Spotlight on UK expats in the travel industry

An estimated 25,000 UK citizens work in the EU supporting seasonal outbound tourism

While many UK nationals working in the EU will do so on a medium- to long-term basis, seasonal workers employed on short-term assignments keep the cogs of the travel industry turning. They occupy positions across customer service, childcare, hospitality and operational management. And currently it’s the EU’s Posted Workers Directive that makes this possible.

“Unless we find a regime to replace [the Posted Workers Directive] in the long term then it will come down to [agreements with] individual member states, and there is no guarantee that those staff can operate in the way that they do today,” Luke Petherbridge, head of public affairs for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), tells HR magazine.

An agreement on this continues to be deferred by politicians as a second-phase issue, affecting the ability of ABTA members to plan.

“Members were looking at [whether they will] have to hire locally... or hire English-speaking staff elsewhere in the EU to be able to service UK customers,” says Petherbridge. “I think it’s much more difficult for small and medium companies to do that as they don’t have the resource or time to be able to plan that far ahead.”

Another reason tour operators second UK staff overseas is to supply UK guests with a comparable level of service to back home, adds Nicola Lyle, group HR director at Hotelplan. It can often be difficult to find local staff with the appropriate childcare and catering qualifications for example, she highlights.

“[Strategy] needs to be agile and responsive to changing visa processes, [which] will become more central to business planning, and the cost of employment may affect operating costs,” she says. “We have already spent considerable time looking at which countries could potentially provide a pool of suitable talent.”

Which makes recruitment the biggest challenge for the sector in the face of Brexit. The number of UK workers seconded to the EU in the travel sector has already fallen by 7% since the referendum, according to research by Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT). The risk to jobs is particularly high among young people, with 64% of UK nationals working in the outbound travel industry aged between 18 and 24.

Which all presents a real danger to training and development opportunities for young Brits, Lyle warns: “For many years freedom of movement has enabled the travel sector to support UK graduates with employment post-university, and to create exciting opportunities for people with childcare, catering and general hospitality backgrounds. We offer a blend of career development and lifestyle experience that appeals to many Millennials.”

HR has taken a number of proactive measures at Hotelplan, updating the recruitment approach to address questions about Brexit at interview stage and communicating well to the wider workforce.

“We’ve communicated to our teams to keep everyone in the loop with what we know and don’t know,” says Lyle. “We have weekly Brexit calls for senior managers, who can then take information back to their teams. We’ve set up a Brexit ‘questions and answers’ email address that we respond to quickly and we host regular business updates and engagement sessions with our CEO.”

While the outbound travel industry is at the sharp end of Brexit uncertainty, Lyle remains positive. “Planning ahead is important,” she says. “Even with a blindfold on.”

This piece appeared in the July – August 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

Further reading

How Brexit will affect UK staff overseas