Brexit is top of most news reports just now, and rightly so, because our choice to leave the European Union is both momentous in terms of impact to the UK, and unprecedented as no country has yet triggered Article 50 to leave. The rule book has not been written.
Brexit has become hotly party political, especially in Scotland, where the Scottish Government published a paper in December Scotland’s Place in Europe setting out in detail its desire to seek a differentiated Brexit from the rest of the UK, retaining access to the Single Market and with freedom of movement of people. With the UK currently leaning towards a harder Brexit than this, another Independence Referendum is a possibility if things don’t go well and push comes to shove.
Putting personal views aside and trying to ignore party politics for the moment, what are the key Brexit issues for tourism? The ASSC was part of a round table tourism discussion with Mike Russell MSP who is the lead negotiator for the Scottish Government on Brexit, and Tourism Minister Fiona Hyslop MSP held at Holyrood in early December with representatives from the Scottish Tourism Alliance Board and Council.
The UK, including Scotland must be seen as open for business, visitors, hospitality and tourism. We need to continue to be perceived to be a welcoming destination despite a Brexit decision.
Although short-term letting traditionally has a low reliance on non-UK EU workers, 32,800 work in distribution, hotels and restaurants in Scotland. Restriction of employment of these workers will cause enormous problems for the tourism industry – for businesses and visitors. Quite a few are employed for language skills and would be a challenge to replace.
Imposing Visas on EU travellers would create a financial penalty to our visitors from Europe. International tourism is highly competitive and as the UK is one of the most expensive countries to visit as it is, adding more to visitors’ bills is just not sensible.
Currency fluctuations may currently favour us in tourism, but you cannot base Tourism Strategy on volatile exchange rates. While the weak pound makes the UK look attractive to visit from abroad just now as well as favouring staycations, the most recent BHA figures on inbound tourism show this is not a given. Also, there are substantial price increases round the corner due to imports costing considerably more which will take the shine off any exchange-rate savings. The prospect of food tariffs if we cannot remain members of the Single Market only adds to the problem.
While Agriculture is currently staring into an abyss until a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy is found, rural development funding through the European Rural Leader scheme funds rural projects, quite a number of which are tourism related, either directly or indirectly. We need assurance that this European funding stream will be replaced and continue post Brexit.
There are bound to be positive opportunities emerging, especially as more powers get devolved to Scotland, but we highlight these for now:
ASSC supports the Cut Tourism VAT campaign. The UK is currently at a disadvantage as 31 countries in Europe have reduced levels of tourism VAT. Currently receiving significant cross party support, Brexit might provide an opportunity to cement this case.
Air Passenger Duty
The Scottish Government has committed to reduce APD by 50% by the end of this government. We would like to see this cut further under Brexit.
Removal of Red Tape
The EU Package Travel Directive makes it very difficult for our members to sell self-catering accommodation together with other services. We support the BHA in calling for a deregulation to allow SMEs to work with local businesses to offer packages to encourage spending in the local economy.
Brexit was decided by a narrow majority, smaller than that which decided against Scottish Independence. Over six months on, it is still very divisive, and the Scottish Government position looks difficult to achieve harmoniously.
The Association will continue to work closely with The Scottish Tourism Alliance and other tourism industry leaders to ensure that our concerns are being heard at the top level.
8th January 2017