The end of free movement of European workers to Britain is “the biggest issue” facing the tourism sector now the UK has departed the EU, according to the UKinbound association.

Joss Croft, UKinbound chief executive, said: “It’s not just about the labour, but also the language skills.”

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Croft told the association’s annual convention in Bristol: “We’re in a very difficult environment with high employment, a limited pool in which to recruit, increasing numbers of EU workers returning home and really poor perceptions of tourism [as a career].

“Nationally, 10% of the staff in UK tourism and hospitality are EU nationals, but in some parts and some sectors it can be as high as 90% [and] 77% of tourism businesses are struggling to recruit [people with] the skills they need.”

Croft said: “The biggest issue [from next year] will be the end of free movement.”

Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on January 31 saw the beginning of a transition period which will end on December 31 unless the UK government seeks an extension.

Croft welcomed some of the recommendations of the UK Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published last week but said: “We’re pushing hard to get foreign languages recognised as a key skill.”

The MAC previously proposed a salary threshold of £30,000 for EU and other workers to enter Britain post-Brexit, but it reduced the recommended cap to £25,300 in its report last week.

However, Croft pointed out: “The average salary of full-time workers in this sector is £23,000 – 65% of businesses say they will struggle to operate with a salary cap, and higher in some areas.”

He insisted “We’ll continue to lobby through the Tourism Alliance and the Tourism Industry Council to shape the government’s migration policy.”

UKinbound chairman James Aitken told the convention: “We need to work hard as an industry to improve the image of Britain.”