Changes to UK immigration rules after Brexit have triggered an unprecedented collapse in school trip bookings from the continent, organizers say, with countries like Ireland and the Netherlands now more popular than the Kingdom -United.
While the pandemic has depressed European school trips in general, the number of short-term educational visits planned in 2022 to other EU destinations where English is widely spoken is significantly higher than requests for visits to the UK.
Operators say if Britain’s second-day Covid test requirement is a factor, by far the most important is the UK’s decision not to accept group passports or ID cards from EU from October 1, requiring full passports instead – plus expensive individual visas for non-EU students.
The UK government has said the collapse was due to the pandemic and the measures were necessary “to make our border more secure,” but critics say they are not necessary for those under 18 during short organized trips with teachers.
They argue that the crisis will deprive UK host families, hostels and attractions of valuable income, and also cause longer-term damage, as school trips can prove to be formative experiences, fostering cross-cultural exchange and forging better mutual understanding.
Eurovoyages, a major French school travel operator, said it received 53 requests last month for short stays in Ireland next year, along with more for the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, the ‘Austria and the Czech Republic.
“We have received precisely two requests for the UK, one of which has already changed its mind and decided to travel to Ireland,” said Monique Tissot Martel, CEO of the company. “Schools have forgotten that the UK is a destination.”
Tissot Martel said French schools wishing for an English-speaking environment were even considering visiting Normandy, where British host families and hostels with native speakers offered immersive stays in English.
“It’s a real shame, because travel to the UK was very popular,” she said. “In 2019, we sent over 11,000 students to the UK. Next year it will be between zero and 100.
Peter Adam said his company, CTS Reisen in Lemgo, Germany, sent more than 1,200 school groups and 37,000 students to the UK in 2019, but had no firm bookings for 2022. About 80% of Company customers who regularly book trips to the UK are choosing alternative destinations, he said.
“The majority see the UK as too difficult now,” said Adam. The Covid-19 restrictions were not the problem, he added, “although they are stricter in the UK than in other European countries”, and parents were “often willing to pay the additional cost to obtain a full passport instead of a European identity card ”.
The biggest problem was “the EU’s ‘travelers list’ group passport, which is no longer valid for travel to the UK,” he said. “Around 4% of all pupils in Germany are not EU nationals. They cannot afford a visa. Teachers don’t like to leave them at home and therefore choose other destinations, ”such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, he said.
In the UK, Susan Jones of LinguaStay, a UK provider of homestay accommodation which typically welcomes 10,000 mainland schoolchildren a year to around 300 host families in Chester, said the crisis was “absolutely dire”.
Mainland schools typically send around a million pupils to the UK each year on tour packages, Jones said, with France and Germany alone making up 850,000. But for the February to June season, it was now clear that schools across the continent had “completely abandoned the UK for other countries,” she said.
“These children are learning English by staying with host families,” she said. “They mingle with the local community, participate in workshops such as theater and cooking, organize integration days in local schools and guided tours of towns and tourist attractions. They travel outside of peak hours which helps many small towns and businesses across the UK outside of peak season.
Verdié Voyages, a French company that sent 800 school buses to England in 2019, said it had only received 146 requests for trips to the UK next year, a drop of 80%. In contrast, travel requests to Ireland fell by only 40%.
“Requests are down for all destinations because of the Covid,” says Marie Bayol, the company’s accommodation manager. The drop in interest in the UK “is due to Brexit, a second impact that makes our main destination almost unsaleable,” she said.
Edward Hisbergues of PG Trips, a French operator specializing in English-speaking countries, said that besides the issue of passports and visas, business in the UK has fallen more sharply than elsewhere due to the requirement to test the Britain’s second day.
His company normally books 80% of school trips to the UK and 20% to Ireland. “For next year it looks more like 10% of the UK requests and everything else is focused on Ireland, even though it’s more expensive,” he said.
“You only need a European identity card to get there, for non-European students, the ‘travelers list’ is always accepted, and for Covid, the health pass from the ‘EU is sufficient. People much prefer to pay a little more but not have all the UK constraints. “
Jones said the industry was pushing for EU nationals coming to the UK on short organized school trips to be allowed entry with an identity card, and for third country nationals traveling with them to enter. with a simple passport. “It just seems such a small gesture compared to the benefits,” she said. “Not just the economic benefit, but the soft power.”
Morag Anderson of ETSUK, another UK homestay company, said the government’s position was shortsighted. “Give me a 12 year old on a school trip to the UK,” said Anderson, “and I give you a future higher education student, employee, researcher, entrepreneur, tourist – with family and friends. And a future parent, encouraging a future child to travel, work and study in the UK Once this cycle is interrupted, there is no turning back.