Optimism Continues to Grow for Next Ski Season

The optimism found after the government announced an easing of the travel rules in time for winter is continuing. Is it justified? Some operators advise people to book now as supply is limited. Are they right? UPDATED

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In general, there is less capacity from the UK tour operators this coming winter as many, but not all, have cut chalets and reduced the number of holidays on offer.

This is partly due to Covid-19 and also due to Brexit as the free movement of labour ends, thus changing the business model of a chalet holiday.

The latest UK operator to share its thoughts with PlanetSKI is the UK’s largest ski operator, Crystal Ski Holidays.

“Before the recent travel review, we were already well sold and up against where we would usually be at this time in a ‘normal’ year,” said Crystal Ski Holidays Managing Director, Chris Logan.

“The streamlining of the traffic light system and testing for double vaccinated customers has boosted confidence and we’ve seen a significant uptick in bookings.

“Half board hotels remain our best-selling holiday package well up vs the winter of 2019, but we’ve seen the largest increase in sales in self-catering.

“We’re also seeing bigger apartments being booked as customers’ transition from chalets to self-catering options.

“And because travel has been so restricted it does appear that people are cashing in unspent holiday savings on higher quality accommodation with an increase in 4* and 5* bookings.”

Crystal Ski Holidays, predicted a boom for this coming winter as the last winter ended.

It seems it may be happening, though it is of course early days.

Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria

Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria – image © PlanetSKI

And what is the view from out in the Alps?

“Bookings for Tirol are already strong for the coming winter,” said the UK marketing manager of The Tirol, Elena Protopopow, to PlanetSKI.

She takes a pragmatic and realistic view.

“How this continues to develop remains to be seen, as spontaneous bookings are dependent on a continued stable corona situation, without restrictive measures for travel being in force.

“As responsible hosts, Tirol’s tourism enterprises are making comprehensive preparations for the coming winter, with the health and safety of guests taking upmost priority,” she added.

The Austrian government recently confirmed that the 2021/22 tourist winter season will go ahead.

We have reported on it in detail:

The Tirol

Image c/0 The Tirol

The reduction in the number of UK ski holidays on offer has combined with many people rolling over holidays cancelled in 2020 or ones booked last winter, for the ski season that never happened.

“We’re helping customers secure their holidays quickly, as there’s so much less product available this year, and much of it is already booked by customers who deferred instead of cancelling last year,” said the MD of SNO, Richard Sinclair, to PlanetSKI.

“We’re now seeing our website traffic almost back to pre-pandemic levels, with enquiries also back to within 10% – 20% of normal,”

Another specialist agent, Ski Solutions, notes a similar trend.

“Brexit has resulted in a much smaller chalet portfolio this season and with rolled over bookings following Covid-19 cancellations and record-breaking demand, an availability crunch is building,” added the MD of Ski Solutions, Craig Burton.

“Even when the search is extended to self-catered apartments and mid-range hotels, popular resorts are continuing to book out well in advance, so booking early is imperative to secure desired accommodation for a return to the slopes this winter”.

The industry has been through a torrid time since the pandemic spread with several operators going out of business and others hanging on for dear life.

The travel industry has been one of the worst affected industries of them all.

“Things are finally looking up for the travel industry,” said Olly Robinson the co-founder of Maison Sport.

“We’ve seen a really good recovery in traffic/bookings over the past couple of weeks, so fingers crossed that continues and we don’t get any more surprises.”

Image © Maison Sport.

Out in the Alps it is a similar situation.

“We are seeing a big rise in bookings for this winter in Morzine, with some providers now full over the Christmas holidays,” said Sara Burdon from the Morzine tourist office.

“There was a spike in demand after the UK government announced an easing of travel rules.

“And now the announcement on Thursday by the French Tourism minister that the health pass will not be needed for the lifts, unless the situation worsens, has helped reassure skiers across Europe that they will be able to ski without hassle.

“After a winter of lifts being closed it seems most skiers are keen to hit the slopes and we’re looking forward to a bumper winter in Morzine,” added Sara.

See more on the lack of a health pass requirement for ski lifts in this related article:

Val Thorens, France

Val Thorens, France. Image © PlanetSKI

Some in the UK ski world are presenting a bullish attitude.

Le Ski was founded in 1982 and is still owned and run by Nick and Liz Morgan.

It currently offers 33 catered chalets in three French resorts and is 83% full for next winter.

“We have seen currency crises, financial crises, volcanic ash clouds, ski guiding court cases, fires, avalanches, Brexit, more currency crises and most recently Covid-19. Yet we are still here,” said Nick Morgan.

“Our loyal staff and guests have seen us through all of the above,” Nick added.

Some operators have snapped up the chalets dropped by others.

One such company is Ski France and it is offering a new concept – catered chalets with limited staff contact:

Image c/o Ski France

A recent survey* by the Savoie Mont Blanc ski area in France, that contains 112 ski resorts, found that British skiers are more likely to go on holiday this winter than non-skiers.

45% of the British respondents who are skiers said they would go skiing this season (along with 52% of French, 50% of Belgian and 40% of Dutch respondents).

After a winter without alpine skiing, 42% of British skiers said they couldn’t wait to go skiing, while 27% were waiting for the confirmation that the ski lifts would be open this winter before booking.

Only 7% said they wouldn’t go skiing this winter.

“These projections are really likely to reassure all of our professionals who have suffered so much from the consequences of the pandemic. They now can look to the future with optimism and confidence for the next winter season,” says Christelle Ferrière, Marketing Director of L’Agence Savoie Mont Blanc.

The French government will announce  further decisions on what next winter may look like in mid-October.

The local politicians and professionals are optimistic and believe that the 112 ski resorts of Savoie Mont Blanc will open for the 2021–22 winter season.

The gatherings of the UK snowsports industry are in full swing this autumn and here at PlanetSKI we have been taking the temperature.

From the event hosted by Les3Vallees at the Soho House in TV Centre in West London.

Soho House at Television Centre. Image © PlanetSKI

Soho House at Television Centre. Image © PlanetSKI

Through to the more classical surrounding of the Austrian Embassy in Belgravia, London.

Austria Embassy Reception. Image © PlanetSKI

Austria Embassy Reception. Image © PlanetSKI

So, what does the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove, think the winter will hold after chatting with resorts, tour operators and many others this past month?

If you had asked him at the beginning of September this is what he would have said:

“There is a very credible set of circumstances that may unfold where there will be plenty of skiing and snowboarding next winter with things approaching some sort of normality.

“But there is also a very credible set of circumstances where virus variants and travel restrictions could impact on the ski season again.

“It is simply far too early to make a prediction one way or another.”

And his views now at the beginning of October?

“Given the vaccine take-up in the UK and across many ski nations, France and Italy in particular though less so in Switzerland and Austria, I would say things are looking more hopeful.

“Most significantly Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert seems to think the threat of a new variant virus that can not be treated by the vaccine is receeding and the strength of the virus will ease as the winter progresses,” he said.

The work of Sarah Gilbert led to the development of  the Astra Zenica vaccine and she is one of the scientists worth listening to.

She is not known for speculation, sensationalism or scaremongering.

“It is all about the threat from the virus, and any variants, being limited and not overwhelming health services in the UK and the alpine nations in the winter months. Plus the respective government policy on travel restrictions,” James added.

“As we start October things are certainly moving in the right direction on both counts, though things could change and the one thing we should be careful of is predictions based on wishful thinking.”

Others are perhaps slightly more sceptical.

“Winter tourism is desperate to have a strong season. However, it is not the politicians who decide whether this is possible, but the virus. It doesn’t go on holiday, it doesn’t go skiing, it looks for the easiest possible ways to spread,” said Prof. Dr Thomas Szekeres, PhD, President of the Austrian Medical Association.

“The government should be talking about après-corona instead of après-ski,” he added.

Skiing in Austria. Image © PlanetSKI

Skiing in Austria. Image © PlanetSKI

It is good news for the travel industry that the UK’s traffic light system is gone and the PCR testing at the end of October.

However families with younger children are looking closely at the travel rules as many may not have the necessary vaccinations to enter a country for a ski holiday.

One country, Norway, has made it clear all are welcome.

Image c/o Norway - Home of Skiing

Image c/o Norway – Home of Skiing

We will be keeping a close eye on all the rules and regulations for travel and how the upcoming winter develops here at PlanetSKI.

Stay tuned…

* The Savoie Mont Blanc survey was carried out by the French research agency Contours.

Contours contacted Savoie Mont Blanc’s four main markets to find out their plans for the winter.

They had answers to their survey from 1,167 French people, 1,107 British people, 1,066 Belgian people and 966 Dutch people (between 1 and 10 September 2021).

Among the British respondents, 190 were skiers who regularly go on ski holidays.

Number One for Ski News Image © PlanetSKI

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