Comment: Could long-haul ski be a bright spot for the trade?

Huw Williams, strategy director at Push The Horizon, says specialist agents and operators could capitalise on affluent travellers’ desire to avoid missing their annual trip to the slopes

As we enter what, in normal times, would be the peak holiday season, we find ourselves in the midst of a collapse in tourism. The impact of Covid-19 has been exacerbated by a government incapable of making sound, rational decisions to help the industry.

The result is that experienced, well-established operators, agents and airlines have been left to make decisions without adequate time to plan and execute.

We need to look ahead to make the best of the opportunities that lie ahead. It’s against this background that I encourage those that can to look at skiing as a possible bright spot on the horizon.

As skiing holidays only make up around 3% of all overseas leisure trips, it’s clear that this is an opportunity for a select few. For those that are in a position to offer skiing trips, I would urge you to plan carefully and reach out to the consumers that are most likely to book.

For many, a skiing trip isn’t a holiday taken as an alternative to a summer break. Over 50% of skiers have an annual income of over £70,000. This is a market that has the financial resources to enjoy both a summer and winter holiday abroad.

I wrote recently about who would be most likely to book holidays in the months ahead. According to the New Policy Institute (NPI) think tank, the coronavirus lockdown has caused the richest households to save up to £4,181. Five and a half million homes in the top income bracket will have avoided £23 billion in normal expenditure. Households that enjoy an annual ski holiday will be among these.

So skiers are likely to be amongst a group that are able to afford, and want, to travel sooner rather than later. Skiing also benefits from being an outdoor pursuit, which is viewed as much safer when it comes to Covid transmission.

The UK market is dominated by trips to Europe. France accounts for around a half of all ski holidays with Austria, Italy and Switzerland taking another 40%. One of the challenges for operators and high street agents is that around a half of these trips are currently arranged and booked online using OTAs

But think about it. We know there is an audience of affluent travellers. They are likely to have missed out on their usual summer overseas holiday. In more normal times many will have chosen long-haul summer destinations.

There is a strong rationale for operators and agents to woo skiers with the opportunity to indulge their love of long-haul travel and skiing. Top of the list is probably Canada. According to research by The Ski Club of Great Britain, around 8% of skiers from the UK have enjoyed skiing in Canada in the last three years. The USA, which has been similarly popular, will be hampered by the fact that the FCO has not included it on its current list of destinations that ‘no longer pose an unacceptably high risk for British Travellers’.

A country that is on the list, and has managed the Covid outbreak relatively well, is Japan. Often topping lists of countries that UK travellers would love to visit, Japan also has some excellent skiing and is renowned for its snow quality. It combines what many affluent travellers will be looking for; great skiing and the opportunity to fulfil their wanderlust.

The appeal of Japan as a destination that attracts travellers for more than its skiing is highlighted by Nick Coates, founder of specialist Japan ski operator Different Snow. Nick  said that, at the very least, clients spend a day or two in Tokyo enjoying a  city break after their time on the slopes.

Crucially, for the trade, whether it’s Canada, Japan or any other non-European ski destinations; these are places where travellers value the advice and expertise of experienced operators and agents.

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