A survey of 41 companies by the British Hospitality Association (BHA) and search firm Heidrick & Struggles, including AccorHotels, Café Nero, and Casual Dining Group, found that 74 per cent of business leaders were planning to vote In.
Eighteen per cent are planning to vote Out, while eight per cent are still undecided.
‘We need barriers to come down’
Many raised concerns that a Brexit vote would impact on staffing, as 30 per cent of the current hospitality workforce is made up of migrant workers.
One anonymous CEO said: “Being part of the EU has kept the sector going…migrant labour has been critical to us.”
Multinational firms were also concerned that a Brexit vote would hamper business growth.
The European president of a global brand said: “Anything other than staying in works against our business…but we have to be more ambitious for the UK’s place in the world.”
While many businesses felt a ‘sense of positivity’ about future expansion, there was an overall sense of caution over the unknown impact of the referendum.
One respondent said that while he would ‘prefer a world with the UK in Europe’ his firm was already drawing up a contingency plan in case of a Leave vote.
The leader of a UK pub group said: “Had it not been for Brexit, I would have been very optimistic. It does feel like the Scottish referendum. It feels scarily close, so much uncertainty… we need barriers to come down, not be built up."
Many respondents also commented on the ‘emotional’ nature of the debate.
The CEO of a global travel brand said: “It is such a dilemma. I can see the economic benefits of staying in but on a personal level I can’t say I’m convinced by the political benefits”.
The Brexit debate has proved divisive across the hospitality industry, with JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin denying that a vote to Leave would cause ‘any issues' for the sector.
The Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA) believes leaving the EU could ‘save Britain’s curry industry’ by changing migration rules to allow the sector to bring in more trained chefs from the Indian sub-continent.
And over half of the independent foodservice operators questioned in a William Reed/HIM survey said that leaving the EU would help cut red tape around their businesses.
But despite the overwhelming consensus of hospitality CEO's, the outcome still remains uncertain.
One anonymous CEO told the BHA survey: “Six months ago I was proclaiming that there was absolutely no way we would exit [Europe], but now I am really shaken!”