Millions of UK holidaymakers and business travellers face higher air fares and fewer scheduled flights between the UK and the European Union if the UK votes to leave the 28-member bloc in the June referendum,, an industry trade body has warned.
Consumer protections, including free health cover through the European Health Insurance Card and financial protection for package holidays are also at risk, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta).
Abta also fears that in the short term, the “prolonged uncertainty” could weaken the pound against other currencies, reducing spending power overseas.
Abta has around 1,200 members – from airlines to tour operators to travel agents – with a combined UK turnover of £32bn. More than 29m foreign holidays each year are made by UK holidaymakers to EU countries, around 76% of all holidays taken. In addition, 68% of all business trips from the UK are to EU countries – the equivalent of 4.6m business visits
Abta’sreport uses economic analysis by professional services firm Deloitte to explore the impact on travel businesses and consumers.
“Our assessment of the report’s findings is that a vote to leave will lead to uncertainties and may lead to increased costs for travel businesses and the travelling public,” said Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta.
“We recognise that people will approach this referendum by considering many factors – personal, professional, and economic – before casting their vote. Abta has considered what a vote to leave the EU might mean purely from a travel perspective. Our view is that the potential risks and downsides are not matched by an equal upside for the traveller,” said Tanzer.
Abta warned that while many EU regulations designed to benefit holidaymakers and business travellers would not change immediately following Brexit, they were at risk in the future. These include financial protection for package holidays, compensation for flight delays, access to free health cover through the European Health Insurance Card, caps on mobile phone charges and “open skies” across the EU, which have led to more routes, more airlines, and lower fares.
Of immediate concern is the impact that a period of prolonged uncertainty will have on the strength of the pound versus other currencies, the report said: “A weaker pound has a direct impact on spending power overseas, making the cost of holidaying or visiting abroad more expensive, as well as adding costs for UK businesses to buy abroad.”
Andrew Swaffield, chief executive of the budget airline Monarch, said the emergence of low-cost airlines has increased competition and helped to cut prices for consumers.
“If the UK were to exit the EU, Monarch would view the outcomes for the travel sector as very negative, not least because of the uncertainty that would follow in the aftermath,” Swaffield said.
“An exit would most likely lead to higher air fares and fewer scheduled flights between the EU and the UK.”
Swaffield – along with Tui’s Fritz Joussen and Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson – has already spoken out against Brexit.
Meanwhile, last month Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet suggested a Brexit could herald a return to the days when flying was “reserved for the elite” while Peter Long, former boss of the Tui travel group, said close cooperation with other EU states was essential to “protect the security of our holidaymakers”.
There have been some alternative views. Joel Brandon-Bravo of travel deal website Travelzoo has said that travel patterns might not alter much in the months following Brexit or that EU nations would add visa restrictions or significant costs to travel.
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