Agents face “embarrassing and difficult” conversations with clients following Mark Warner’s unexpected decision to levy a surcharge on ski breaks.

Travel agents said they were caught unawares by the operator’s move to add a charge of up to £50 per customer for holidays departing from early January.

The fall in the value of sterling since June’s Brexit result is believed to be the most likely cause, with the pound now worth €1.19, compared with €1.31 in May.

Craig Burton, managing director of agency and operator Ski Solutions, said: “We didn’t expect this; it has come out of left field. We are disappointed and surprised. It reflects poorly on Mark Warner and on agents like us.”

Gemma Antrobus, chairwoman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ Specialist Travel Agents arm, said: “It’s a really embarrassing conversation to have with clients. It could have a really negative impact because we are the bearers of the bad news.”

Neil Basnett, Elite Travel Group chief executive, said: “We’ve  not been in this situation for years.

“It’s our worst nightmare to tell someone the price of their holiday has gone up. Very often customers who have spent thousands will kick off, even if it’s a low amount.”

Burton said he did not expect other operators to follow Mark Warner’s lead.

“There is absolutely no evidence of any of our other main ski partners adopting a stance like this. We are also an operator and there is no way we will be surcharging. This is probably the last resort,” he said.

But Alan Bowen, legal adviser 
to the Association of Atol Companies, warned: “I suspect there will probably be other operators in the same situation.

“Brexit came as a shock, and the reality is that if you are a small ski operator and costs go up by more than you expected, it’s very difficult to absorb.”

Bowen warned: “People will talk to each other in resort. If you are the only ski operator surcharging, winter might be difficult.”

Mark Warner refused to comment but managing director David Hopkins is reported to have told clients in letters the surcharge was “necessary and unavoidable for the first time in many years”.

Since June’s referendum, seven operator members of Abta have announced they are surcharging, but no major trade brands. Mark Warner is not an Abta member.
Crystal Ski, Tui and Thomas Cook have no plans to surcharge.

A Cook spokesman said: “Our financial planning teams buy foreign currency months ahead, so we’re better able to protect customers from sharp movements in exchange rates.”