Peter Hardy interviewed Craig Burton from Ski Solutions on his views about next winter’s ski season. Here’s a shortened version of the interview.
‘After what has been a two-year layoff from skiing and snowboarding for most people, the question is: will we be able to get back to it soon?’ Peter said.
‘But are we going to get a proper ski season in Europe this coming winter?’
‘It certainly looks more hopeful than last year. We have got a viable exit from Covid in that if we can operate this winter season from December through to April, it will probably be the biggest winter that we will have had on record – and indeed the same thing for an awful lot of operators and destinations. The demand to ski is very real, so if we can operate it will be a magnificent winter in that regard,’ Craig continued.’The landscape of the ski industry, certainly in Britain and in the rest of Europe, has changed dramatically in the last two years. We need to consider what’s happened with Brexit, which has made it difficult for Brits to go skiing, and then we’ve got Covid on top. So what we’ve seen is that change in the number of tour operators who would normally take people skiing and of course, the number of flights.
Covid and Brexit are twin evils as such – for outbound tour operators from the UK – they have certainly created quite a toxic environment in which to try and operate at present. That said, the sort of manifestation of this for British skiers at least, is that there’s a change in the accommodation mix that’s available to them for their holidays. The traditional catered chalet holiday, particularly at the lower to mid-end of the market, has reduced in terms of capacity quite significantly.’
‘Some years ago, there used to be 50 or 60 chalet operators and now they’re reduced to just a handful. And they’ve really changed. Those that haven’t gone out of business have changed their modus operandi completely,’ Peter said.
‘You’re absolutely right – both the volume of products and also the pricing. The catered chalet, if you wind back ten years or so it was often a kind of entry price point for a lot of skiers to discover the joy of being in the mountains. That’s now just not possible. If you want to stay in a catered chalet, you are going to pay for that this year, because the supply is much reduced and actually the chalets that are still there are more upper-mid-end of the market rather than what we might have called cheap-and-cheerful.
‘But that doesn’t mean there are no options available. We believe that the demand from skiers to ski in Europe and North America, from the UK at least, is undiminished. We think there’s the same number of people who want to go skiing, if not more, because of what’s happened with the missed season we’ve had. So they’re going to have to take a different type of accommodation, but we believe they’ll still ski. This will be apartments, hotels, locally run. But I think we’ll see a lot more British visitors next season,’ Craig said.
‘But travel is a problem, isn’t it? Traditionally, the UK market has been slightly dependent on the number of charter flights from UK to the Alps, particularly to France and that number of charter flights has almost disappeared, hasn’t it? The number of tour operators now who offer a package of ski, accommodation, food, flights and transfers have almost disappeared,’ Peter said.
‘Yes, that’s certainly true,’Craig said. ‘I think the summer short-haul market has proved that there are plenty of aircraft out there and there are airlines prepared to put those planes on routes which have demand from customers. As long as the ability to operate is there and the demand is there, we feel that there will be enough air capacity to get people out to the mountains and then the likes of easyJet, British Airways, Jet2 will all turn capacity.
‘Winter is a low period for travel overall, there is no lack of aircraft and there are no lack of airlines wanting to put aircraft onto profitable routes. So we don’t think there’ll be a constraint in that regards. If the demand’s there, the aircraft will be laid on to fly those routes…and we all want to see that transatlantic travel corridor opening up as soon as possible.’
‘Do you think that’s going to happen soon?’
‘I think there’s a very marked change in policy from the UK government in terms of its approach to travel. We’ve been under the severest of restrictions for some time, but we’re seeing the first steps of the UK coming through now in early July. Our working assessment at the moment is we will see some transatlantic travel back at the end of this summer. Certainly, I think for this winter, we’re very hopeful that there will be a normal flow of traffic across the Atlantic.’
‘Can Brits go skiing in Japan again this winter?’
‘We assume that that will be possible. One of the trends we’ve seen in bookings for the last few months has been this desire to spend a bit more, go a bit further, make it a really memorable trip – and we’ve certainly seen some North American destinations trending. In fact, Whistler is our top-selling destination at the moment, which is quite remarkable, actually, given that Europe’s usually where the biggest base of travellers are wanting to go to. There is real evidence that there is a very big upturn in demand.’