The economic impact of the requirement for students on school trips to have passports
22 April 2022

The economic impact of the requirement for students on school trips to have passports

Tourism Alliance press release | April 2022

1. Background

The latest statistics published by the British Educational Travel Association (BETA) show that the youth, student and educational travel market collectively contribute £28.6 billion to the UK economy with 14.6m youth and student travellers visiting or studying in the UK each year. These visitors support over 265,000 UK jobs in the education sector, they are also important for the UK's future economic growth as former students are more likely to undertake trade with, and invest in, the UK when they return home and enter the business world.

Within this overall figure, around 550,000 school students come to the UK for short periods of a few weeks to study English as a language and almost 1 million more as part of organised educational school trips to visit historical and cultural attractions. While these visitors comprise less than 4% of the total number of visitors to the UK, the £3.2bn that they spend in the country constitutes over 11% of the UK's total annual tourism earnings. Using figures developed by VisitBritain, the £3.2bn in revenue generated by school trips support around 50,000 FTE jobs in the UK.

The 1.5m students who come to the UK each year are not only important for local businesses such as language schools, they are an important source of income for local families who host the students and, in more general terms, are important for projecting the UK's soft power as students who come to the UK are more likely to return on holidays, grow up with a good perception of the UK which translates into business, investment and political benefits later in life.

Prior to the UK leaving the EU, bringing a school group to the UK from other EU countries was a relatively simple process due to the List of Travellers scheme. Under this scheme, students who were EU nationals, or had the right to reside in the EU, could travel to the UK as part of an organised school group provided that they were accompanied by a teacher from the school who provided Border Force with a list of the children and their National ID card numbers.

2. Problems caused by the requirement for school children to have passports

Since the UK left the EU, it is now a requirement that all visitors to the UK from the EU have a passport rather than using a National ID Card to gain entry into the UK. While there are understandable reasons why this move would improve the UK's security and prevent people from EU countries from disappearing into the UK black economy, the impact of this policy of school students has been nothing short of catastrophic for this £3,2bn industry.

The main reasons for this are:

  • A large percentage of EU school students do not have passports. Figures vary by country but, for example, it is estimated that only 35% of Italian school children have a passport
  • Many school groups have children who are foreign nationals with the right to live in the EU who would need to apply for a visa to enter the UK.

The organisational problems of ensuring that all children in a school group have the necessary passports and visas to enter the UK has meant that most schools and operators specialising in providing school trips have either given up on sending school groups to the UK or are significantly reducing the number of groups that they are sending.

Case Study – Germany

The German market provides a good example of the problems facing school groups travelling to the UK.

Only a small percentage of German children have a passport, and the 35 EUR cost represents a financial burden on families with a low-income background, especially considering that the passport will most likely not be required for any other travel.

On top of this, around 15% of all schoolchildren in Germany, while being German residents, are nationals of countries that require a visa to enter the UK. Not only does this place an additional financial burden on these families with the UK tourist visa costing 93 GBP, it also presents a significant organisational burden for both the student's family, (the visa needs to be applied for in-person either at the UK embassy in Berlin or the consulate in Dusseldorf) and on the teacher trying to organise the school trip.

Compounding this organisational problem, there is a law in Germany making it necessary to choose an alternative destination for a school trip if 10% of the children in one class cannot travel to a specific destination due to reasons specific to the destination (e.g., passport/ visa rules). That means that if only 3 pupils in a class of 30 say "I can't travel to the UK because the visa is too expensive or I don't have the means to travel to Berlin to apply for it", the teacher has to take the class to a different destination. To avoid the possibility of this problem occurring, many teachers and operators simply decide at the outset that they will take the students to another EU country rather than the UK.

CTS, the second-largest school trip operator in Germany, has estimated that these problems will cause an 80% fall in school trips to the UK

3. Economic Impact

Covid has devastated the student travel industry over the last two years due to the combination of travel restrictions and parents unwilling to allow their children to travel overseas during a pandemic.

Work by the Tourism Alliance shows that 81% of English Language Schools in the UK saw their revenue decline by over 50% and over 75% said that they were concerned that their business might fail this year.

The reopening of the economy and the removal of most travel restrictions is now exposing the impact of the requirement for all visitors to the UK to have a passport. Rather than the sector starting to recover alongside other components of the UK tourism industry, forward bookings remain extremely low.

A recent briefing by the Institute of Tourist Guides indicates that this market has completely collapsed with members reporting a 99% decrease in school-group bookings from Europe this summer.

This is supported by data from English UK which indicates that their members will receive only 100,000 students this year rather than the usual 550,000 and that most of these students are from markets outside Europe. This 82% fall suggests the loss of £2.6bn in export earnings and over 40,000 jobs if it is not resolved.

Case Study – Hastings

Hastings is one of the biggest players in the language student market, going back over 50 years to the early 1970s. In 2019, there were 20 English language schools in the town. Hastings Borough Council estimates that 35 000 overseas students, predominantly from the EU, came to the town every year to attend short courses at these schools.

While attending these schools, most students were hosted by local families who earnt additional income from taking in students.

Altogether, these students spend £35m per annum in the local economy - a very significant and important source of income for a community ranked as the most deprived town in the southeast and the second most deprived seaside resort in the country after Blackpool.

Of those 20 schools, at least three have gone out of business and up to four of the larger operators have withdrawn from the south coast and are concentrating on the major cities.

Six operators have reported that they have done no business at all since Covid hit, and are expecting small numbers, or none at all, in 2022.

Many of the schools have had to lay off most of their staff, and the impact on host families has been very significant. The Council thinks that Hastings will be lucky to achieve 5% of their pre-pandemic student levels in 2022, potentially costing the local economy around £33m.

4. Finding a solution

It is obvious that a solution needs to be found to this issue. The Home Office and the tourism industry need to work together to develop a new Youth Group Travellers Scheme in order to rebuild the UK's educational travel sector.

Such a scheme would allow supervised groups of EU nationals and residents under the age of 18 to travel to the UK for a period of up to six weeks to take part in group educational tours, school immersions, English language courses and organised cultural and educational visits aimed at youth and student groups.

Tourism Alliance – the voice of tourism
BETA – the national membership association for youth, student and educational travel
English UK – the national membership association of accredited English language teaching (ELT) centres in the UK
Institute of Tourist Guiding– a professional membership organisation which is committed to developing, maintaining and promoting professional standards in tourist guiding
VisitBritain– Britain's national tourism agency, responsible for marketing Britain overseas
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