The need for a clear and cohesive post-Brexit visa strategy has been highlighted as the number one issue facing UK and Ireland tourism and hospitality sectors.

Two in five (40%) hospitality sector leaders believe the visa situation needs to be clarified by the next UK government.

A further one in four (26%) underlined the damage to the UK’s reputation in Europe and two thirds (65%) are concerned that without a pro-tourism and hospitality strategy, the long-term effects of the devalued pound could increase costs, outweighing a boost to visitor numbers.

Mounting concerns around Brexit are intensifying as the industry faces the possibility of a talent crisis over its reliance on an EU migrant workforce, according to research by Amaris Hospitality which runs more than 70 hotels across seven brands

Restricted access to foreign talent pools and insufficient UK talent is already putting pressure on the sector’s ability to recruit.

With no clear strategy to move the industry forward, this substantial “sectorial shift” presents a threat that could drastically reduce the UK’s edge as one of the most competitive tourism and hospitality markets in the world, according to the report findings.

The next Westminster government should avoid this scenario by setting out a clear and holistic visa framework that will put the UK on the front foot in the post-Brexit world.

Providing medium-term relief to the industry as it transitions away from a reliance on EU workers could be one part of the solution.

However, this must be part of a wider pro-tourism and hospitality strategy that considers immigration quotas, fixed-term working visas, student visas and general tourism visas that should seek to open the UK up to new markets.

At the same time, government and hospitality leaders should work together to champion the abundant career opportunities in the sector by repositioning its image.

Two in three (63%) hospitality leaders surveyed report that they experience “outdated” perceptions of careers in hospitality, a sign that an urgent need for improved communications to reframe the industry’s image and to focus on improving the UK’s service culture is required.

Further recommendations include addressing tourism VAT, supporting regional and hub airports with post-Brexit subsidies to incentivise travel to the UK and solving the UK’s capacity conundrum when it comes to conferencing and events space.

With half of experts saying the hospitality sector is under appreciated and needs more state support, Amaris Hospitality is calling for the next government to put forward a clear pro-tourism and hospitality strategy to keep the UK at the forefront of the global hospitality industry.

Brexit concerns tempered a positive outlook as respondents uncovered a number of opportunities that are moving the industry forward.

The power of new technologies and ways to connect to new global audiences were identified as a rich source of future growth.

More than half (55%) of the experts surveyed said the sector needed to do more to embrace the power of technology, recommending greater cross industry collaboration underpinned by a desperate need for better connectivity to create new ‘smart destinations’ across the UK.

The opportunities to ensure UK hospitality remains a strong and vibrant sector are numerous. A quarter (25%) highlighted further opportunities available in growing ‘silver tourism’ and multi-generational travel as older generations are demanding the same tailored ‘experience-focused’ lifestyle trips as their younger counterparts.

At the same time they saw untapped potential in regional growth and call on local tourist boards to work together with hospitality companies to market their collective experiences to special interest groups, such as the growing food tourist scene.

Amaris Hospitality chief executive, John Brennan, said: “Tourism is a crucial driver of the UK economy and the lifeblood of the hospitality industry.

“As one of the UK’s leading hospitality investment and management companies we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this thriving industry as its continued growth has brought significant economic prosperity to the whole of the UK.

“It’s evident from our research that we are at a crossroads. Do we invest for the future and put in place a clear pro-tourism and hospitality strategy that will accelerate the growth of both UK tourism and hospitality, creating new opportunities for hospitality companies to pursue; or will we continue to leave ourselves exposed to consequences of Brexit that threaten to derail the industry.

“That is why we are calling on the next government to sharpen the industries’ competitive edge so that we can play our part in making a success of Brexit.”

British Hospitality association chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said: “Current political uncertainty, with possible restrictions to the movement of people, has already begun to have a negative impact on the industry as many of our concerns around the impact of Brexit could quickly turn into a perfect storm, especially in terms of the costs of operating – such a high tourism VAT and business rate increases.

“We have to take steps today to create a pro-tourism and hospitality strategy to ensure we navigate past these headwinds and continue to see our industry thrive in 2017 and beyond.”

Jurys Inn managing director Jason Carruthers added: “With hospitality companies up and down the UK now looking to the UK government for answers on the uncertainties for Brexit, we need a response that will breathe a collective sigh of relief across the industry so we can have the confidence to play our part in driving growth and building for the future.”