Exclusive: EU school groups are opting to travel to Ireland instead, says UK tourism association
A leading travel industry figure has described the impact of the Brexit measure to ban European arrivals from using identity cards as “catastrophic”.
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, was commenting to The Independent after the latest data from VisitBritain showed 5.87 million visitors arrived from overseas in the first four months of 2022 – barely half of the 11.53 million arrivals in 2019.
He said: “This data reminds us of the devastating impact the pandemic had on the UK’s inbound tourism industry but also alludes to why our members are only expecting business to return to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the second half of this year.
“An additional hurdle our members are facing this year are the implications of Brexit, such as the removal of ID cards, which has had a catastrophic impact on the international student travel industry.
“EU school groups are opting to travel to alternative English speaking destinations such as Ireland, where they can still use their ID cards for entry, instead of the UK, at a cost of millions of pounds to regional economies across the UK who would normally host these students.”
Since October 2021, around 300 million EU citizens who have ID cards but not passports have been excluded from the UK.
EU citizens, and those of the wider European Economic Area plus Switzerland, can travel to dozen of countries in Europe on their national identity cards – including all non-EU European nations except the UK.
In addition, citizens of many EU countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, can use ID cards to visit Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.
When the ban on identity cards took effect the home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “By ending the use of insecure ID cards we are strengthening our border and delivering on the people’s priority to take back control of our immigration system.”
In 2021, almost half of all false documents detected at the border were EU, EEA or Swiss identity cards, according to the Home Office.
Since August 2021 all new ID cards issued by EU countries must comply with the highest security standards, as prescribed by the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation, which requires them to be machine readable and to contain a microchip with the holder’s details.
But the Home Office says: “Although a new ID card security standard is being introduced across the EU, cards will still be in circulation for the next five to 10 years which do not conform to these standards.”
In its commentary on the latest inbound tourism figures, VisitBritain said: “We are forecasting a gradual pickup throughout 2022.
“By the end of 2022 we are forecasting visits to have recovered to around two thirds of pre-Covid levels, although recent flight booking numbers suggest that the outturn could be ahead of this.”
But Joss Croft of UKinbound said: “Rising prices and recruitment issues threaten the recovery of the UK’s second-largest service export industry, inbound tourism, and therefore it is imperative that the government listens to and works with the industry to implement workable solutions that will ultimately aid the UK’s economic recovery.”
The slump in the value of sterling relative to the euro – down about 15 per cent since the EU referendum – makes the UK more financially attractive to overseas visitors.