Since becoming a member of the EEC in 1973, Britons have seen a huge reduction in the cost of airfares to Europe, making holidays abroad easier than ever. With additional protection from free healthcare, a passport free Schengen area and mobile roaming charges due to end next month, it’s easy to see why 75% of flights leaving the UK go to other EU countries.
But the EU doesn’t just benefit British people who choose to holiday abroad; it also significantly affects our local tourism industry. Last year the South East received over £1bn in tourism related income from EU citizens. This English Tourism Week, I am trying to promote some of the great attractions we have here in the South East, and consider how we can best support them.
Just 20 years ago, the idea of going to a British beach would have been accompanied with quips about not going into the water. The days of raw sewage being emptied into our seaside have now come to an end, leading to 99.5% of British beaches now meeting the European standard. What’s more, 18 beaches in the South East have been awarded the prestigious ‘Blue Flag’, alongside beaches in Italy, France and Portugal.
Aside from being attracted by our beautiful beaches and countryside, EU tourists also come to the South East because of our amazing heritage and exciting events. Windsor Castle, for example, received over 1.3m visitors in 2013-14, which was a 13% increase on the previous year. The Royal Ascot race attracts 300,000 visitors looking to see some of the best racing in Europe.
When we consider our future within the EU, we mustn’t forget the impact on tourist attractions if we vote to leave. By not being a part of the Schengen agreement, the UK already has higher barriers to entry for those looking to come across the channel for a holiday. Were we to leave Europe, these barriers would suddenly include the need for visas, both for Britons going abroad and others coming to Britain. The cost of flights could begin to include tariffs once again, driving up prices. Health insurance might no longer be guaranteed with the potential end of the European Health Insurance Card.
The upcoming referendum will affect huge numbers of businesses right across our region, from B and Bs in Hastings, to language schools in Oxford and Brighton, to tour guides in Windsor and cafes in Margate. During English Tourism Week, let’s support our local industries by making the most our region has to offer – and let’s make sure our tourist sector stays open for European travellers.