The UK ski market has shifted its focus to selling holidays for winter 2021-22 as it seems increasingly unlikely that any departures will be possible during this current season.
However, the sector is seeing strong pent-up demand for next winter, according to bosses on a Travel Weekly webcast.
Joe Ponte, chief executive of Hotelplan UK – which incorporates brands such as Inghams and Esprit – said that late last year his company had hoped to get customers on holiday in February and March.
However, the new variants of Covid-19 and tighter travel restrictions mean this is unlikely.
“It’s simply not going to be possible to safely conduct ski holidays in March,” he said, adding that a decision about April departures will be made in four weeks’ time.
“We want to hold on as long as we can. If we can get some people away in April, we will, but we’ll only do it if we can do it as safely as possible.”
If April departures are possible, they will be “very limited volumes” so the firm’s focus has shifted to next season.
“About 60% of our customers are booking into next season, and our sales into the next ski season are 100% up from where they ordinarily would be,” he said.
“The season is already almost half sold, which is unprecedented, because it’s a combination of people booking who’ve cancelled and new bookings coming in.
“We’re taking hundreds and hundreds of bookings every week into next season.”
He said the operator has added 2,000 seats to its flight capacity from Manchester for the Santa Lapland programme next winter.
“We’re about to add a considerable number more because the Santa programme is actually 90% sold,” he said.
He also said skiers are keen to compensate for losing their holidays so many are booking longer breaks and more frequent trips.
“If people want to get skiing on the dates and resort they want, in the hotel they want, they need to book pretty quickly,” he said.
Simon McIntyre, general manager for ski for Iglu.com, said he is seeing similar trends.
“People will, at the drop of a hat, go skiing this season if they can,” he said, adding that some “diehard” skiers had managed to depart in December for the Swiss slopes.
“We are considerably up for next year, and we’ve seen in the last six weeks a real pick-up in demand for next season,” he said.
“As time goes on, more vaccine news gets out there and people become steadily more confident.”
Alex Herrmann, UK and Ireland director at Switzerland Tourism, said the resorts in Switzerland have been open this winter but only for Swiss skiers.
However, he did highlight the options of summer skiing in the Alps and Santa trips to Switzerland in the winter.
“Swiss Switzerland has some of the highest altitude Alpine resorts…so there’s obviously quite a number of resorts where you can ski in the morning and take a dip in the lake in the afternoon,” he said.