Any decision taken by the Government to restrict access by foreign workers to the UK following Brexit will "substantially threaten" the hospitality industry, 450 delegates at the Master Innholders General Managers' Conference 2017 were told yesterday.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said that the vote in favour of Brexit has "altered the future of the sector, which is now laden with opportunities and threats".
She went on to say that replacing foreign nationals with British workers was not a straightforward process. "This is not about suitability, attitudes, or a lack of a desire by the British people to work in the industry. This is about availability, with some areas of the UK close to full employment," she explained.
The conference was told that in order to encourage more British workers into the industry, change needed to be enabled with regard to school age students between the ages of 13 and 16.
"We have asked the Government to give us a 10-year timeline to make the necessary transition through schools, colleges and career networks."
Ibrahim highlighted that while it was believed that at least 15% of the 4.5million people employed in the hospitality was made up of EU citizens, an exact figure was in the process of being obtained through a survey currently being undertaken by accountancy firm KPMG. She urged all hotel owners and operators to complete the KPMG questionnaire recently sent out to confirm figures.
The suggestion that depreciation of the pound following the referendum vote would create a mass tourism vote to the UK was dismissed by Ibrahim. "Year-on-year, the number of visitors to the UK is down by 4%."
While Brexit is going to dominate the work of the BHA in the coming years, Ibrahim confirmed that the commitment to reducing the level of VAT across the hospitality sector would remain in place as long as she continues in her current role.