COVID-19 and ski travel in 2020/2021
There’s no getting around the fact that COVID-19 has changed the way people plan to travel but for those of us in the ski industry – who were heavily affected when coronavirus caused early ski resort closures across Europe in March – the real question is: “How is this going to affect next winter’s ski season?”.
Summer travel is set to be more heavily affected by coronavirus than winter travel
Obviously, short of having access to a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict the future of skiing in 20/21 with 100% accuracy, but there are signs pointing to a strong ski season this coming winter – with ski holidays potentially becoming an even more popular choice than usual.
The coronavirus outbreak has dramatically affected short-term travel plans, with a recent study finding that 82% of travellers have changed their travel plans for the next six months.
The outlook for international summer travel remains bleak and the fate of the summer tourism industry throughout Europe is strongly pinned to domestic tourism, but there is hope for international travel to make a comeback in time for ski season.
According to Elizabeth Monanhan from TripAdvisor.com “Tourism recovery typically begins locally. Travellers tend to first venture out closer to home, and visit their local eateries, stay local for a weekend getaway or travel domestically before a robust demand for international travel returns.”
As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions around Europe begin to ease, people want to get outside and see friends and family, but not stray too far from home, especially in light of new measures like the recently introduced 14-day quarantine period for those entering (or re-entering) the UK by air.
The return of international travel
As things continue to open up, people will be ready to explore further afield: “When people get more comfortable, they’ll continue to go farther and farther away from home, starting with domestic and then moving to international, long-term,” says Cheryl Golden, director of e-commerce at Liberty Travel.
In fact, leading property management platform Guesty has found that Christmas and New Year’s stays are up 40% and 23%, respectively, compared to the same time in 2019 – a very promising sign for ski holidays this winter.
The UK travel industry is witnessing a bit of a silver-lining as well. The Telegraph recently reported a huge surge in flight bookings for January 2021 – up 229% year-on-year. During a live webinar with the Financial Times on May 12th Kevin O’Leary, CEO of RyanAir, forecast rising demand for flights as we move into winter going from 40% capacity in July to 70% by September and higher beyond that.
Furthermore, two-thirds of UK ski travel agents and tour operators surveyed are already feeling positive about next winter, expecting it to be ‘business as usual’. Here at SkiBro we’re already seeing our first booking requests for next year begin to come in, some as far as a full year in advance.
“A lot of people are unable to take summer vacations or don’t feel comfortable making bookings and travel plans for June, July, August,” said Guesty’s managing director, Omer Rabin, “so they are planning for later in the year.” New flexibility in vacation-rental cancellation policies is helping, too, he added.
Holidays post-coronavirus could be bigger and last longer than they used to
When people do begin to travel internationally again, you can expect them to do it in a big way. After missing out on their summer vacations many people will find themselves with an abundance of holiday days, and a real urge to have a proper blowout vacation.
Jessica Griscavage, Director of Marketing at luxury travel agent McCabe World Travel foresees a big surge in family and multi-generational travel once people are willing to book trips again.
“They didn’t get their spring breaks, they’re unsure of their summer trips,” she said. All of these families haven’t been able to be together, I think we’re going to see a lot of family and multi-gen travel.”
These larger multi-generational bookings could also last a lot longer than they used to, with short-term accommodation bookings trending from a historical average of 3.5 to 5 days up to 8.5 or 9 days over the last two months according to Guesty.
With a few changes to the system, skiing looks like a ‘safe bet’ for holidaymakers
The current accommodation practices in the ski industry lend themselves well to a post COVID 19 world. Private rentals such as chalets are set to surge and the week to week rental system with a changeover day for sterilisation should sit well with many travellers.
Private-occupancy accommodation has been called the future of skiing. Luckily, there’s plenty of it in the mountains and, for many tour ops and travel agents, the best chance they have to recoup losses over a weak summer is to have a strong winter so they’re doing everything they can to encourage bookings.
This includes offering increased flexibility which helps put minds at ease with regards to booking a holiday this far ahead in uncertain times. Once you’ve paid, you are now, in many cases, free to cancel flights, accommodation and other travel components almost up to the last minute.
Sam Bruce, director of Much Better Adventures says “It’s actually a very good time to book future trips with all the deals and flexibility that [are] in the market right now. People still want to travel, perhaps more so after the experience of being shut indoors.”
TripAdvisor’s Monahan added that “We’ve heard from a number of travellers that the low airfares available along many routes are tempting.” This is backed up by chatter we here at SkiBro have been noticing on social media ski groups like Facebook Ski Club.
In particular, EasyJet’s cheap flights, new flexible cancellation policies and 99p hold luggage and sports equipment fees have begun to tempt a lot of travellers into booking early.
For many skiers, however, peace of mind outweighs the discount offered by the savings on flights and there is speculation that driving – rather than flying – could see a resurgence this winter.
Jane Bolton, managing director of Erna Low agrees. “This will be an even more popular option for skiers next winter, as they may be less keen to fly,” she said.
This may seem surprising as many across Europe and beyond struggle with their financial situation but when surveyed, only 25% of the population listed economic concerns as a factor which will ‘greatly impact’ their travel decisions.
In fact, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, many households are currently “effectively forced into additional savings” and will find themselves with a surplus of money at the end of lockdown – the ideal way to fund a lavish holiday.
What will ski resorts do on the ground?
Of course, a major question on every skier’s mind will be ‘what are the resorts doing to keep us safe?’.
Increased sanitisation procedures and social distancing measures will likely still be necessary and it remains to be seen how this will affect resort operations, especially in peak periods when the major lifts become especially important to avoid queues.
There is precedent that ski resorts can work well with these kinds of systems in place, as evidenced when Myrkalden in Norway became the first ski resort to reopen post-coronavirus.
Many resorts are backing their intentions of having a big season with their wallets. Zermatt is one of several ski resorts going ahead with major lift-system improvements over the summer, installing the new Kumme gondola lift and working on the Matterhorn glacier ride II 3S cableway project.
The growing interest in ski-touring we’ve seen over the past few years may well see a step-change increase in popularity as people look for new ways to enjoy their favourite activities whilst remaining socially distanced – this could be a very interesting avenue to explore as a ski instructor.
Get ready for winter 20/21
There’s still a long road ahead of us before next winter but we’re starting to feel pretty good about the coming ski season. Bookings are already coming in – months earlier than we’ve ever seen before at SkiBro. Plus, those of us who are still in the Alps are finally able to get out and enjoy the snow!
In the lead up to next winter, we’ve listened to your feedback and developed a brand-new system that makes SkiBro easier to use, gives you more control than ever over the way you operate and display yourself on the platform.
We’re excited to share this with you and get your feedback in the coming weeks when you’ll be able to start displaying your products for the upcoming season.
Once your availability is live, you’re ready to start taking bookings for this winter, and we’re all one step closer to the way things used to be!
11/8/20: For the latest updates, including what the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute thinks of skiing & COVID-19, see this post.