UK travel trade association UKinbound has warned of a language skills crisis in the country, following a results of a report it commissioned uncovered a growing language skills gap facing the UK travel and hospitality industry.
The new research for trade association UKInbound undertaken by Canterbury Christ Church University highlights the current lack of capacity in the UK’s education system to meet the shortfall in higher level language skills which are badly needed by the UK’s inbound tourism industry. The problem of the skills gap, the authors say, is largely caused by a combination of Brexit and the decline of language training in the UK.
To date, tourism organisations have been largely reliant on EU nationals for their technical and ‘soft’ language skills and concerns are rising in the industry about the attrition of these employees. Approximately 130,000 EU nationals departed the UK in the year to September 2017– the highest number since 2008, the report found.
Furthermore, a sharp decline in the number of young people in the UK studying a foreign language, combined with a lack of awareness of the opportunities and career paths open to language proficient graduates in the tourism and hospitality sector, are major contributors to the widening language skills gap in the sector, at a time when access to future EU employees is uncertain.
Key findings of the research included:
· Of the 78 institutions offering tourism and/or hospitality undergraduate programmes in the UK, only 25 offer languages as part of their tourism/hospitality curriculum.
· 45 institutions offer 87 postgraduate tourism/hospitality programmes – yet only 6% of these programmes offer a language, as an optional module.
· Interviews with modern language programme directors highlighted a lack of knowledge of the tourism sector and tourism specific career pathways.
The report also features an Evidence Review, drawing on data from previously conducted research and reports, creating a clearer picture regarding the diminishing supply of home-grown linguists.
Pupils taking languages at A-level fell by a 1/3 in 20 years (1996-2016), while French declined from 22.7k to 8.5k, German from 9.3k to 3.4k, Spanish increased from 4.1k to 7.5k. There has, however, been an uptake in the study of key UK inbound growth market languages; Mandarin and Arabic, but the growth of the talent pool here is slow and limited, the report found.
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that the number of UK universities offering language degrees has dropped by 30% between 2000 and 2015.
Deirdre Wells OBE, chief executive officer, UKinbound said at the report’s launch in the House of Commons: “The UK is currently the fifth most visited country in the world and our inbound tourism industry in 2017 contributed an estimated £25bn to the UK economy. Those working in tourism need to be able to communicate effectively with their international visitors and our tour operators in particular need employees who can communicate confidently and negotiate contracts with overseas operators and suppliers. The industry currently employs large numbers of workers from the European Union to fulfil these roles, but our members are reporting that many of their EU employees are starting to return home. They are struggling to find replacements from within the British workforce, predominantly due to their lack of advanced language skills.
“This report clearly shows that the country needs leadership from the very highest levels to address this impending language crisis, to ensure the tourism industry continues to provide world class customer service and remains competitive in the global marketplace.”
Responding to the launch of the report at a reception in Parliament hosted by UKInbound, tourism minister Michael Ellis, MP, said: “The more we understand the skills gaps, the more we can do to fill them.” He added that the research information would also be useful for the process of finalising the tourism sector deal. “We must,” the minister added, “invest in our biggest asset and talent – people.”
The report findings coincide with the launch of UKinbound’s campaign to highlight the contribution of tourism from EU countries to the UK economy, and to impress on the Government the urgency of securing either no, or minimal, barriers to inbound tourism from the EU post Brexit.
Wells added: “In 2017, two-thirds of inbound visitors came from the EU and contributed an estimated £10bn to the UK economy. We are calling on the Government therefore to prioritise the need for minimal disruption to this flow of visitors in the Brexit negotiations. Any onerous entry requirements post Brexit will hurt the sector, the economy and cost jobs and any delay risks undermining the sectors ability to prepare for the post Brexit environment.”
The tourism industry is the UK’s third largest employer, employing 3.1m people (over 9.6% of the UK workforce) and contributes £126bn to the UK economy, (7.1% of GDP). The UK receives 67% of its tourists from the EU.
Caption: Deirdre Wells OBE, CEO UKInbound is joined by over 25 of the association’s members along with Nigel Huddleston MP and Sandy Martin MP to showcase the value of regional tourism.