I have now been in the role of chief executive at the Hotelplan UK Group for eight weeks. What a unique time to be taking up such a position.
I remember talking with my predecessor and previous boss, Paul Carter, in January 2020 – we were both hopeful that by the end of the year we would understand the lay of the land with Brexit and would be charting our path forward with confidence across the brands within the group: Inghams, Ski Total, Esprit, Flexiski, Santa’s Lapland, Explore Worldwide and Inntravel.
How I long for the days when Brexit was the biggest challenge our industry faced. The scale of the challenges our industry has faced in 2020 have been unprecedented and they will certainly leave a mark, but it now feels like there is an end in sight. In time, hopefully in the not too distant future, we will get to consign 2020 and all that came with it to the history books.
The one thing that I know is that our industry will bounce back and bounce back hard. Personally, travel has always been an important part of my life and I cannot wait to get back out there. I am so thankful for the many memorable trips and good times the travel sector has given me, whether it is crazily riding a motorbike across Cambodia as a fearless 22-year-old, or spending Christmas a few years back in Tuscany with my wife and three sons.
Our travel experiences help define us and how we travel contributes to who we are – it has always been part of the human condition and it always will be. At Hotelplan UK we have started to see the greenest of green shoots grow across our businesses, so we know things are improving. Web traffic is up considerably and we have seen marked increases in bookings into the second half of next year. People are ready and the time to bounce back is coming.
While our recent suspension of December 2020 trips may have seemed like a bold move, it was the right thing to do by our customers, and we’re fortunate to be able to make this decision knowing that our long-term is secure with the support of our Swiss owners, Migros.
The suspension was a tough decision but is grounded in our reality and the approach has been welcomed by many of our customers, who appreciate the clarity we’ve given them as soon as we could. Right now, we do not have a clear picture of when the ski resorts are going to be open, and every country seems to have a different view, so we continue to monitor the situation closely.
It would be wonderful if we could achieve consistency across Europe on a strategy and timing to open resorts, but, realistically, that does not seem likely. Therefore, we will look at the most appropriate ways of delivering the holidays people want at each destination separately, considering how we can ensure everyone is kept as safe as possible.
Regardless of the many uncertainties, we’re still making plans to kick off the ski season in January 2021, with the start of our winter offering for Inghams, Ski Total and Flexiski. Closely followed by our Inghams summer, Explore Worldwide, Inntravel and Santa’s Lapland programmes. With Esprit Ski returning for winter 2021/22.
We’re privileged enough to be able to choose to use this time to work on our business. In fact, from many angles, this crisis for travel is an opportunity for us to rebuild better than before. Now is the time to support our customers and trade partners, not the time to completely hibernate. It’s time to get ready, to be ready, so when the time is right, we can deliver bigger and better than before. I will be working with my team to ensure that all parts of our business are fit for purpose with a goal of being stronger when we come out of this crisis than when we went into it. We’re already drawing on years and years of know-how as a business, alongside the top expertise from our experienced teams, to make plans for the future of our brands.
We’ll also continue to make sure we’re in the know when it comes to the places we travel, so we can keep our customers and trade partners up to date and make informed judgements. Finally, we won’t be afraid to make bold decisions that need to be made to benefit our customers, partners, team and the business as a whole.
Much of what a holiday brings to families, friends, skiers, cyclists, culture lovers, explorers, solo travellers and more has been missed over the past year. At Hotelplan we intend to provide the holiday packages, expertise and guidance for people to travel as safely as possible and with confidence in this new climate. We’ve also thought about how we can build on the things that are so important to people about our holidays, what we need to change operationally and what we can do to improve on our existing offering. In a post-Covid world, alongside other things, there’s the potential for the right holidays to play a greater role in benefiting people’s health and wellbeing and we are excited to play a part in this.
If the uncertain and difficult times of 2020 have reminded us of anything, it’s that as a well-established family of specialist tour operators, we’re thankful to be in the fortunate position to continue to do the right thing by our trade partners and customers.
We greatly value both our customers and trade partners, and we know our partners will play an important part in our future within the travel market. To move forward, we all need to pull together and support each other to ensure we can offer customers the choice they’re looking for.
Joseph Ponte is chief executive of Hotelplan UK