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Brexit and the EU-UK travel industry - Statistics & Facts

Travel and tourism is just one of many industries shaken by the result of the EU referendum in 2016, which saw 51.9 percent of the United Kingdom’s population vote in favor of leaving the European Union. The implications of the UK’s withdrawal on freedom of movement between the UK and EU nations have raised concerns for the industry and holidaymakers that have previously benefited from the membership: more expensive air travel, the need for visas, longer passport queues and reduced health benefits are just some of the ways UK travelers expect to be affected by Brexit. Europeans have also echoed these concerns, with over a third worried travel insurance will be more expensive when traveling to Britain and that there will be fewer connections between their country and Britain.

Around 54.7 million trips were made to the European Union by UK travelers in 2017. The majority of these trips were for holiday or vacation purposes. Concerns by holiday travelers who voted to remain in the EU include exchange rates, accessibility to healthcare in the EU and longer waiting times due to new border controls. Other holiday travelers however have responded to the changes more positively. In February 2017, around 37 percent of respondents to a post-Brexit survey claimed there were cheaper destinations to travel to. Others adapted by opting to holiday within the UK rather than abroad (14 percent) or by abandoning or postponing their holiday plans (12.1 percent).

An ongoing concern for UK businesses throughout the Brexit negotiations has been regarding migrant workers of EU nationality. Freedom of movement as a member of the EU has granted tourism and hospitality industries access to a wider labor market. Hotels and other accommodation establishments in the UK employed most of their workers from other EU countries in 2016. More than any other industry, hotels and restaurants rely on EU nationals for hard-to-fill vacancies. This is often in response to skills gaps within the labor market.

Problems also arise for seasonal holiday companies, especially those in the ski industry that employ British staff at destinations in Europe for seasonal work. Additional red tape and costs following Brexit are a major cause for concern. Outbound holiday companies were already struggling with increasing operating costs following the referendum result and these are expected to continue, with holiday prices predicted to rise as a result.

A potential reduction in visitors from the UK could also negatively affect the destinations they visit. UK outbound spending contributed a total 37.38 billion euros to the gross value added of EU-27 countries in 2016. Conversely, EU residents spent over 10 billion British pounds on travel to the UK in 2017. The number of EU visitors to the UK remained stable in the year following the referendum, though it is unclear whether tourism will increase or decrease following the UK’s exit. While a significant proportion of Europeans have a more negative view of Britain since the referendum, Britain’s reputation has remained largely unchanged, with many travelers from the United States and China saying they have a more positive view of Britain.


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