Ski operators are confident customers are “desperate” to return to the slopes this winter, but say they are holding on to book late as they await news of further Covid restrictions.
Operator VIP Ski collapsed earlier this month, saying it was “impossible” to navigate its way through Covid.
Last week, Crystal Ski cancelled France departures to the end of the year, and that followed Hotelplan UK brands Inghams, Ski Total, Esprit Ski and Flexiski reducing their chalet programmes for this winter saying Covid-19 means it “cannot guarantee” the usual experience.
Club Med is due to open all but three of its 27 resorts at 80% capacity, with hygiene measures and social distancing protocols in place, and said a new resort in La Rosiere, opening in December, would help fulfil demand.
The all-inclusive specialist said news of a vaccine breakthrough prompted a 25% spike in bookings and enquiries, with February, March and the Easter Holidays most popular months for the upcoming season.
Its recent annual ski report found 69% of customers were looking to book within a month of travel, in “stark contrast” to 5% who booked less than three months out for last season – and that customers are opting for shorter durations, but were happy to spend more.
Nearly two thirds (61%) of respondents deemed it ‘a lot easier’ to socially distance on a ski holiday than a sun holiday, and 49% said being outdoors, with masks and gloves already the norm, was “appealing”.
More than half (52%) said they would still take a winter holiday if they had to quarantine on return to the UK, which rose to 67% among frequent skiers and 62% of 16-29-year-olds.
UK and northern Europe managing director, Estelle Giraudeau, said Club Med was “waiting to see the outcome of the second lockdown”. She told Travel Weekly: “We are finding clients are waiting a little bit longer to fully commit due to the current restrictions in place. We are confident we will be able to provide space and comfort for all our customers, while maintaining the high level of service they have come to expect.”
She said 80% of Club Med clients with ski holiday holidays cancelled as a result of Covid had rebooked for between December 2020 and April 2021, showing an itch to get back to the slopes.
Giraudeau said it would be a “huge blow” to the entire travel industry if further lockdown restrictions were implemented into January and cancelled the season, but stressed Club Med entered the pandemic in a “strong financial position”, so is well-placed to handle the hit to revenue.
Craig Burton, managing director of Ski Solutions, said skiers were “desperate” to travel and there “certainly is demand”.
He welcomed the reduction in quarantine which he said was the “the single biggest obstacle” to booking, adding that 50% of enquiries the weekend of November 21-22 were for December noting an “upturn in confidence on the vaccine news”.
However, Burton said Ski Solutions had been “very cautious” in taking bookings for December even ahead of the news from France, because the firm could not guarantee departures. He said for that reason the operator and agency was only using airline suppliers offering flexible booking terms allowing for flights to be amended or refunded if resorts are closed.
Burton said Ski Solutions would “echo Abta’s calls for regionalisation” of quarantine, when it was suggested such a measure might open up ski resorts when restrictions remain in place for the country they are in. He added: “We have seen the shot in the arm that travel corridors can do for the sun destinations.”
Typical skiers were “reasonably well-off” so many could manage the “not insignificant” cost of Covid testing, said Burton, who said the cost of testing was not a barrier to swathes of ski customers. He also believes many skiers without families would be willing to quarantine for five or seven days in order to get their ski holiday in.
Burton accepted après-ski “won’t happen” this winter but insisted “the fundamentals of a ski holiday will be able to go ahead as normal” – making the point that skiers wear gloves and masks already.
Despite the delay to ski’s resumption, Burton said he was “confident in the ability of the destinations to operate” when restrictions are lifted, noting they had the chance to “test run” protocols in the summer months at low capacity.
“Skiing is something you do as an individual and it’s in the open, fresh mountain air,” he added. “As long as we can get skiers out there, the experience they can have will be positive.”
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