Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer believes Brexit is unlikely to stymie UK travellers’ appetite to head to the continent.
As industry leaders from across the globe gather at the World Travel Market (WTM) this week, Brexit is likely to be a common topic of conversation as they consider what it means for consumers and business planning, and speculate what will happen next in the negotiations.
As far as consumers are concerned holidays are still a big spending priority and Europe tops the list of destinations people intend to visit next year, according to our latest Holiday Habits research, which was carried out in August and released at the Travel Convention in Seville last month.
It also found that there are increasing concerns and confusion about what Brexit means for holidays. Just over two in five people (43%) are confused about how Brexit will affect travel arrangements and 48% are concerned it will make it harder to travel, both up slightly on last year.
Despite this three in five plan to head to Europe next year, and the latest industry figures show bookings for summer 2019 are up 14% on this time last year. This is also supported by recent research from Sainsburys Bank which found one in 10 UK adults have already booked their summer holiday for 2019, with just under half booking a trip to Europe.
Findings released by WTM over the weekend suggest the price of a Schengen visa could make some people consider alternative destinations. Right from the start, we’ve said visa-free travel should be a priority.
I know from our discussions with ministers and officials that the government is in agreement, with visa-free travel included in the government’s Brexit White Paper. Our meetings in Europe over the last couple of years have revealed this to be a shared goal.
As such, Abta is confident, as long as the UK government does not seek to impose additional barriers on tourists and short-term business travellers from across the EU, that a reciprocal arrangement will be reached ensuring the UK is added to the EU’s list of visa-exempt countries.
Additionally, with electronic travel authorisations coming for travel to Schengen countries from 2020, technological solutions could also be established to ensure UK and EU border processes continue to work seamlessly.
While the government is still in negotiations with the EU about the withdrawal agreement, travel businesses are drawing up contingency plans in the event of a no-deal scenario. Abta’s guidance to support Members’ contingency planning helps travel companies identify areas of their business which may be affected by a no-deal, such as posting workers abroad and cooperation around VAT, and it also outlines steps companies may wish to take.
The UK government and the EU have said they want to agree a deal and there is still time to do this. Following the lack of an agreement at the European Council meeting in October, talks are continuing and it is possible that an additional summit could be called in the middle of November (likely November 17-18).
If this does not happen, all eyes will turn to the last Council summit of 2018, on December 13-14, in hope of a breakthrough before the end of the year. Abta is continuing to stress to all sides the need to reach a deal that guarantees a period of transition and provides businesses, and consumers, with the certainty they need.
In the longer-term, we also firmly believe it is in everyone’s interests to reach a pragmatic deal on a future relationship, which should enable seamless travel for leisure and short-term business purposes, provide flexibility for businesses to employ and deploy staff as necessary to support customers in resort, and protect vital consumer rights, including the reciprocal healthcare arrangements currently guaranteed by EHIC.