Will bookings continue to go downhill for the sector this year or is ski going to provide a boost with the upcoming season? Gary Noakes reports.
Children are back at school, mostly, and after a summer no one wants to remember, thoughts now turn to winter. In theory, there should be cause for optimism; millions have missed out on a summer holiday abroad and squirrelled money away instead.
Barclaycard estimates 23% of households have put cash into savings instead of spending on a foreign holiday this summer.
The trade will be hoping some of that stashed cash goes towards agents and operators this winter, so a holiday largely spent outdoors, mostly away from crowds, would seem to fit the bill. But does this mean the mountains beckon?
As well as quarantine unknowns, a couple of incidents last season could specifically temper enthusiasm for winter sports, although one of them is a bit of a red herring.
In March, the first UK cases of Covid were reported after a Brighton man returned from a ski break in the French resort of Les Contamines-Montjoie. He reportedly infected friends in a chalet after contracting the virus at a conference in Singapore. This case is no reason to avoid a winter sports break, but perhaps cause to be conscious of accommodation type and social bubbles.
More worrying is legal action under way in Austria, where more than 6,000 visitors to the resort of Ischgl claim to have caught the virus in February and March, with several reported deaths. Ischgl is famous for its party scene, with busy nightclubs and star-studded mountain-top concerts.
The group alleges bars and venues were shut down too late after the outbreak and the Austrian government is liable for compensation. The first hearings started late last month. Ischgl is now engaged in a damage limitation exercise and admits, “we have learnt from the past”.
There will be no Mountain Opening Concert when the season begins on 26 November and “no apres-ski in its usual form”, although this has yet to be detailed. Filtering scarves will be provided with all ski passes, but Covid tests are encouraged, not mandatory.
The resort says: “We recommend guests are able to present a negative test result no more than 72 hours old when they check in.” Those who do not “have the option to undertake a voluntary test on-site”. Other resorts are unlikely to follow Ischgl’s testing request, but will likely mirror its cautious approach to apres-ski.