Despite the doom and gloom reports that surrounded last winter season, Crystal Holidays, the UK's largest Tour Operator, recently announced that the number of ski holidays taken last winter actually increased by 3% to 1.2 million!
The figures were taken from their 2007 Ski Industry Report in which it seems that skiers were not put off by the somewhat less than perfect snow conditions. The report itself is an amalgamation of statistics from tour operators, AC Neilson's TravelTrack, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), travel agency feedback and local tourist offices and it also showed that tour operator package holidays are still the preferred choice for UK skiers, with almost 2/3 of the market (682 000) travelling with an operator in 06/07.
This may come as a surprise to many who thought that the days of the package holiday were numbered since the growth of no-frills airlines and the increase of second home ownership in the Alps. Chief Executive of Easyjet, Andy Harrison, said in the report that “package holidays offered through travel agents and tour operators have developed a deserved reputation for everything that is bad about travel……No wonder they are a thing of the past.” Indeed, in recent years, it has become so much easier to make your own arrangements by piecing together separate flight and accommodation deals to get the best price; that it will come as no surprise that the independent travel sector is also continuing to grow.
However, it seems that tour operators have responded effectively to the demands of today's traveller in respect to more competitive pricing and increased flexibility and are managing to hold their ground in terms of customer numbers. Gareth Crump, the product Director of Crystal said “The package holiday has really developed over the past few years and we are much more flexible to our customer's needs. We have short break trips, a fantastic family programme, great discounts for early bookers and other discounts such as free lift passes”.
As with last winter, early sales are looking good for the coming season but it was the poor snow conditions and depressing media reports in December and January that had a big impact on the “late bookers”. Many people may decide to wait until the last minute this year and check out conditions before parting with their cash.
The report goes on to confirm that France remains the top destination choice for a winter holiday, cornering over 37% of the market. Austria (19%) and Italy (14%) follow swiftly behind, and the high altitude skiing in many Swiss resorts has increased in popularity by 5%. Across the Atlantic, the US and Canada hold 7.9% of the market but seems surprising that the US only grew by 0.1% last winter despite boasting far better conditions than Europe .
In terms of airlines, the no-frills carriers continue to perform strongly against the scheduled providers, with Easyjet and Ryan air increasing their capacity on the previous year by 7% and 13% respectively. Although in the case of Easyjet, the majority of this increase can be attributed to its ever popular Geneva routes, and likewise, Ryanair has returned to Klagenfurt in Austria, an airport it had previously dropped.
Global warming continues to be the hot topic that the ski industry is acutely aware of. The threat of a continuing rise in temperature, carbon emissions and the increase in artificial snow production are just some of the areas that could have disastrous consequences for skiing and the environment that supports it. Meteorological predictions indicate that we should expect more precipitation in coming years that will fall as rain at lower altitudes which may result in other low lying resorts following the actions of Abondonce earlier this year, that decided to close its lifts for skiing and instead branch out into alternative mountain pursuits. The positive side of the shift in weather patterns is that the increase in precipitation is likely to lead to more snow in the higher altitude resorts and probably a later season with more snow falling in March/April than previously.
From the report, with more people than ever taking a winter sports holiday and the continuing growth in second home purchasing, it appears that the ski industry is still remaining optimistic about its future.