Thousands marched on Whitehall on Saturday (June 23) demanding a final vote on the eventual Brexit deal, two years to the day since the historic 2016 vote. Their message: it’s not a done deal.
With just nine months until the UK leaves the European Union on March 29, 2019, much is yet to be discussed – too much, some would say.
And given the travel industry is inextricably linked to the EU, Brexit matters – a lot.
Whether it’s a case of getting it right or calling the whole thing off remains to be seen, but uncertainty is rarely good for business, and so it is proving.
Many senior figures in travel have long raised concerns not just about the concept of Brexit, but the progress of a deal – and the spectre of the UK leaving with no deal at all.
Brexit threatens to rip up a rulebook that dates back half a century. While change is far from inherently bad, it is disruptive – and it has the potential to plunge a sector such as travel, so dependent on international movement and relations, into crisis.
This week, TTG caught up with five key travel industry figures to gauge how the government is doing, what it has achieved so far and – crucially – what still needs to be done…
Mark Tanzer, chief executive, Abta
“Ahead of the referendum, Abta laid out what leaving the EU would mean for UK travel, highlighting how things like visa-free holidays, the Ehic card and air travel are all subject to EU legislation or agreements.
When the UK voted to leave, these issues informed Abta’s key priorities for a Brexit deal that works for travel.
Over the past two years, we have spent a lot of time discussing these priorities, and the value of UK outbound travel, with officials in Brussels, destination governments, and ministers and departments in the UK.
It is fair to say, following these conversations, there is a consensus that travel to and from the UK is very important, and EU countries want UK tourists to continue to visit. This is encouraging.
But what’s missing is any kind of certainty for businesses and consumers on what the final arrangements will look like.
The agreement to a transition period was a sign of progress, and keeping the status quo until the end of 2020 is certainly welcome.
But there is much to do before this agreement can become a reality. The government urgently needs to find a solution to the Irish border issue so more progress can be made on what the future relationship looks like.”
Derek Moore, chairman, Aito
With two years gone and nine months to go until Brexit, politicians still seem more interested in fighting among themselves than working together for the good of the country.
Meanwhile, for tour operators, there are two pre-eminent concerns about Brexit. Firstly, will there be an air agreement covering flights between the EU and the UK? This will get sorted, although only at the last minute.
Spain, for example, needs our tourism business, and EU nations can and will ignore instructions from Brussels when their own interests are threatened – look at Hungary or Italy.
If there is no EU solution to the flight problem, then Spain and the UK will find a way to keep flights operating.
Since airlines need to plan well ahead, there will be some chaos, but the world will keep turning; this is like a rerun of Y2K.
Secondly, many operators are concerned about the status of their staff working in Europe. Again, a solution will be found, but only at the last minute.
To government, travel is not a key industry, but given both flights and overseas staff also play a part in many other business sectors, not just travel, these two concerns will be addressed, albeit at one minute to midnight.”
Ken McLeod, president, Scottish passenger Agents’ association
“From the travel industry’s point of view, I don’t hold out much hope for getting more clarity in the next six months. It looks like everything will go down to the wire. We’re going to be in limbo – the industry needs confidence to plan ahead.
We can’t go back to the situation where we have huge queues of people getting into Spain. People want to be able to travel with the same ease they have now.
An underlying fear is companies could find easier places to do business than Britain. When they are choosing where to operate, they know there aren’t going to be any restrictions between France and Germany, but they don’t know what the situation will be between Britain and France.
We’re not in a great position at the moment. But the travel industry will soldier on – we just don’t know what’s going to come out the other end. So far, we have no answers, only questions.”
David Dingle, deputy chairman, Clia Europe, and chairman, Carnival UK
“There’s still a real lack of clarity on many matters applicable to the whole travel sector, not just cruise.
Although there have been positive noises from government, but an agreement over the free movement of skilled labour isn’t a done deal. It is an ongoing concern and could greatly impact the UK cruise sector.
An aviation deal is also vital. Around half of cruises sold in the UK involve flying, and the sector is undoubtedly getting nervous the closer we get to our exit date.
If the European Etias/Esta [visa] scheme is introduced, cruise ships disembarking a large amount of passengers all at once would be hit with increased immigration processing and bureaucracy. We would need to find a way around that.
While it is highly unlikely there would be no deal on those areas, we as a sector need to start developing back-up plans.
Impacting cruise specifically is the validity of certificates of [crew] competency issued in the UK and EU. A shortage of UK officers could prove highly costly to recruit if such documents were not recognised post-Brexit. So too would potential customs and excise tariffs on ships’ stores, which, unless agreements are amended, are going to cause complications for British cruise lines.”
Dale Keller, chief executive, Board of airline representatives in the UK
“I’m more upbeat than others might be – we have to be hopeful that common sense prevails.
I don’t think the public across the UK or the EU would be happy that governments could take away something they see as their right.
Aviation is a two-way thing. The open skies market in Europe has been beneficial to consumers across the whole of Europe.
The passengers or cargo carried has far-reaching effects on the economies of Great Britain and the EU.
The moment you look at it from that perspective, it’s win-win, and aviation makes a lot more sense.
It might look like a late appointment [the Department for Transport job adverts for aviation heads to lead EU exit negotiations only appeared last week], but they’ve had a team of really good people working on this for a long time.
We are not hung up on that.
As Bar UK, we have not been critical on that issue. We are getting plenty of assurances that aviation is at the top of the UK government’s agenda as an enabling business. We’re confident that the right thing will be done.”