The government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration reforms could “severely destabilise” the UK tourism industry, UKinbound warned today.

A sector that contributes £145 billion – or 7.2% of UK GDP – to the UK economy could be at risk with companies forced to shut down.

The findings come from research conducted by the tourism trade association and Canterbury Christ Church University.

Nearly one-third of businesses reported that EU workers made up more than half their workforce.

A survey of UK tourism and hospitality businesses found that:

  • 65% said that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to continue to operate
  • 71% believe that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to expand
  • 75% believe that the proposals would impact negatively on their ability to remain competitive
  • 68% of tourism businesses cited the limited domestic labour market as the key reason for the continued need for EU workers
  • 80% of tour operators and destination management businesses cited the lack of home-grown talent with foreign language skills as the driving force behind the need for EU workers

UKinbound and other industry associations are calling for language skills to be added to the occupation shortage list and be exempt from immigration restrictions.

Any salary threshold proposed should be regionally set to take into account lower salaries in key tourism hotspots such as the Lake District

Quarterly independent reviews are needed to ensure tourism sectors are not adversely affected.

UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft said: “This timely research shows that the government must listen to the tourism industry before committing to an immigration system that runs the risk of forcing businesses to close throughout the UK.

“Our tourism industry is vital to the UK economy and EU workers are crucial to ensuring that this success story continues.

“We have a skills shortage in the UK, caused not least by low levels of language skills and a lack of interest amongst UK nationals in the sector.

“The government must, as a first step, ensure that language skills are recognised as a key skills shortage and ensure that any future immigration system is rooted in what actually works and not in populist soundbites.”

Canterbury Christ Church University tourism and events hub director Dr Karen Thomas added: “EU workers constitute a vital labour pool for tourism and hospitality businesses.

“We have identified a wide range of factors, which together with a higher than average reliance on EU workers, places the industry in an extremely vulnerable position when faced with the end of free movement post-Brexit.”

Liberal Democrat Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said: “This timely report serves as stark reminder of the damage that the government’s immigration reforms could have on the UK tourism industry including across the Lake District.

“The government must re-visit their botched plans and come up with a solution that allows our great tourism industry to continue to thrive and play a valuable role in our communities.”