With the 2019/20 season having been cut short and bookings uncertain for Winter 2020/21, it will be of no surprise to note that there is plenty of ski tour operator news to digest.
Ski tour operators first hit the news in March 2020 when it became necessary to repatriate large numbers of skiers and cancel future bookings as a result of COVID-19 and widespread travel restrictions. There was then a wave of negative publicity as some proved slow to refund their clients for holidays they were unable to deliver.
Some ski companies sadly went into administration, including well known short breaks specialist Ski Weekends. It is worth noting that Ski Weekends is now trading again as the previous owners bought the brand from the administrators.
Our focus here is primarily on ski tour operator news for the season ahead. Whilst there is still a distinct lack of certainty around what will or won’t be possible this winter, we are optimistic that there will be skiing from around mid December on.
So what’s the ski tour operator news?
Whereas ski firms are usually keen to push new destinations, properties and packages the emphasis this season is on the less exciting (but this time around crucially important) refund policies and booking conditions. The key thing that is driving bookings for most firms – and companies report that people are booking in reasonable numbers – is the ability to cancel with little or no cost if they find that they are unable to travel.
In order to make this possible a lot of ski tour operators have had to significantly reengineer their business model. Whereas in the past many firms had heavy commitments to flights, properties and staff these have been cut right back. There has been a combination of a reduction in capacity and new arrangements with suppliers whereby tour operators will only pay where they have bookings that then go on to travel.
The most dramatic recent development is that market leader Crystal Holidays has confirmed that it will not offer holidays to destinations that require people to quarantine on their return. At the time of writing that pretty much limits skiers to Scotland and Sweden, although things could be very different in 4-6 weeks time.
If your favoured form of accommodation has been the catered ski chalet then you may be seeing some of the biggest changes. Firms offering catered chalets were already under immense pressure due to the impact of Brexit on their ability to employ staff; COVID-19 has added another layer of challenges and complications.
Some firms, notably Crystal Holidays, have simply decided not to offer catered chalets at all for this season. Uncertainty around demand, staffing and how to offer high quality safe and secure catering and cleaning services have proved too high a mountain to climb. Other firms have quietly followed their lead – although you wouldn’t always know if you look at their websites, there is a real shortage of quality information from some ski firms.
There are, however, still some catered chalets available to book. The below is taken from the Inghams website and details some of the steps they will be taking in their managed properties:
For the accommodation we manage:
All staff will have Covid-specific hygiene training, along with safety equipment (PPE).
The communal areas will be disinfected several times a day, with deep cleans on transfer day.
We won’t offer self-service food. Your meal will be served to you from a buffet or at your table – distanced from other tables and guests – by staff wearing appropriate PPE.
There’s a midweek room clean but you can choose not to have it if you prefer no-one goes into your room.
Our local staff will have temperature checks before every shift.
https://www.inghams.co.uk/about-us/in-safe-hands – 02/11/2020
When checking the Inghams website we have, however, found very limited numbers of chalets displaying availability. Inghams sister company Ski Esprit shows a similarly downsized programme.
A number of chalet operators, such as Mountain Heaven, are offering clients the ability to book their normally catered chalets as a self catered option. We think this will prove a popular model this winter as it will allow guests to manage their own environment and ski tour operators to reduce their risks and staffing costs. If you do go down this route then, as per all bookings for this winter, ensure you are clear on the booking conditions and your right to a refund if you are unable to travel.
At the highest levels of the chalet market changes are less obvious. True luxury carries a price tag that enables safety measures to be more easily integrated into operations; where guests commonly arrive by private jet it is a little easier to ensure social distancing! Even here there are changes though with measures such as pre-ordering of meals being put in place.
Based on surveys by both the Ski Club of Great Britain and those conducted for the Mountain Trade Network, it seems likely that a higher number of skiers will choose to travel independently this winter rather than with a ski tour operator. This will be particularly appealing to those happy to self-drive.
We believe that, away from the most popular dates, there will be a good choice of self-catering accommodation in most resorts. Self-catering is going to be the default choice for many so that they can control their environment with ease and not worry too much about proximity to other guests or tour operator staff.
If you want to go down the self catering route but travelling with an operator appeals then there are numerous companies who specialise in this type of accommodation, including Peak Retreats and Erna Low.
Ski tour operator news in summary
Whether you decide to go with a tour operator or do your own thing we would recommend taking the following steps:
- Properly read the Terms and Conditions that apply on the day that you book. T&Cs have been regularly changing as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
- If booking through a tour operator then choose one that is bonded.
- Use a credit card to double up on your financial security
- Take out insurance and be 100% clear on what your policy does and doesn’t cover.
We’ll be aiming to keep you up to date as the 2020/21 season evolves. There will be opportunities to hit the slopes and we want to help you make the most of them!