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Leading UK Ski Tour Operator Goes into Administration

Harris Holidays Ltd that trades as Ski Weekends has been placed into administration.  Observers fear it is one of the first of more as the fallout from Covid-19 continues. UPDATED

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Ski Weekends has been organising tailor-made flexible ski trips to the slopes for groups and individuals for over 30 years.

Its aim, has been “to help you ski when, where and for as long as you want, to some of the best and well-known ski areas in Europe.”

It offered travel from 17 UK airports to a full range of 2-5* chalets and hotels in ski resorts across Europe.

It was though hit hard by the impact of coronavirus and was unable to raise the necessary finance to refund all its customers after ski resorts closed in mid-March.

“We have been failed by all the government schemes and a business that was a going concern in its format has now gone,” said the Managing Director of Ski Weekends, Dan Fox, in an interview with PlanetSKI.

“I have tried everything in my power to keep the business going, but have been unable to.

“On a personal level I have lost much money and it has been devastating.

“It has been a nightmare for the past 4-months to be honest.

“Our clients and our staff are like family to us.”

Ski Weekends

Ski Weekends

All its customers will get their money back, if they have not done so already.

The majority of holidays sold by Harris Holidays Limited were flight-inclusive packages and these were protected by the Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL scheme.

Harris Holidays also sold a small number of holidays which did not include flights which are protected by Financial Failure Insurance arranged through Towergate Chapman Stevens.

“The company’s Administrator will be writing to all customers within the next few days with instructions on how to claim a full refund and provide contact details for customer enquiries,” said advice from the Association of British Travel Agents.

See here for more from ABTA

Other UK operators are faced with similar problems.

Hotelplan UK has announced it is closing its HQ in Godalming and likely reducing its workforce by 27%.

The company owns the ski brands Inghams, Ski Total, Esprit Ski, Flexiski and Santa’s Lapland,

Hotelplan UK to close head office and cut jobs.

Many operators are cutting the number of holidays they offer next winter, some by up to 50%.

Ski Weekends will continue in some form next season as it is the operating company, Harris Holidays Ltd, that is going into administration rather than Ski Weekends itself.

Dan Fox has bought the brand name ‘Ski Weekends’ from the administrators and hopes to rise from the ashes.

It will offer accommodation-only packages.

Its new web site is up and it is making optimistic noises.

Ski Weekends

Ski Weekends

Ski Weekends employed up to 14 staff in the summer months at its head office in Southampton and 18 or so in winter.

All these jobs have now gone.

It was one of the leading short-break specialists.

Here at PlanetSKI we have skied with Dan on many an occasion in the Alps.

“It was heart-breaking to let the staff go as they have families to support, mortgages to pay and bills to meet. Some have been with us for 8-years.”

Ski Weekends had 30 overseas staff and took around 6,000 people skiing and snowboarding each winter.

“It has been brutal with hundreds of our customers supportive and just a few less than reasonable,” said Dan Fox in our exclusive interview.

“It was looking good to sell the business on or get financial support, but then the Spanish quarantine regulations came in at the end of last month and potential backers pulled out, not wanting to take the risks for next winter.”

“The banks declined to lend more money.

“The UK government has been appalling in its help of the tourism sector. A few fine words, but precious little action.”

“Most of the European countries have offered practical help, hard cash, to support their tourist industries and companies. Not so the UK government.”

“Above all I am so sad to see the company I have grown go under through no fault of its own.

“I will miss skiing with our fabulous clients and the summer BBQs in my garden with my staff as we celebrated another successful season and planned for the next one.”

Ski Weekends

Ski Weekends

PlanetSKI Analysis, James Cove

PlanetSKI ponders

PlanetSKI ponders

It is not the first UK ski business to go into administration due to covid-19 and it will certainly not be the last.

We can expect more, perhaps some of them household names, in the autumn.

Some are already on the verge.

In some ways skiing was lucky compared to other sectors of the holiday market as coronavirus swept across Europe.

It only wiped out the end of the season with companies loosing 20-25% of business.

Many summer operators have been unable to sell their holidays at all.

But there in hangs the problem.

The ski operators had purchased flights, holidays, accommodation and other services from suppliers.

They have to refund their customers even though they may be unable to get their cash back from the suppliers in some cases.

Some major companies and airlines are refusing to refund, so the operator is stuck in the middle – having to refund holidays but not getting their own money back.

Some customers have accepted a credit note but many others have not.

The drain on cash has made some businesses simply untenable.

The government inaction on Refund Credit Notes, RCNs, has been somewhat inept.

It refused to guarantee them so they were potentially barely worth the paper they were written on.

When they finally did it was too late as so many people had already demanded their cash back.

Make no mistake it will be an extremely difficult winter for the UK snowsport industry due to the impact of Covid-19.

And that is without Brexit and all its uncertainties.

However if the industry gets together and becomes realistic, rather than optimistic, then there is some hope.

Skiing and snowboarding will remain the best way to spend one’s time on planet earth – coronavirus or not.

Period.

It is just a question of how the UK snowsports industry rises to the very difficult challenges ahead.

The companies with a sound business model and good sense will likely come through it all and be in a good position on the other side.

Those that don’t have a good business model and exercise poor judgement will be the casualties.

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