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Post-Brexit immigration reforms could “severely destabilise” the tourism industry

The Government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration reforms have the potential to “severely destabilise” the tourism industry in the UK, putting at risk an industry that contributes £145bn (7.2% of UK GDP) to the economy, of which business tourism is a large part. One of the key findings concluded by the research, which was conducted by trade association UKinbound, Canterbury Christ Church University and Qa Research, revealed that 80% of tour operators and destination management businesses cited the lack of home-grown talent with foreign language skills as the driving force behind the need for EU workers.

The research includes a survey of UK tourism and hospitality businesses and highlights the critical impact that the Government’s proposed immigration reforms could have on the sector post-Brexit. The survey shows that 65% of respondents said that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to continue to operate and 71% believe that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to expand.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed believe that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to remain competitive and 68% of tourism businesses cited the limited domestic labour market as the key reason for the continued need for EU workers.

The survey of UK tourism and hospitality businesses also highlights how the reporting of the reliance of the sector on EU workers, 10%, is “extremely conservative” and such national averages mask the realities of many tourism organisations. Nearly one-third of businesses reported that EU workers made up more than half their workforce. Set against the results of the survey, the study shows that not only is the shortage of ‘low-skilled’ labour as damaging to the industry as ‘high-skilled’, but some locations in the UK will be more vulnerable than others, depending on local labour supply, regional salary levels, significance of the sector to the regional economy and level of reliance on EU nationals.

Furthermore, the proposed salary threshold of £30k is significantly above the sector’s average salary of £23k for full time workers.

Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound says the research shows that the Government must listen to the tourism industry before committing to an immigration system that runs the risk of forcing businesses to close throughout the UK.

He said: “Our tourism industry is vital to the UK economy and EU workers are crucial to ensuring that this success story continues.  We have a skills shortage in the UK, caused not least by low levels of language skills and a lack of interest amongst UK nationals in the sector.

“The Government must, as a first step, ensure that language skills are recognised as a key skills shortage and ensure that any future immigration system is rooted in what actually works and not in populist soundbites.”

UKinbound is calling for language skills to be added to the occupation shortage list and be exempt from immigration restrictions, and if any salary threshold is proposed that it be regionally set to consider lower salaries in key tourism hotspots such as the Lake District. The association also wants to see quarterly independent reviews to ensure tourism sectors are not adversely affected.