanks for their work in our hotels, restaurants, attractions, airlines, in the farms which supply our food, at the front of house and the back of office and every part of the tourism supply chain.

We know that people make all the difference to the visitor experience; we jeopardise that at our peril.

Tourism is a robust, responsive industry. We have a duty to seize opportunities, make the best of changing economic and social environments and to make our guests’ experiences as superb as we can.

And we should take this opportunity to remind politicians, as the Tourism Alliance does every day, to invest in the UK’s fifth biggest industry, to market our way around the world, to anticipate and plan for ‘Staycation2’ and to give us the fiscal and VAT changes we need to contribute our significant part in the strengthening of the UK economy.

Published by: Travel GBI

From Noel Josephides FTS (first Published by: Travel GBI 29/6/16)

When Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer spoke at the Abta Travel Matters conference last week he called for the “proper enforcement of regulation” on businesses, including the likes of Airbnb.

He made a plea for thorough regulation, adding that currently “the good guys play by the rules and the bad guys don’t”.

On June 23, the day after the conference, there was a leader article in The Times on this. It read: “It may be that behind Mr Tanzer’s comment is a fear of tourists who shun the type of package hotel holiday that has traditionally been his members’ bread and butter.

The solution is not to seek to curtail the activities of Airbnb with new taxes and regulations. It is for his members to raise their game.”

But far from resisting competition, travel has thrived on it! Is there a more competitive industry than travel? We created affordable travel. The difference is that back then we all competed on a level playing field: package holiday organisers had to provide financial guarantees (and still do), to take responsibility for health and safety, and act as principals.

Airbnb claims its hosts’ guests become part of the local community. I might agree if they are renting a room in the host’s home, but certainly not if they are simply staying in an independent rented apartment.

Compare the legislation that covers us with the virtually non-existent legislation that covers the likes of Airbnb: to say that we have to “raise our game” is to show gross ignorance of the facts.

So, did those who voted for Brexit do so to achieve complete abolition of the red tape emanating from Brussels? Well, the irony is that the bigger regulatory problem lies with the UK government, which allows the so-called disruptors to operate without shackles while adding unnecessary regulations of its own.

The other point made at Travel Matters was about consistency of enforcement. The UK has, through the Atol scheme and other regulations, enforced the Package Travel Directive to the letter.

But are other European countries doing the same? As travel becomes increasingly cross-border, we risk losing good UK companies which decide to move overseas to take advantage of slacker regulation.

And what other state in the EU, other than the heavily regulated UK, prevents the sale of travel insurance by travel agents – arguably the only group that can claim to know what it’s talking about?

The referendum decision last week will force us to make some urgent decisions about the level and type of regulation that the UK needs in the future.

Now is the time for us to fight our corner and make sure the UK government doesn’t continue to over-regulate the legacy sector of the industry, while allowing the new kids on the block to continue unchecked.

From Richard Denman FTS (28/6/16)

While I applaud Ken Robinson (TS Weekly Update 24th June) for talking up tourism at this time of new uncertainty following the Brexit decision, I would urge the Society also to reflect on the wider issues.  Yes, a weaker pound should have a positive effect on our tourism balance of payments but there is also much to be concerned about, such as:

  • the effect of a weaker economy and lower personal incomes (not least from savings and pensions) on discretionary spending on holidays;
  • the possible consequences for labour supply in the hospitality industry;
  • loss of funding for many tourism-related regeneration projects, especially in rural areas, which may not be priorities for the new UK government;
  • impact on major tourism businesses, including airlines and other operators, affecting inbound as well as outbound travel;
  • damage to the UK’s image in the world, especially in European markets, as a welcoming place to visit (even if there are no implications for entry arrangements for short term travel); and
  • loss of funding and networking for tourism training and research bodies.

For me personally I have gained a lot from interaction with professionals from European bodies and many individual European countries, often supported by the EU, as well as from participating in EU-funded projects in developing countries.  As a Society and as individual professionals we will need to ensure that our international credibility is not damaged by this inward-looking decision. 

On a more positive note, while the above are all concerns, tourism is no more affected than many other economic sectors and Ken is absolutely right to look for the silver lining and to point out the opportunities we can deliver to the economy and society moving forward.

From Ken Robinson CBE FTS (24/6/16)

So we are leaving Europe… but my crystal ball says that tourists will not be leaving Britain as a result. A lower pound will encourage inbound tourism and UK residents will take more of their holidays in Britain. Win, win. Britain’s appeal as a destination for visitors around the world was not aided or hindered by our membership of the EU – except that we have not been within the Schengen area, so no change there. Tourists choose destinations for their intrinsic character, their history and heritage, culture, language, sense of welcome, ambience and safety. On these criteria, Britain excels. Our national image will more easily be differentiated from the wider European discordant-family of countries.

We have been thrust into is a period of rapid political reappraisal and change. Inbound tourism is a vital benefit to our balance of payments, and is strongly constrained by uncompetitive taxes. Independent studies have demonstrated that reducing Air Passenger Duty and VAT to international and euro-competitive rates will produce an immediate net gain for the Treasury, and an even bigger boost to the economy, for every additional visitor. The reduction of these taxes will now be more essential and easier for politicians and civil servants to endorse. The rationale for major tourism-boosting projects such as the expansion of air capacity will be stronger for a Britain that has to fight its own way in the world and results will be speedier. When we no longer have to send public money to Europe it can be applied to prime the pumps of development and beneficial change at home. It’s time for the tourism industry to advance our case – to make it irresistible to politicians to invest in the growth and benefits that tourism offers.

From Dr Constantia Anastasiadou MTS (pre-referendum, 2/5/16)

Tourism is one of the few industrial sectors where the impact of a possible Brexit could have such widely felt and significant repercussions for individuals as holidaymakers and as business owners. This makes it even more pertinent that discussions are had regarding the implications of a possible Brexit for different sectors of the industry.

Ken Robinson rightly states that there has been a lot of conjecture and little fact - and often the ‘facts’ do not stand up to scrutiny.  The ‘ifs’ and the ‘unknowns’ are on both sides of the argument because the European project is not static. There are voices across Europe that question the current state of affairs, requesting reforms to the EU institutions to enhance transparency and democratic accountability. In other words, staying in is ultimately as much about redefining the EU project and its principles and practices as much as opting out.

Ken Robinson refers to the UK tourism and the impacts associated with taxation, legislation and funding. However, an important distinction needs to be made between businesses that are focused on outbound tourism and for which the existence of the EU has been mainly positive for business. A Brexit could create insecurity if the new EU-UK deal withdraws some of their current privileges (i.e. freedom of movement, freedom of establishment, labour-related issues).

Those operators who are focusing on inbound and domestic tourism, could stand to benefit from a Brexit as much as they could lose. Depending on the final agreement, currency fluctuations, and the geopolitical situation a possible Brexit could made more UK citizens holiday in the UK or divert them to cheaper, non EU destinations. Similarly though a post Brexit agreement could put off Europeans from travelling to Europe because of cost or accessibility constraints issues or even psychological factors (i.e. if a Brexit outcome is interpreted as a rejection of European-ness, they may feel unwelcome).

One particular issue revolves around education and training and employment in hospitality and tourism. At the moment, UK universities and colleges attract large numbers of European students join longer programmes of study or use Erasmus for temporary mobility. Often those of highest calibre will then proceed to seek employment in the industry. Similarly, UK nationals can spend time abroad, enhance their language skills and their international exposure. Brexit could make studying in the UK financially less attractive for European students and could lead to labour shortages in the tourism and hospitality industries, in the longer term, where language skills are in high demand. It would also mean that highly skilled European graduates are seeking employment opportunities elsewhere. In the longer run, this could have cost implications for businesses as they would have to invest in language training programmes or go through international recruitment processes.

Ultimately, though the decision to vote in our out is less to do with profits and losses (as the number of variables are too high) and more to do with personal values, ideals and notions of identity.

From Ken Robinson CBE FTS (pre-referendum 29/4/16)

The formal campaign has started, but we wait in vain for any clarity from Government about what significant policy changes it would make, if Brexit becomes a reality. There has been a lot of conjecture, but little fact. Most statements about the difference being in or out of EU would make for Britain are made on baseless predictions of possible change. For most industrial sectors, there is an expectation that being freed from EU regulations and taxes could benefit industry. Yet in tourism, the negative policies acting on UK tourism are imposed by the UK Government: punitive APD, high rate VAT on tourism products and a non-Schengen visa regime. If that is what the Government choose to do when we are in, why would they do less if we come out? Some industries worry about the potential reductions of the freedom of labour movement, and the ability to find applicants for the more mundane roles in hospitality and other service businesses. It seems that after Brexit the UK would have to accept the free movement of labour in order to be granted workable trade arrangements with EU markets. Some EU regulations have greatly benefited tourism, such as the liberalisation of air travel, and the resultant growth of budget airlines - but none of the airlines that operate from and to the UK and other EU destinations expect to change anything if Brexit occurs.

So the key concerns appear to be two: the loss of grant aid from EU programmes which have benefited Tourism over the year: such as ERDF, Leader, Interreg etc and participation in EU wide schemes such as Erasmus. The UK has received limited benefit from most such schemes compared with others, such as Ireland, which have been voracious applicants. However, post-Brexit the UK would no longer contribute billions annually to the EU coffers, so those funds would be available for UK economic, cultural and social purposes. In the realms of conjecture, surely a post-Brexit UK Government would not want our businesses to be worse off than if EU funding eligibility remained, and maybe stimulus funding would be more intelligently applied? But judging by recent DCMS policy and funding changes, even when free from EU considerations, logical outcomes are neither guaranteed, nor even likely. So what do we know for sure about tourism consequences in a post-Brexit world?...very little.