Last week saw two pieces of poor press for outbound UK tourism. A story originated by The Sunday Times and widely repeated elsewhere suggested that as part of the worst-case contingency planning Minister were due to consider the merits of issuing a warning not to book to travel post 29 March, should the UK find itself in a no deal Brexit. A Downing spokesperson said that this was “categorically untrue”. To my mind at least that still begs the question of whether that means: that there are no concerns about the worst-case impacts on travel, no plans to discuss these in Cabinet, or just no plans to issue a public warning?
Regardless, the damage is done and the media speculation will add to the existing Brexit inspired public uncertainty with, in all likelihood, further detrimental impacts on forward bookings for overseas holidays. This may or may not be good news for the domestic market, helping in part to counter some of the natural reaction to uncertainty which is generally to put off big-ticket decision making for as long as practically possible. In major parts of the domestic market that can mean safely delaying booking to nearer the time, or even until the very last-minute:
Meanwhile, the EU has just confirmed that UK citizens will in future have to apply for a three-year ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) authority at a cost of c £6. ETIAS allows entry in to the EU without visa and applies to citizens of over 60 countries, allowing visits for leisure or business for periods of up to 90 days (but not for work). ETIAS has been in the process of being introduced for several years and is currently due to come into forces in 2021.
It really shouldn’t be a total surprise that as residents of a non-EU, non-visa country, UK citizens will in future need an ETIAS. At less than the cost of a cup of coffee a year it isn’t expensive. The issue, if there is one, will be with be around process. For most it should be a simple and take no more than a couple of weeks, although more complex cases could take several months to get security clearance. It will require forethought on the part of the individual whenever planning to travel to the EU (as it does now to the US) and there could be major problems around the EU coping with volumes during the initial period of introduction.
Thankfully for the UK ETIAS is not yet in place, or we may have been faced with the prospect of everyone from the UK wishing to travel immediately post 29 March, potentially needing to apply in the relative short period left leading up to Brexit. The introduction will come later but will then involve hundreds of millions of potential visitors from 60 plus countries, so look out for potential chaos ahead.
The real importance of the story lies in the its ability to add yet a further layer of uncertainty to issues around travel; travel which is of particular personal interest to almost everyone and as such of more immediate concern and far easier to understand than say the impact on UK business prospects or the impact on banking or the economy. Such seemingly insignificant little stories have a habit of bring home to the public at large the reality that in a such an unbelievably complex situation like Brexit you can’t simply have your cake and expect to eat it: