Tourism leaders urge government to create youth group travel scheme
The removal of ID card travel for visitors to the UK from the EU has caused a drop of over 80% in under-18 travel, according to new research by the Tourism Alliance.
The collapse in UK business was outlined in a press call last week and is included in a report being shared with the government and MPs.
The Tourism Alliance and Tourism Industry Council are campaigning for the creation of a youth group travel scheme which would allow under-18s to visit as part of an organised group with a passported leader. Richard Toomer, chief executive of the Tourism Alliance, said: "This is quite a simple policy matter… these are shocking findings we're publishing today."
English UK shares data from EU agents
Huan Japes, acting joint chief executive of English UK, presenting research done with EU agents in October, said there had been an 83 per cent drop in junior groups - including school travellers and those attending English summer camps - in 2022. Competitor markets had experienced much smaller drops and more evidence of recovery.
The drop in UK trade was directly attributable to the loss of ID card travel which means everyone needs a passport and children resident in but not citizens of the EU also need a visa. Previously, these groups were covered by the List of Travellers scheme.
He gave the example of Hastings, the second most deprived coastal town in the UK, which could lose the £35m annual income it had each summer from ELT centres.
He said children in the EU generally did not need passports because they lived in the Schengen zone, and just 35% in Italy owned one, for instance. Another complicating factor is the inclusivity requirement in many schools that if 10% of children cannot join a trip then it won't go ahead. "Putting all these things together, the impact is 'let's go elsewhere,'" he said.
Agent Christoph Knobloch of CTS Reisen thought business to the UK was 70% down and warned that groups were choosing to visit other cities and requesting English-language guides. "It's a clear indicator that these groups used to go to London but cannot afford an additional 70 euros for the passport on top of a trip costing 300-350 euros." One teacher had tried to get a visa for a Syrian child who had been rejected after 11 weeks.
He said agents would find other locations for "lovely class trips" and said that as a result hotels, accommodation and other infrastructure would close and the capacity for these visitors would disappear.
Concern from across the UK tourism sector
Emma English, chief executive of the British Educational Travel Association (BETA) said the youth and student travel market was worth £22.6bn to the UK economy. She said the drop in trade equated to £875m revenue and a potential loss of 14,500 jobs. Unless the government moved quickly, the 2023 season would be badly affected but there was some chance for 2024.
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKInbound, who chairs the government's tourism demand and competitiveness working group, said the group was fully supportive on this issue. The main points of the tourism recovery plan were to recover travel to 2019 levels and deliver benefits across the UK, and solving this issue would fit both criteria: almost 80% of language schools were outside London, with many in impoverished coastal towns, Scotland and Wales.
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Wrapping up, Tom Jenkins of the European Tourism Association said the UK was at risk of losing its pattern of demand and infrastructure, and youth groups were the people who the industry needed to build the experience of coming to the UK at an early stage. "We want them to experience a welcome we can build on in future visits," he said.