UK travel industry calls for improved UK-EU labour mobility

Two major travel industry trade bodies are calling on the UK and EU governments to address staffing challenges in EU holiday destinations after a new report found the number of UK holiday workers in the EU has plummeted since Brexit.

The joint report from ABTA – The Travel Association and Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBiT), entitled “Unlocking Travel’s Potential”, finds the number of UK workers in holiday roles in the EU has decreased from 11,970 in 2017 to just 3,700 in 2023, a drop of 69%.

The report says that decreased labour mobility for UK workers post-Brexit is having a negative effect on UK holiday operations in popular EU summer and winter destinations. 61% of these businesses said that problems with hiring UK seasonal staff could reduce their possibilities for growth over the next five years

ABTA and SBiT cautioned that this decline could have serious consequences for the future of the industry The report found that young workers in overseas roles in the industry declined from 62% of overseas staff in 2017 to 42% in 2023. 94% of businesses surveyed also agreed that post-Brexit labour mobility barriers reduced opportunities for young people to develop a career in travel.

In response to the report’s findings, ABTA and SBiT are calling on the UK and EU Governments to:

  1. Extend the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) to EU countries. This would allow young people to work in the UK and EU countries for up to two years, as in similar arrangements with Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
  2. Seek an enhanced seasonal mobility agreement for tourism workers beyond those in the  current Trade and Cooperation Agreement
  3. Agree on mutual recognition of professional qualifications which would make it easier for tourism workers, including tour guides and ski guides, to work in the EU/UK.

The recommendations made by ABTA and SBiT closely align with those made by the UK Trade and Business Commission last month. Their “Trading our way to prosperity” report will drive policy discussion at the upcoming Trade Unlocked conference on 20th June, which  will bring hundreds of businesses, trade experts, and policymakers to the Birmingham NEC to address the challenges of the current trading environment.

Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, said:

“It can’t be emphasised enough just how fundamental being able to work abroad is for the UK travel industry. Not only do people gain those important language and soft-skills, they’re also set on a path for a good career and many become leaders in the industry.

“With the UK outbound travel industry contributing £49bn a year to the UK economy, and a major driver of growth, not putting in the right mobility arrangements with the EU could come at a cost to UK plc. Yet there are simple and sensible solutions to overcome these barriers, and I’d urge ministers to make this a priority and take action urgently.”

Charles Owen, Managing Director of Seasonal Businesses in Travel, said:

“It’s proving tremendously difficult to employ the UK staff we need to run our businesses in the EU. In some countries it’s a mountain of complex paperwork, delays and extra costs that need to be overcome, in others there isn’t really a workable route. As an industry we rely on UK staff being able to work in the EU to help our businesses grow and thrive. But without a sensible arrangement on labour mobility – growth in this industry will be unnecessarily held back.

“The report also points out that it is in both the UK and EU’s interest to provide a policy framework that enables travel and tourism between the UK and EU to thrive – given the €40bn contribution UK tourism makes to the EU each year. As well as the value of outbound travel to the UK economy, a labour agreement would also boost the UK’s inbound travel as EU nationals are important in delivering inbound tourism services in the UK.

Naomi Smith, Chief Executive of Best for Britain, said: 

“In one go, new barriers for seasonal workers are reducing opportunities for young Brits and reducing consumer spending in the UK.

“Our travel and hospitality sectors are still reeling from the massive hit of the pandemic and the unnecessary additional burdens of the Government’s Brexit deal are making recovery even more difficult.”