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Invest in youth, student and educational travel now, says BETA

EL Gazette were privileged to attend BETA’s parliamentary reception on Tuesday, where speakers appealed to the government to ensure the UK is the top choice for students.

A warm, sunny afternoon on the Thames was the backdrop for the British Educational Travel Association’s (BETA) parliamentary reception. The reception – falling on BETA’s 20th anniversary – was a key platform to discuss the Youth Group Travel Scheme, and the expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Over 120 delegates – including BETA members, MPs and Lords – gathered at the House of Lords to show their support. An amicable and sociable atmosphere gave way to passionate speeches from Baroness Doocey OBE, Steve Lowy, and Jeff Smith MP. Each told a story of the UK tourism industry, and the twin blows of COVID and Brexit on the economy.

There is always more to be done.

Kicking off the keynote speeches, Parliamentary Sponsor, Baroness Doocey, stressed the importance of the event at a time when UK Political Parties are preparing for a general election:

‘What I think we can all agree on is that it is absolutely critical to make the UK a welcoming place for tourists, and to ensure that other countries make our tourists to their country welcome. Travel enriches lives. It educates through experiences, and fosters mutual understanding.’

BETA Chairman, Steve Lowy, followed with thanks to all the international partners in attendance, who drive valuable business to the UK:

‘As a country, we have not always made it easy for you. Since the UK left the EU it has become harder for school groups to visit the UK and for international young people to live and work in the EU.’

Last to speak was Shadow Tourism Minister, Jeff Smith, who told of the valuable contribution the ELT sector makes to the economy:

‘Youth travel is worth £28.6 billion a year to the UK economy […] the creation of a new form of Youth Group Travel Scheme would enable UK travel operators and businesses to get back our share of the EU student travel group market.’

The story so far…

Back in May, the Gazette reported that BETA, the Tourism Alliance, English UK, and others are proposing the Youth Group Travel Scheme, which would relax entry requirements for young EU citizens and boost educational travel from Europe.

BETA published the results of their School Group Travel Survey in June, which showed an 81% decrease in school children visiting the UK between 2019 and 2022. Comparatively, the EU saw a 53% drop over the same period. Operators and businesses say the fault lays with border changes that now require all school kids to have a passport, which many of them do not own.

In March, the government committed to the UK-France Joint Leaders’ Declaration, with intent to ‘ease the travel of school groups to the UK’ from France only. Arguably, a good first step. However, six months on, we are yet to see any clear progress towards meeting this goal.

It is unclear what the future holds for the UK ELT industry. What is clear, however, is an industry that was once worth over a third of the total inbound tourism market, continues to find itself underfunded and underappreciated.

Image courtesy of Lauren Billings
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