The announcement follows ongoing work by the three associations to raise the challenges faced by school travel with Government, including a joint letter sent to the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, on Monday 6 March.
The letter asked for action to ease the situation which has not only led to significant falls in visits, estimated at a drop of 84% compared to 2019, but also school children and youth groups’ welfare to suffer due to excessive waiting times at entry ports and having to travel at extremely unsociable hours.
ABTA, The School Travel Forum and UKinbound have called for the establishment of a new youth-group visa application process that is fully digitalised, works in collaboration with Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs) and supports the 2025 UK Border Strategy. It would allow students under the age of 18 that have an ID Card, and therefore the right to live in the EU, and third country nationals that have settled in the EU to travel to the UK as part of an educational or cultural group if accompanied by a teacher or supervisor over 18 years old that is travelling on a passport.
The Governments are still to confirm the details of the new arrangements and the associations have already been in touch to follow-up on the commitments made.
Luke Petherbridge ABTA Director of Public Affairs said:
“The Prime Minister and the French President commitment to easing school group travel between France and UK will be welcomed by the school and youth travel sector. Our members have been reporting challenges related to recent border policy changes, and they will now be eager to hear more about the details of what is being proposed. Working with our industry partners, The School Travel Forum and UKinbound, ABTA will be in touch with the relevant government officials and will provide more information as soon as we have received it.”
Gill Harvey, CEO The School Travel Forum commented:
“The school/youth travel sector has been forgotten for far too long. We welcome these discussions within Government and look forward to young people being able to enjoy and benefit from the same opportunities and experiences as their older schoolmates.”
Joss Croft OBE, CEO of UKinbound commented:
“Many of our members’ businesses are heavily reliant on organising and bringing in school groups to the UK from France and other countries in the European Union but this sector has dropped off a cliff since the requirement for all EU visitors to travel with a passport rather than an ID card changed in October 2021.
“In 2019 this sector of the market was worth over £1 billion in export value to the UK economy, as well as providing a route to demonstrate Global Britain in practice. It is a relief therefore that the Government has announced it is committed to making this process easier going forward and implementing the changes needed to recover this valuable inbound business for the UK.”
The joint announcement from the two countries stated “Cooperation and policy exchanges on school education, facilitation of school trips and exchanges, including in the field of vocational education, opportunities for language learning will be expanded. On school travel, the United Kingdom committed to ease the travel of school groups to the UK by making changes to documentary requirements for schoolchildren on organised trips from France. France commits to ensuring appropriate mechanisms are in place for visa free travel for children travelling on organised school trips from the United Kingdom and to facilitating the passage of those groups through the border.”