Britain’s current fierce debate as to whether it should leave the European Union currently dominates the British media. Unlike Switzerland, Britain holds referendums extremely rarely, and this one is being regularly described as Britain’s most important decision for decades.
Those in favour of staying in the EU, and those wanting the country to leave (‘Brexit’), are both promoting strong views on how trade, crime, immigration, defence, employment, sovereignty, law and finance will all be affected depending upon either scenario.
And travel commentators, organisations and industry experts have been discussing the fact that their industry will be hugely affected if Britain leaves Europe - which is not surprising considering that 76% of British holidays (29.3 million in total) are within EU countries at present, with 10.6 milllion of those to Spain and 6 million to France alone. At the same time, 63% of holidaymakers visiting Britain (around 9 million) are from EU countries.
Some say that it is too early to predict what would happen should Britain leave. They point out that should Britain leave the EU and instead join the European Economic Area (EEA), not so much would change.
However, others, such as Monarch Group, travel agency Knock Travel and tour operator Esplora, have expressed serious concerns for the British travel industry were the country to leave the EU. A report by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in conjunction with professional services company Deloitte found a number of ways Britain’s travel industry would be affected by Brexit.
Cleaner beaches are predicted to be another casualty
One huge casualty of leaving is thought to be a sharp increase in airfares and a lowering of routes, as new air service agreements will almost certainly need to be negotiated. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet were initially able to slash prices because the EU did much to remove air restrictions and encouraged more open competition.
One fear is a high likelihood of an extended period of uncertainty following Brexit until replacement trading regulations and agreements were initialised.
And Peter Long, former joint chief executive of tour operator TUI, believes that holidays for Brits may become more dangerous as EU countries work together to combat terrorist atrocities, exchanging vital security information.
Cleaner beaches are predicted to be another casualty. The EU has been credited for helping raise the standards of bathing water quality at beaches, and there is also a fear that the UK Government on its own would not have the means or interest to keep it such a high priority.
Opinions vary, but numerous observers, including the investment bank Goldman Sachs, believe that the pound could weaken considerably against the Euro and other currencies in the event of Brexit. This would in turn deter many Brits from holidaying in countries using the Euro - although it would incentivise Europeans to holiday in Britain.
Stopping the incentive for ‘booze cruise’ shoppers
Brits would also be deterred from holidaying in any European country where a visa was introduced, and likewise if Britain intriduced visas this would put off prospective European visitors also.
Many Brits travel to France simply to take advantage of the far lower alcohol taxes and generous allowances for importing alcohol into the UK. Leaving Europe could mean that these allowances would be greatly reduced, in turn stopping the incentive for ‘booze cruise’ shoppers to cross the Channel.
It is feared that flight delay compensation and support for British travellers would be reduced also, as EU laws set out the compensation and support (such as overnight accommodation and refreshments) due if a traveller’s flight is cancelled or delayed.
British citizens, through using the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), enjoy reduced-cost and free health treatment in other EU states, which would be lost in the event of Brexit.
EU pressure has forced mobile phone operators to greatly reduce roaming charges in recent years, and they are set to be abolished completely in June 2017. However, this advantage could be reversed if Britain left the EU.
For people booking package holidays, it is feared that financial protection arrangements would suffer, as EU activity in this area has secured stronger rights for holidaymakers. Although the UK government would be unlikely to reduce its commitment to protection, travel companies would find it easier to pressure the government to relax the rules. The EU is also introducing a Package Travel Directive by 2018, giving further rights, which could be lost.
Those wishing to stay in the EU fear that leaving will make it more difficult for people to work their way around Europe taking casual jobs, or taking seasonal tourism-related jobs in beach and ski resorts, theme parks, as tour leaders and suchlike. At the same time the number of immigrants from the EU coming to work in the travel sector in Britain could be severely restricted.