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Ski operators upbeat for winter despite blows

Ski specialists remain upbeat despite further upheaval for this winter caused by Switzerland putting the UK on its red list.

Agents and operators said there was “no evidence” this winter’s ski season would be a write-off as a result of the latest clampdowns in reaction to the Omicron variant, although they admitted bookings had slowed in recent days.

Inghams suspended December departures to Switzerland, while other operators had to rebook customers or cancel trips following news that UK travellers will be forced to quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

It was a further blow to ski specialists after Austria’s lockdown on all those unvaccinated, due to end on December 12.

Changes in Switzerland caused initial confusion over whether transit passengers, such as those travelling to France, would have to quarantine. The Foreign Office has since clarified that those in Switzerland for less than 24 hours are unaffected.

“It caused us all a few sleepless nights,” said Ski Solutions managing director Craig Burton. “The majority of our skiers transit through Geneva to France and Italy and there was not enough flight capacity to move all passengers to Lyon.”

Burton noted “lots of operational challenges” but said good forward sales and strong snowfall in the Alps was fuelling optimism, with main winter departures starting mid-December.

“The Switzerland decision is not a disaster,” he said. “It’s relatively small for UK ski operators but a reminder Covid’s not done.”

Richard Sinclair, founder of ski agency Sno, said clients had been asking to delay trips to later in the winter “when people think the travel landscape will be less bumpy”.

He said “the panic caused by Omicron isn’t good for consumer confidence in travel”, but “skiers are still enquiring and booking”. “Expect Easter to sell out,” he added.

Ski-Lifts chairman John McEwan said the news passengers could transit through Geneva was “a big relief”, adding: “There have been a few bumps in the road. Bookings did slow but advance bookings look good and there is no evidence this will be more than a short-term disruption.

“France is the dominant market [for ski] and the French are determined to be open.”

Jet2.com welcomed news passengers could transit unaffected through Switzerland and said it would be providing an update on its Geneva winter flight programme before December 12.

A spokesperson said: “This is welcome news for the many skiers and snowboarders who are flying to Geneva to travel onwards to the French and Italian Alps this winter, particularly after they missed out on the ski season last winter.

“We welcome this common sense approach, and we are continuing to liaise with the relevant authorities in regards to customers planning to stay in Switzerland. We will provide an update ahead of our Geneva programme restarting on December 12.”

Travel entrepreneur Steve Endacott also welcomed the about-turn enabling skiers to transit at Geneva airport to the French Alps, but in a tweet warned that Christmas was “still a mess” for families with teenagers up to 18 years old who cannot prove vaccination status.

A petition has been started calling on the government to make the NHS Covid pass available to everyone who has been fully vaccinated, including 12 to 15-year-olds. It says that currently the pass is unavailable to under 16s, meaning children may be subjected to unnecessary PCR testing in order to travel abroad.

The petition, created by Kathryn Hunt, says: “I would like the government to ensure that anyone, regardless of age, is able to get the NHS Covid Pass when they have been fully vaccinated. Anything less is discrimination.”

It had attracted almost 770 signatures at the time of writing on Wednesday morning but needs 10,000 for the government to respond.

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