Comment: Tourism sector must be key priority during Brexit

Theresa May’s decision to scrap the £65 “Settled Status” fee for EU citizens is a welcome move for the hospitality sector wanting to hold on to its workforce. But, as raised by Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism Alliance at the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster earlier this month, many of the government’s post-Brexit plans will make it extremely difficult for the industry to attract the talent and experience of EU workers it needs in the future.

One in four businesses in the licensed trade sector expects to lose staff because of Brexit, says Crtion. Picture: Contributed

Setting a threshold of £30,000 annual earnings to qualify for a visa is extremely challenging. For many working in the hospitality sector, EU citizens or otherwise, part-time roles are common and flexible earnings need to be taken into account for workers and students who would struggle to meet this requirement.

A proposed 12-month transition period for those earning less than £30,000 is unlikely to encourage anyone to uproot themselves to live in the UK, while charging a visa fee is prohibitive for the candidate and the business.

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In Scotland, hospitality and tourism is dynamic, capable and critical to the country’s economy. Data from the ONS shows visits and spending by overseas tourists in Scotland rose to its highest level on record last year and that most organisations surveyed recently by the Scottish License Trade Association (SLTA) believe that there can be even greater growth.

However, that optimism is being crushed by concerns caused by Brexit. One in four businesses in the SLTA survey is expecting to lose staff because of the UK leaving the EU, with 65 per cent anticipating further staffing problems.

The current tourism and hospitality workforce is an ageing one. At the same time, in Scotland, lowest-ever reported unemployment figures add to fears of skill shortages. We urgently need to address the growing need for a bigger talent pool to fill the gap left by UK citizens who choose different jobs, yet it is estimated that it will take ten years for the industry to staff itself exclusively from the domestic labour market.

If there is one ray of light it is the sector’s growing use of technology and digitisation and the recognition that this can make a difference once the UK is no longer part of the EU. The right technology can help to address a potential shortfall in the workforce, while the increasing use of consumer-facing traveltech will continue to promote Scotland and encourage visitors to experience our heritage, our culture and our amazing cities and countryside.

As we approach Scottish Tourism Month in March, tourism must remain high on the government’s agenda. Accessing the right talent and diversity of thought, expertise and experience is key to success for all. Whether a traveltech company like ourselves, a visitor attraction or a boutique hotel, this has to be a priority.

- Julie Grieve is founder and CEO of Criton