Written evidence submission from ABTA (UTR0008)

International Trade Committee

UK-EU trading relationship

Submission from ABTA – The Travel Association


  1. Established in 1950, ABTA represents over 900 UK travel organisations, acting to advance their collective interests through giving a strong and united voice to the travel industry and supporting a successful and sustainable sector. Pre-pandemic ABTA Members represented more than £40 billion of consumer and business travel. Members constitute more than 4,300 consumer brands, with a workforce of some 80,000 employees and a further 12,000 self-employed independent travel agents.


  1. ABTA is a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Approved Body in relation to the Package Travel Regulations and has operated as one since the inception of the Regulations in 1993. ABTA is the largest Approved Body, holding over £500 million in regulatory bonds, and is one of just two remaining Approved Body schemes. ABTA’s scheme of financial protection covers 366 package travel organisers, protecting more than £3.2 billion in non-ATOL package travel turnover, and covering some 4 million customer holidays – ranging from domestic short-breaks and coach tours, through to non-air based overseas holidays (such as golf, spa and cruise holidays) and high-value round-the-world cruises.


  1. In 2019, almost 67 million outbound trips were taken by UK residents to the EU, for both leisure purposes (holidays or visiting family and friends) and for business. There are longstanding and resilient travel links between the UK and our closest neighbours in Europe, and UK travellers contribute to employment and economic prosperity in recipient countries, as well as at home. Indeed, UK travellers support around €37bn in GVA within the EU each year, and support more than 900,000 jobs across the EU27.[1] As well as benefitting the economies of our European partners, outbound travel is also hugely valuable to the UK. UK outbound travellers are worth more than
  2. £15.9bn a year to the UK economy (GVA); and in excess of £37.1bn by the time aggregate impacts are taken into account. Outbound tourism directly sustains more than 221,000 jobs in the UK; supporting a total 526,000 across the wider supply chain.[2]


ABTA’s response to the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement


  1. The conclusion of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement was a welcome step for the travel industry, avoiding the additional uncertainty and disruption that would have ensued in the event of a no trade deal scenario for both businesses and individuals. In particular, the commitment to visa-free travel for short-term leisure and business purposes was positive. We were also pleased to see that some of what ABTA had been calling for since the EU referendum in June 2016 was reflected in the new Agreement, and more than anything it provided us with initial clarity around some key areas for travel, such as transport links, reciprocal healthcare, and data flows.
  2. However, it is important this agreement is used as a platform to build upon to reach creative solutions that preserve arrangements that have played an important role in underpinning the industry, and which provide clear mutual benefits. Outlined below are some of the key issues which remain either unresolved, or have only been temporarily resolved, that the UK Government needs to address in the coming months and years.


Terms of Reference

What has been the experience of businesses and other stakeholders in the UK regarding implementation of the trade provisions in the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement?

  1. While we recognise that the Committee inquiry terms of reference focus largely on trade provisions, it is important to remember that there are other important considerations to take into account when analysing the impact of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (the ‘Agreement’) on the cross-border provision of tourism services.


Mobility and employment


Short-term entry to the EU – tour guides and other roles


  1. While the Agreement contains a reference to the activities that short term business visitors are permitted to engage in, which includes “tourism personnel”, there are also several individual reservations contained within the Agreement which restrict the rights of UK nationals to perform certain roles in different Member States. One important example for outbound travel affects the ability of UK nationals to provide guiding services to tours in France, where the profession requires nationality of an EU Member State. There are also a number of other national exemptions for both ‘tour hosts (managers)’ and ‘tour guides’ (see Annex for full list).


  1. In addition, under WTO rules, which allow for preferential treatment in the granting of licences and permits to provide services to be given to residents of Member States of the European Union, the Maltese Tourist Authority (under which tour guiding is designated a regulated profession and which requires a licence[3]), states that, “If a person has pursued tourist guiding on a full-time basis for one year during the previous ten years in a Member State that does not regulate tourist guiding and possesses one or more attestations of competence or documents providing evidence of formal qualifications, then such person is also eligible to apply for a tourist guide licence with the Malta Tourism Authority”. Although UK nationals can still apply, the eligibility criteria are more stringent as a non-EU Member State.


  1. Coach drivers are also caught by the restrictions on UK citizens not being able to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen area within any 180-day period. In this case, visas are not applicable anyway, as the driver accompanying the tour (most of which start in the UK), would not intend to reside in an EU Member State.


  1. The above are examples of instances where Brexit has created significant operational difficulties for UK travel businesses, which will result in businesses being forced to hire locally, or to seek out dual nationality staff. The result will be a loss of jobs available to UK nationals, and the creation, in effect, of a two-tier employment regime for UK staff, with some roles restricted only to those carrying a dual nationality with an EU Member State.


Loss of the Posted Workers Directive


  1. The Posted Workers Directive in normal circumstances, pre-COVID, enabled the posting of around 15,000-20,000 UK workers each year into the EU. Although the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement does cover Mode IV provisions for the temporary entry of services workers, including those in tourism, the maximum length of stay is 90 days in any 180-day period, which is quite restrictive given that most tourism postings would be between 6-9 months, and there are a variety of national exemptions and rules that need to be accounted for.


  1. When seeking clarity around the limitations of the Mode IV approach, ABTA has been advised that it would be up to each Member State to adopt rules that are more permissive for UK nationals within their individual domestic immigration regimes. A broader solution, however, would be an extension of the Youth Mobility Scheme to the EU Member States. In October 2020, Government Minister Lord True stated that discussions were continuing in this area, but to date there appears to have been no progress on the matter.


  1. Further, creating economic and social value through travel and tourism will be strategically important role in UK’s global trade and diplomatic relationships. The lack of progress concerning any mobility agreements for professionals between the UK and EU means that UK’s young people will not only miss out on language skills and cultural knowledge, but it will impact UK’s potential economic and social ties. 


Visas/work permits


  1. Now that the UK has left the EU, there is no longer an automatic right of work across the EU for UK nationals (either under Freedom of Movement or the Posted Workers Directive). The Government has got living-in guides for each country which does cover the main requirements for working in those countries, including work permit and visa requirements for tourism workers.


  1. The French Government has confirmed that UK nationals will be able to gain work permits to operate in the coming winter season under a unilateral system they have put in place to ensure access for their ski markets to ensure sufficient numbers of staff. However, there is no long-term certainty about the future of these roles.


  1. Another specific example that has been brought to our attention is that of school teachers, and ‘subordinate teachers’, who accompany school groups on educational visits to the EU and continue to teach their pupils while they are in destination (i.e. teaching UK residents overseas, not offering services to EU residents). It is unclear as to whether the conditions of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement permit this activity under the short-term visa free visit allowances. When the Government has been asked if visas/permits will now be a requirement for teachers travelling with school groups, Ministers have declined to answer directly, instead suggesting that businesses should seek independent legal advice.


  1. In addition, UK citizens can now only obtain single country visas and work permits, which will impede the ability to move staff across the EU more widely. As a consequence, UK businesses will struggle to respond flexibly to situations in relation to employment and movement of staff, such as sickness and injury, where trained staff need to be moved quickly between destinations. Again, extending the Youth Mobility Scheme would help UK business move staff across the EU more freely.


Mutual Recognition of Qualifications


  1. Previously, Directive 2005/36/EC enabled certain professionals to rely on qualifications obtained within another EU Member State when seeking the applicable employment elsewhere across the EEA. For example, certain tour guiding services, including ski guides and bike guides in some Member States, are covered by the Directive. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, this Directive no longer applies to employees of UK registered businesses.


  1. The EU-UK TCA does not contain provisions on the continued applicability of the framework on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications[4], however, there is a commitment to looking at this as a potential area for future agreement. The UK and the EU have agreed a framework for the recognition of qualifications between the Parties which is based on the EU’s recent FTA agreements. It makes improvements on those agreements, which are designed to make the system more flexible and easier for regulatory authorities to use. Agreements are expected to be negotiated on a profession-by-profession basis.


List of Travellers


  1. UK residents have also not been able to use the List of Travellers visa scheme to visit the EU since 1 January 2021. Previously, the British Council issued the List of Travellers (or ‘Visa Waiver Form’) in the UK, for school trips to countries in the EU for pupils on the trip who were of non-EU nationality. If the pupils on a trip were all from the UK or EU countries, then the form wasn’t needed. Non-EU/non-UK children resident in the UK may now need visas for 16 European countries, including Greece, Portugal and Austria. Visas cost €80 (£70) for over-12s, €40 for 6–11-year-olds. The result will be an additional financial cost for schools and families.


Financial protection

  1. The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018, as amended by The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, continue largely unchanged in UK law post-Brexit. As a result, the obligations to consumers under the regulations remain unchanged. However, any financial protection arrangements put in place under the regulations will not automatically provide protection for sales to consumers outside of the UK. The position is the same under the ATOL Regulations. The main consequence is that the mutual recognition arrangements in relation to insolvency protection fall away. Under the 2018 Package Travel Directive, organisers established in the EU are obliged to provide securities against the possibility of the organiser’s insolvency. Organisers not established in the EU which sell or offer packages to EU consumers must provide this protection in every Member State where they are selling. From 1 January 2021, EU law providing for mutual recognition of insolvency protection taken out in accordance with the requirements of the home country of an organiser no longer applies with regard to UK insolvency protection. This will have no effect on UK established organisers selling to UK consumers. However, UK established organisers selling in the EU will not be able to rely on their ‘home country’ protection. The implications of this lack of mutuality are particularly stark for cross-border sales between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland, especially where departures are from Dublin, as those sales are not within the scope of the ATOL regime and the Republic of Ireland offers limited compliance options.

Sanitary and phytosanitary regulations

  1. Travellers based in Great Britain are no longer able to take any meat, dairy or any products containing these items into the EU, although there are exceptions for powdered baby milk, baby food, or pet food required for medical reasons. All third country arrivals into the EU must also provide a phytosanitary certificate for all fruit, vegetables, plants, and plant products intended for personal consumption when entering the bloc. The only exceptions to this rule are bananas, coconuts, dates, pineapples, and durians. While this does not necessarily provide a barrier to travelling, in that failure to comply should not lead to refusal of entry, it will require British nationals to be educated on the increased requirements upon them when travelling to ensure compliance with entry requirements. In line with the Northern Ireland Protocol, there are separate arrangements in place for travellers coming from Northern Ireland into the EU.

Northern Ireland Protocol


  1. A number of different rules will now apply for travellers from Northern Ireland going to/from the EU, and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This includes duty free, personal food, plant and animal product imports, and pet travel. For example, under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU Pet Travel Regulation will continue to apply to travel between Northern Ireland, EU Member States and Third Countries. This means there will be additional documentary, health preparations and checks for travelling with a pet between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including a rabies vaccination and an EU pet passport for Northern Irish travellers or an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) for British travellers.


  1. However, on 15 September 2021, DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA instructed his officials to indefinitely allow all pet dogs, cats and ferrets to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without checks while negotiations between the UK Government and European Union continue.[5] This followed a statement by Lord Frost which outlined the UK Government’s intention to extend the overall grace periods for GB to NI trade indefinitely.


European collaboration networks impacted by the UK’s exit from the EU 


  1. One of the consequences of the UK leaving the EU was that the UK lost automatic membership of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and other associated EU health networks, such as ELDSNet, which have been crucial for the mutual sharing of health security data between the UK and other EU Member States, and vital for the UK travel industry’s operations.


European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

  1. ECDC is an EU agency aimed at strengthening Europe's defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities: surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance. ECDC disease programmes cover antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections; emerging and vector-borne diseases; food and waterborne diseases and zoonoses; HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis; influenza and other respiratory viruses; tuberculosis; and vaccine-preventable diseases.
  2. Whilst we are still be able to access general information via the ECDC website, the UK is no longer able to participate in destination surveillance and investigative health, safety and illness related matters. As the coordinator for the UK, Public Health England (now replaced by the UK Health Security Agency) has previously been an active participant in country investigations with ECDC where the health and wellbeing of British nationals has been impacted. This has included investigations into emerging food and waterborne diseases, vector-borne diseases, and zoonoses.
  3. In general, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement states: “The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the relevant body in the United Kingdom responsible for surveillance, epidemic intelligence and scientific advice on infectious diseases shall cooperate on technical and scientific matters of mutual interest to the Parties and, to that end, may conclude a memorandum of understanding.”
  4. It is unclear what, if any progress, has been made by the UK and the EU in this regard. It is crucial to know what measures the UK Government will introduce to replace previous notification systems, and to compensate for the loss of access to health security data, to ensure the safety of UK residents when travelling in the EU. This could include exploring options for the UK to become an affiliate member of ECDC, or a partner, for example.

European Legionnaires’ disease Surveillance Network (ELDSNet)

  1. ELDSNet is coordinated by ECDC with the support of a coordination committee consisting of representatives from the EU Member States. The committee advises ECDC on ways to strengthen and improve Legionnaires’ disease surveillance and prevention in Europe. The committee also reviews technical documents relevant to the network and assists ECDC in organising the annual network meeting. ELDSNet also collaborates with partners, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), public health authorities of non-EU countries and tour operators.
  2. Previously, while the UK remained a Member of the EU, Public Health England provided details of all Legionnaires’ disease cases that occurred in the UK, together with details of all travel associated cases (TALD) that were reported by GPs, hospitals, clinics etc. 
  3. The objective of the ELDSNet collaboration is to offer a standardised approach to reporting cases notified by European Union Member States and other contributing countries in order to detect, and respond to, clusters of travel associated Legionnaires’ disease. Member States have a common approach to management of cases notified, and information of TALD cases is communicated within the network to other stakeholders (including non-governmental organisations, which previously included ABTA).
  4. As a UK based organisation, ABTA’s contact details were removed from the list for ELDSNet notifications in January 2021. Historically, ABTA and its Members have been proactive in terms of Legionnaires’ disease management and reducing the risk of legionella in properties globally utilising the information provided by ELDSNet. Now, however, ABTA will no longer receive details of any cases of legionella clusters in the EU or any cases of legionella outside the EU, which means that we will be unable to notify our tour operator Members of the details and to allow them to investigate and take action as appropriate. It is disappointing that our long-standing relationship with ELDSNet colleagues and active participation in working groups when developing protocols and procedures to ensure the needs of the UK travel industry is considered will no longer be possible.
  5. Post-Brexit, we understand that the UK Department of Health and Social Care (via the UK Health Security Agency) has the ability to sign up and pay to participate in ELDSNet as a separate country. It is unclear whether it is the UK Government’s intention to do so.

SME Brexit Fund – travel business ineligibility


  1. It has been brought to ABTA’s attention that Ministers have previously advised that businesses could apply for the SME Brexit Support Fund to help with funding for professional fees to solve problems and paperwork associated with Brexit. But travel businesses have been denied eligibility on the grounds that they export services, and not goods. Furthermore, correspondence between ABTA Members and HMRC states that goods exporters were deemed in “greater need” of help navigating the post-Brexit landscape than services. It appears that the grant fund is, in any case, now closed.
  2. While businesses might reluctantly accept the additional administrative burden of applying for work permits or visas, it is unfortunate that the Government is unable to advise whether the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement does in fact contain provision for certain tourism activities. Legal representation is a cost that travel businesses can ill afford at this time, when they have had little to no revenue for 20 months. This is especially true for school travel businesses, who have been unable to operate at all until this Autumn term.


  1. As travel businesses finally begin to trade again, ABTA is seeking assurances from the Government that funding will be allocated to support these businesses, who are currently navigating the twin challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, and the additional red tape imposed by the UK’s exit from the EU.


  1. UK outbound tourism has positively impacted lives, stimulated economic growth, provided jobs and supported businesses for decades throughout Europe. As the UK and EU embark on a new relationship, ABTA’s message to policymakers in Westminster, Brussels and the national capitals across Europe, has remained clear and consistent: we must strive to preserve the benefits of travel, both economic and also cultural – for the latter are harder to quantify, but equally valuable. While the benefits of travel might seem evident, recent events have also shown us they should not be taken for granted. We must continue to be proactive, and collaborative, in our approach to create the conditions that allow the industry to flourish and enable all our citizens to continue to travel with confidence.
  2. To that end, it is particularly vital that arrangements are put in place in the coming months to provide operators with the ability to send UK workers to destination countries. There are a number of options for how this could be achieved, including bilateral agreements to provide reciprocal access to labour markets for tourism workers, or the extension of the Youth Mobility Scheme to major European destinations – which aligns with the UK's stated immigration policy to offer similar access to all nationalities. In reality, these roles should not be considered as immigration in the traditional sense, as they are temporary in nature. However, they play a critically important part in the success of the UK outbound travel industry.

Further information

For further information, please contact ABTA’s Public Affairs Team

21 December 2021


EU reservations under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement – tourism


  1. Austria [Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services]: (applies to the regional level of government): The operation of ski schools and mountain guide services is governed by the laws of the Bundesländer. The provision of these services may require nationality of a Member State of the EEA. Enterprises may be required to appoint a managing director who is a national of a Member State of the EEA.
  2. Bulgaria [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: Incorporation (no branches) is required. Tour operation or travel agency services may be provided by a person established in the EEA if, upon establishment in the territory of Bulgaria, the said person presents a copy of a document certifying the right thereof to practice that activity and a certificate or another document issued by a credit institution or an insurer containing data of the existence of insurance covering the liability of the said person for damage which may ensue as a result of a culpable non-fulfilment of professional duties. The number of foreign managers may not exceed the number of managers who are Bulgarian nationals, in cases where the public (state or municipal) share in the equity capital of a Bulgarian company exceeds 50 per cent. EEA nationality requirement for tourist guides (CPC 641, 642, 643, 7471, 7472).
  3. Croatia [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: A licence to establish and operate a tourism and travel company or agency, as well as the renewal of an operating licence of an existing company or agency, shall be granted only to European Union natural or legal persons. No non-resident company except those established in another Member State of the European Union, can provide in the Republic of Cyprus, on an organised or permanent basis, the activities referred to under Article 3 of the abovementioned Law, unless represented by a resident company. The provision of tourist guide services and travel agencies and tour operators services requires nationality of a Member State of the European Union (CPC 7471, 7472).
  4. Cyprus [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: A licence to establish and operate a tourism and travel company or agency, as well as the renewal of an operating licence of an existing company or agency, shall be granted only to European Union natural or legal persons. No non-resident company except those established in another Member State of the European Union, can provide in the Republic of Cyprus, on an organised or permanent basis, the activities referred to under Article 3 of the abovementioned Law, unless represented by a resident company. The provision of tourist guide services and travel agencies and tour operators services requires nationality of a Member State of the European Union (CPC 7471, 7472).
  5. Greece [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: Third-country nationals have to obtain a diploma from the Tourist Guide Schools of the Greek Ministry of Tourism, in order to be entitled to the right of practicing the profession. By exception, the right of practicing the profession can be temporarily (up to one year) accorded to third-country nationals under certain explicitly defined conditions, by way of derogation of the above mentioned provisions, in the event of the confirmed absence of a tourist guide for a specific language.
  6. Hungary [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: The supply of travel agent and tour operator services, and tourist guide services on a cross-border basis is subject to a licence issued by the Hungarian Trade Licensing Office. Licences are reserved to EEA nationals and legal persons having their seats in the EEA (CPC 7471, 7472).
  7. Spain [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: (for ES applies also to the regional level of government): Nationality of a Member State of the European Union is required for the provision of tourist guide services (CPC 7472).
  8. France [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with respect to the following: To require nationality of a Member State for the supply of tourist guide services.
  9. Lithuania [Tourism and Travel Related Services]: In so far as the United Kingdom allows nationals of Lithuania to provide tourist guide services, Lithuania will allow nationals of the United Kingdom to provide tourist guide services under the same conditions.


December 2021

[1] https://www.abta.com/industry-zone/reports-and-publications/travelling-together-the-value-of-uk-outbound-tourism-to-europe

[2] Ibid

[3] https://legislation.mt/eli/sl/409.12/eng/pdf

[4] Note, however, that under the Withdrawal Agreement, recognition decisions made on qualifications obtained in the UK or the EU on or before 31 December 2020 are not affected.

[5] https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/permanent-solutions-needed-pet-checks