An announcement on a young travellers scheme from the government is anticipated this year, as are further details about the UK-France Joint Leaders’ Declaration, which was announced in March.
The policy paper stipulated cooperation on school trips, with the UK committing to making changes to documentary requirements and France in turn agreeing to visa free travel for school trips arriving from the UK.
Speakers at the British Educational Travel Association’s parliamentary reception on September 5 urged government to introduce “dynamic” policy – such as the right to work for students among other friendlier visa policies – in order to “drive growth and create opportunities for global Britain”.
“As a country we have not always made it easy to welcome international young people here. Since the UK left the EU, it has become a lot harder for school groups to visit the UK and also UK school groups to visit the EU,” BETA chair Steve Lowy said.
In the seven months since the UK and France signed the declaration, there is neither a timeline nor further details for implementation, he highlighted.
“Whilst this is a welcome step in the right direction, it will have zero impact on visitor numbers in 2023,” he continued. “An announcement soon will allow travel operators and businesses in the UK to plan and develop products to win back to the UK share of the EU student group travel in 2024/25.”
“Talk is cheap,”Baroness Doocey added. “We need to know when and how this is going to be implemented.”
Baroness Doocey called on stakeholders to lobby the government and political parties ahead of their autumn conferences and at a time when they will be putting together their manifestos for the next general election.
As Liberal Democrat spokesperson for tourism and heritage, Doocey said she has put together a “very comprehensive” paper for her party that aims to boost UK tourism. And it’s very likely other parties are doing the same.
“The Liberal Democrats would make it a priority to tackle the devastating impact of new entry requirements for school groups travelling to and from the UK,” she said.
“It is frustrating that we’ve not had a proper fix yet to some of the key issues”
Also attending was Jeff Smith Labour party MP and shadow minister for Tourism.
Since last year, it is “frustrating that we’ve not had a proper fix yet to some of the key issues that are facing youth group tourism”, he told those gathered. He also mentioned the problem of passports for EU students.
“I know we’ve been talking about this issue for quite some time. It seems that it could be a relatively simple thing, with the creation of a new form of youth group travel scheme that would enable UK travel operators to get back our share of the EU student travel market. So it’s a big priority for me in my current role,” he said.
“We need to see school groups travelling freely again to and from the whole of Europe,” Doocey added.
Smith also noted that the agreement in France is with only one EU country, emphasising the need to expand the youth mobility scheme to other member states as well as addressing the UK’s uncompetitive visa fees.
Lowy noted that the recent announcement to hike UK visa fees by “at least” 15%, on top of last year’s 5% rise, as well as the health care surcharge increase is making the UK less competitive.
With BETA members forecasting that this year they will be at around 88% of 2019 business levels, the UK’s international competitors are “recovering at a much faster rate than the UK”.
“We need way more help to make sure we get back to the playing field,” he said. “The UK must focus on friendlier visa policies and attractive marketing campaigns if we are to achieve our full potential as a world class destination, whether it be for study, travel or work.
“Instead, at the moment it feels like we are intent on making it more challenging to succeed.”