The experience may be different but demand is strong, says Club Med’s managing director UK & Northern Europe Estelle Giraudeau
Despite the challenges the pandemic has presented to us as a business, we are one of the few travel providers that has continued to expand our resort portfolio. Since March 2020, we have added two new resorts across our Sun and Ski portfolio in the Seychelles and the French Alps and have two other properties opening in the next few months in Canada and Spain.
As we now start planning for the winter ski season, it’s given us time to reflect on the areas where we have fared well and others where we have learnt from our mistakes. We have been open from the beginning about the mistakes we have made, and I would like to think that we came back stronger from it.
I think we are more in-tune with what our guests want and are regularly adapting not only our booking terms and conditions but also our Safer Together policy, ensuring guests and staff are safe and happy at the same time.
Thinking back to the beginning of 2020, it would have been unimaginable to think that Brits are only just now able to think about heading back to the slopes. And following the launch our ninth annual ski report, The Return to Ski: Winter Sports in a New Era, as a business we have begun to reflect on the disruptions the travel industry and specifically ski has faced over the last two winter seasons.
Despite the chaos of the international traffic light system over the summer months, now with the introduction of a two-tiered system, the replacement of expensive day two PCR tests with lateral flow tests, and a complete overhaul and reduction of destinations on the ‘red list’, we have seen that this has not only ignited the passions of our committed ski community, but also opened the door for first-time skiers.
A winter sports trip is proving to be an incredibly attractive proposition for non-skiers, with data from within our business showing a 100% year-on-year increase in new customers for the upcoming ski season.
The external research backed this up further by noting 81% of first-time skiers are now opting for a winter sports holiday because their usual type of holiday isn’t feasible due to Covid-19. In fact, the global pandemic has led people to change their holiday preferences, with 62% of those polled saying that this year will be their first ski or snowboarding holiday versus only 40% in 2020.
We are now, thankfully, in a world where the majority of Brits are vaccinated. And, as a business, we have seen bookings continue to increase rapidly for ski. Many of our popular weeks are already at almost 80% capacity including family favourites such as La Rosiere, Arcs Panorama and Grand Massif in the French Alps.
While we expect many families to continue to secure their travel plans in advance, in line with school holidays, it is worth noting that due to ongoing fears and concerns about Covid-19 and its impact on travel, research showed that almost half are prepared to leave booking until a month in advance (46%), with one in five (20%) saying they will leave it as late as just two weeks before the departure date. This is in stark contrast to the findings in our 2019 ski report, where only 5% of people booked their winter sports holiday less than three months in advance.
We continue to seek to strike the balance between providing the holidays our clients have come to know and love, while also ensuring this does not compromise both our guests’ and staff’s health and safety. This will continue to remain key in the upcoming season and we have a number of measures in place including our Safe Together policy, which ensures social distancing is kept in place, extra sanitisation measures and the continuation of wearing masks indoors.
We were, however, interested to note that the research also revealed that while Covid-19 travel insurance, flexible cancellation policies and a resort’s hygiene protocols were all incredibly important for guests when booking a holiday, all showed a year-on-year decline compared with last year – perhaps as Brits grow in confidence with the vast majority of UK adults now double-vaccinated.
We haven’t held back with expansion plans throughout this turbulent period, with our brand new resort Quebec Charlevoix opening on December 4. With research showing that almost 49% of Brits are prepared to spend more on a winter sports holiday this year than previous years, and Charlevoix at 80% capacity for its opening month, we expect that longer haul destinations may increase in popularity over the course of the next few months. Following that, data showed that France was another high choice for travellers, with 33% of travellers choosing this destination, and with our expansion in Europe continuing, bookings for our newest European resort for this winter season, La Rosiere, have continued to be strong.
With just a few weeks now until we begin to open our resorts, we are looking forward to welcoming customers. We are treading with caution, but despite the challenges of the last 20 months, I feel confident that as a business we’ll provide guests with an exciting winter ski season.