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Ask the experts: The EU referendum

Our travel expert gives advice on the possible impact of a 'Brexit' on travel

Ask the experts: The EU referendum
Church of St Lorenzo in Soglio val Bregaglia. Image: swiss-image.ch

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QIf we leave the EU, how will it affect travel between the UK and Europe?

contrib_chrisleadbeater.jpgUK travel writer, Chris Leadbeater: The issue of European Union membership in June’s referendum may be the muddiest of puddles, but the matter of how UK holidaymakers would be impacted by a potential ‘Brexit’ is no clearer.

“It’s all a bit of an unknown at the moment,” says Chris Wright, managing director of beach-break specialist Sunvil. “Freedom of the skies would be in jeopardy, there would be VAT and taxation complications and reciprocal health arrangements would change.”

Certainly, these are questions that would need to be answered. While Britain voluntarily stepping down from the main table of EU nations to join the likes of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein as closely affiliated non-members won’t alter the way we travel into Europe (there’ll be no visa queues for British tourists at airports in Rome, Paris and Madrid), there are other issues. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) currently gives travellers from all 28 EU member states — plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — access to the same treatment as residents of the country they’re visiting. If the UK leaves the EU, its place in this system would need to be renegotiated. The same applies to the Open Skies Agreement between the EU and the US, which regulates the use of European airspace.

What seems inevitable is that travel would cost more. “There’s no doubt holiday prices to European destinations would rise,” Chris Wright adds. “If health arrangements change, insurance rates will rise.” Tour operators’ overheads may also increase, with the extra cost likely to be passed to the consumer.

“As a small company, the uncertainty is worrying,” admits Chris Graham of Simply Sweden. “We have an office in the UK and one in Sweden. Being in the EU allows us to operate seamlessly between the two. There’s a risk we’d face a costly restructure in the event of a Brexit.”

Jacqueline Butt of Discover Adventure warns: “Any British vote to leave the EU would create uncertainties, resulting in investors buying the safe option of US dollars rather than the euro or pound. This would make the purchase of dollars more expensive for UK tour operators — which would increase the cost of overseas travel packages.”

A report by travel association ABTA concluded that a Brexit could have a major impact on how we travel (abta.com/eureferendum).

One beneficiary of a Brexit might be UK tourism, with Britons turning their focus inward. “We certainly don’t feel that an ‘out’ vote will affect the desirability of Scotland as a destination,” says Paul Easto of Wilderness Scotland.


Published in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)