A “step in the right direction”, “very warmly received”, “delighted”, “fantastic news” were a few of the comments made about the latest update on travel to the UK.
Under the new measures, fully inoculated travellers with authorised vaccines given in Europe and the US and arriving from ‘amber list’ countries will be permitted to travel to England, Scotland and Wales without having to quarantine on arrival from August 2.
English language providers welcomed the relaxation of border restrictions for EU travellers – one of the UK’s most important markets. However, some shared concerns that younger students were less likely to be eligible for quarantine-free travel as they have not yet been fully vaccinated.
International House London has been analysing vaccine take up rates across Europe and is most optimistic about Italian, Spanish, and to a lesser extent German markets, IH London CEO and English UK chair Mark Rendell explained.
“Almost 48% of students came to the UK from European short-haul markets in 2019. This market has effectively been closed since the imposition of the requirement to quarantine on arrival to the UK,” he said.
“We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and a plan for recovery,” Shoko Doherty, CEO of Celtic English Academy in Cardiff said. “I’m now more optimistic for the recovery and fight for our survival.”
Nonetheless, an immediate benefit is “not realistic” for the ELT sector as the majority of students had already decided not to study English in the UK this summer, she continued.
“The summer season is all but over for our members that focus on the inbound student and youth groups market”
“Of course, I wish this announcement was made sooner so that our students and our sector could plan better to welcome bookings in time for this summer. Having said that, I appreciate that we have to play our part for the best interest of public health.”
“With August on our doorstep the summer season is all but over for our members that focus on the inbound student and youth groups market,” Emma English, executive director of British Educational Travel Association agreed.
However, groups on study abroad programs, particularly from the US, will now “be able to arrive and hit the ground running”, she noted.
The CEO of London study abroad specialist Anglo Educational Services Steve Lowy explained, “With the US being our largest market, this has given confidence to those nervous for fall with regards to quarantine as well as spring and next summer.”
While the announcement is a “welcome step in the right direction” and will help businesses on the road to recovery, it will “only really benefit those fully vaccinated and as we know younger age groups are low on the priority list”, English warned.
“We don’t expect waves of students to turn up tomorrow because unfortunately our key demographic of younger Europeans are least likely to be double vaccinated by the end of August,” Stephan Roussounis, managing director of London-based Bayswater College said.
“Almost 50% of the population in Western Europe have been fully vaccinated but many in the younger age demographic, which is the typical English language student, may still be awaiting their second jab or may be more sceptical about taking the vaccine,” IH London’s Rendell added.
Additionally, the possibility of changes at short notice is a huge concern, stakeholders highlighted.
“If we have learnt one thing through this whole process, it is to treat everything with cautious optimism,” said English.
Fully vaccinated travellers from France will still be required to quarantine for 10 days after arrival, the government detailed. Possibility that the ‘amber plus’ list could grow may result in a “stop/start to this next phase of reopening”, English added.
“All too much through this crisis, glimmers of hope have been snatched away with changes in regulations affecting both AES and the industry at large,” Lowy, who is also chair of BETA, explained. “I do think we need a longer plan and look forward to hearing more as to the long-term focus for the government.”
The ‘English with Confidence’ campaign – coordinated between English UK, the British Council and the Department for International Trade – has sought to “inform and reassure” international partners and stakeholders to provide information needed to support the return of English language students.
“Most schools now offer much more flexible booking terms and conditions so students can have greater confidence to book knowing that they can change their plans if the rules change,” Rendell said.
“There is an inherent demand for language travel,” Roussounis added. With schools on the continent, Eurocentres, which was acquired by Bayswater in late 2020, has seen demand in Cyprus and France “rise rapidly this summer, predominantly from Europe and Russia”.
“There is an inherent demand for language travel”
“We still think the return to 2019 may take a number of years, but it will happen. We were not so sure of this 18 months ago, but young people are desperate to have their experiences, and as soon as they can travel, they will.”
But for many ELT businesses, it is too late. 52 private language schools have been forced to close since the beginning of the pandemic, Rendell added.
“While there is undoubtedly pent-up demand for travel to the UK for educational tourism, the full benefits are only likely to be fully realised in 2022 and our sector still needs government support to see us safely through to that time,” he said.
Languages schools have missed out on local grants and business rates relief that other industries have been entitled to, and it is “crucial” they have access to the promised additional funding being made available to support local businesses, he noted.
The furlough scheme, which so many BETA members have relied on will shortly come to an end, English added.
“The UK and all devolved governments need to recognise the need for further financial support for all inbound tourism sectors including ELT,” Doherty, also elected Vice Chair at English UK this year, concluded.
“The relaxation of the border for the EU and US is the first step, but there is a long way to go for the recovery and our sector is on our knees after suffering nearly two years of business losses, especially two summers which are the high seasons.”