The upcoming referendum to decide whether Britain will stay in or leave the EU is a topic getting hotter by the minute, not least because many still sit on the fence, unsure as to where their allegiance will lie come June 23. Yet, a group within the hospitality industry seems to have already made their collective mind up.

Just under half (49.9%) of the 1,050 owners of B&Bs and small hotels polled by eviivo said they were strongly in favour of the UK leaving the EU – 37% believe we should absolutely stay; 12% were undecided; 1% do not care either way.

When considering only respondents who have made up their mind (916), the percentage for those in favour of leaving shot up to 57%, compared to 43% who would rather stay – a result somewhat surprising for a sector relying heavily on tourism, including foreign visitors.

Of those who plan to vote in favour of Brexit, 33% believe leaving the EU will make the UK stronger economically. Interestingly, looking at the other side of the argument, 41% were of the opinion that the UK will be in a better shape economically should we actually stay.

Those wanting to leave the EU also believe that it will reduce the amount of red tape for UK businesses (31%), and help to reduce immigration (26%).

In contrast, the remaining ‘Stay’ voters expressed the wish to instead reform the EU from within (31%), whilst nearly one in five (18%) confessed to fearing the period of uncertainty that would follow leaving the EU as it will have a direct negative impact on their bottom line.

Michele Fitzpatrick, eviivo’s CEO, commented: “The fact that both camps cited a strengthened UK economy as their number one reason to explain their voting intentions clearly highlights one thing – that there still is a great deal of confusion around the referendum and that what it will eventually mean for UK businesses remains unclear.

“What our research also tells us is that Brexit has very much become an emotional debate as opposed to a rational one, which isn’t something you’d expect – nor want – with so much at stake. But it is clear that subjective considerations are now outweighing objective ones. 

“Testament to that is the fact that when asked which politician they felt would do the best job of managing the transition should we leave the EU, both sides opted for Boris Johnson. And yet both sides also had Mr Johnson as their first pick for EU president should we opt to stay.”

The ‘Leave’ campaign currently wins by a wider margin in urban (51%) and seaside (56%) areas, and when breaking down the survey results by property type, eviivo was able to establish that small hoteliers (61%) and pub or inn owners (56%) are the more strongly inclined to leave the EU – compared to B&B (49%) and self-catering property (49%) owners.

Mrs Fitzpatrick, said: “Overall, this desire to leave Europe is unexpected, especially when considering that we’re talking about an industry that has seen 81% of its visitors and 64% of its revenue for 2014 come from EU countries. Yet it seems that as far as small business owners are concerned, they’ve had enough and are ready for a change – some will call it a gamble, based on the lack of hard evidence that opting out will make a positive difference to our economy,” she concluded.

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