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Alpine Elements Collapses But Plans Relaunch

The ski tour operator has been going for 23 years. It collapsed into administration on Tuesday, blaming Covid-19 and a lack of government support. But the owner has bought the brand and hopes to continue trading. He’s been speaking to PlanetSKI. UPDATED

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The news came in a statement to customers by the Founder and Managing Director of the company, James Hardiman.

“I am deeply sorry for this outcome, but this has been without question one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in 23 years of running my Company.

“We have tried so hard (for so long) to try and find a way through this, but the devastating effects of COVID with its continued travel restrictions, lockdowns and – crucially for us – the lack of UK government support and guidance, have left us in an impossible situation.”

It is the latest ski company to face difficulties.

Alpine Elements claimed to be the UK’s largest independent operator of exclusive catered ski chalets and hotels, offering holidays mainly to France but also to St Anton in Austria.

It still owes around £2.5 million to customers for cancelled trips dating back to March this year when resorts in the Alps closed early due to the pandemic.

Under the Refund Credit Note (RCN) scheme negotiated by ABTA, it has until the end of January 2021 to refund its customers.

But with no money to do so, the company was forced into administration.

“We would like to reassure you that your holiday is protected by ATOL or ABTA. Therefore you will receive a full cash refund for all monies paid to Alpine Elements Ltd in due course,” James Hardiman says in his statement.

The administration means the company is no longer liable for repaying the owed money.

The debts will be picked up by the Civil Aviation Authority where customers bought a package including flights and by ABTA for holidays booked without flights.

“To this day, we are yet to receive refunds from the many suppliers to whom we have paid money for your holiday: like flights, accommodation, catering and other services. Without those refunds we have not had the available cash to refund you,” the statement adds.

In an interview with PlanetSKI on Thursday (10th December) James Hardiman said he had tried desperately to find major investors but when it all “fell apart at the last minute” he had no choice but to call in the administrators.

He has now bought the Alpine Elements brand in what’s known as a “pre-pack” deal,  having recently found a financial backer.

“I had two options –  liquidate and have the business broken up with all my staff losing their jobs, or try to buy the brand, the business and assets back from the administrators so staff can keep their jobs,” he told us.

The company had between 50 and 60 staff in London and abroad, though redundancies have reduced the number to 17 full-time staff.

During the winter, it also hires around 300 seasonal workers.

James Hardiman has been able to persuade the administrators that his company is a going concern, but with all the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and, of course, Brexit, some may ask whether it can survive.

“That’s the risk I am having to take.  It’s a huge risk,” he admitted.

“If travel doesn’t resume in the mid-term it’s going to be difficult for all of us but I have a backer and I am confident he will back us all the way.”

Looking at the Alpine Elements website, you might think nothing has changed.

There is no mention of the administration and it appears as if the company is operating normally.

It is, however, not possible to go through the process of booking a trip.

Alpine Elements website

James Hardiman told us he intends to continue selling holidays when it’s possible and if his customers want them.

He said complaints that his actions were simply a means of getting rid of his debts were unfair.

“I wish for no more than to serve the industry as best as I can,” he told us.

“Surely we should be allowed to pick ourselves up again.  Just like many other businesses I have staff with livelihoods and we have always operated with the best of intentions and have had no issues in the last 23 years.

“It is only Covid that has caused this situation.”

He said a government loan had been so insignificant that it had been just enough to pay the company’s overheads for the summer and not to refund customers for their lost holidays.

We asked him why the Alpine Elements website was still displaying both the ABTA and ATOL-Protected logos when Alpine Elements resigned as a remember of ABTA on 9th November and its ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) lapsed on 30th September.

He said he had been trying to get the website updated to remove the logos for weeks and had been given an assurance that it would happen within a week.

Alpine Elements website displaying ABTA and ATOL logos

The fact that Alpine Elements was a member of ABTA and had an ATOL at the time the non-refunded ski holidays were booked means customers’ money is protected.

James Hardiman said that when Alpine Elements resumes sales it will try to get bonding for its holidays, even if it sells accommodation only.

If it sells holidays with flights it will have to seek to renew its ATOL – a legal requirement for companies offering air travel as part of the package.

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