COVID-19 ENCOURAGES A NEW WAVE OF SKIERS AS HOLIDAY PREFERENCES CHANGE

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Thursday, 21st October 2021, 1:37 pm

Today, Club Med is sharing findings from their ninth annual ski report, The Return to Ski: Winter Sports in a New Era, which seeks to examine the impacts of a missed ski season, another year filled with travel disruptions and the outlook for winter 2021/22. 

At the start of 2020, it would have been unimaginable to think that Brits are only just now able to think about heading back to the slopes as we approach winter 2021/22, following two seasons of disruption. The global pandemic and its ongoing aftermath is still making its mark on booking behaviours as we look ahead to the upcoming winter season. Covid-19 is not only still significantly impacting the way in which people travel, but also how they plan for future holidays and the knock-on effect this has for booking decisions such as destination choice and must-have provisions.  

Covid-19 

From the global pandemic forcing the 2019/20 season to end abruptly in March, to a winter which never got underway last year - millions of people across the UK have had their holiday plans altered. For those who had been on a winter sports holiday in the past four years, over half (58%) had a trip cancelled due to the pandemic. From this, three quarters (75%) chose to postpone their holiday to the following season, with 45% of Club Med customers doing this from the 2020/21 season. 

Of those polled, 21% received a refund credit note and a further 23% received a full refund. Offering a refundable stay, should a country’s status change to ‘red’ is crucial for Brits booking a holiday with 57% saying it was the single most important factor when choosing their travel provider.  

It is evident to see how eager winter sports enthusiasts are to get back to the mountains, with almost half (46%) still wanting to go ahead with their ski holiday even if they had to quarantine on arrival back in the UK. Yet this year, this type of trip is also proving to be an incredibly attractive proposition for non-skiers, with 81% of first-time skiers choosing a winter sports holiday because their usual type of holiday isn't feasible due to Covid-19. This is further backed up by Club Med data, with an 100% year-on-year increase in new customers for the upcoming winter sports season, and given the open-air surroundings of a winter sports holiday, it is perhaps unsurprising that this is an attractive holiday proposition to many in the current climate. 

Estelle Giraudeau, Managing Director, UK & Northern Europe at Club Med comments: “One of the biggest developments for international travel in 2021 has been the introduction of the UK Government’s traffic light system, which caused chaos for the industry. The ongoing confusion caused by the unpredictable decisions around the traffic light system has not only hammered travel businesses, but also consumer confidence over the summer months and we can only hope this stop-start nature has come to a close with the recent introduction of the two-tier system. It is, however, perhaps no surprise that the survey revealed that almost two thirds (63%) cited the lack of transparency behind the government’s traffic light system was making them wait before booking a winter sports holiday.” 

Another fallout from Covid-19 has been the introduction of rigorous testing and the implications of this for international travel. More recently, high costs for testing coupled with various logistical implications has resulted in international holidays not being possible for many, and the research revealed that 63% of UK adults delayed booking a holiday as they had been put off by this added financial pressure. It is therefore much welcomed news to hear lateral flow tests will replace expensive PCR tests for double-jabbed British travellers. 

While Brits are still intending to get away wherever possible, there are several in-resort health and safety measures which are still important factors when they are considering their next holiday. Interestingly, while these factors remain incredibly important, all figures show a year-on-year decline – perhaps as Brits grow in confidence with the vast majority of UK adults now double vaccinated.  

Safety precautions that Brits want to see in resorts include: 

  • Regular cleaning (41%, down from 50% in 2020) 
  • Social distancing (41%, down from 60% in 2020) 
  • Accessible hand sanitiser (39%, down from 47% in 2020) 
  • Testing onsite (38%, down from 46% in 2020) 
  • Use of masks in public spaces (37%, down from 45% in 2020) 

 

Booking Behaviours 

With the last two winter sports seasons being disrupted by the global pandemic, the booking habits of travellers has shifted. As we look to head into the 2021/22 season, the appetite for people wanting to travel abroad is strong, but with the constantly changing travel parameters that Brits are having to navigate, people’s preferences on the way they travel, and how far in advance they book are ever changing.  

Brits have decided to hold out until the last minute to book a winter sports holiday - according to the research almost half are prepared to leave it a month in advance (46%), with one in five (20%) saying they will leave booking as late as just two weeks before the departure date. This is in stark contrast to 2019 when only 5% of people booked their winter sports holiday less than three months in advance. 

The global pandemic has led people to change their holiday preferences, with 62% of those questioned saying that this year will be their first ski or snowboarding holiday versus only 40% in 2020. Almost half of Brits (48%) are choosing to go on a winter sports holiday just to try something different and almost a quarter of Brits (24%) are people who usually go on a winter sun holiday but have changed their plans this year. One in five (22%) of those who are switching sun for snow said they would usually be trying a long haul break but are opting for a holiday closer to home this year.  

Almost half (49%) of those polled are prepared to spend more on a winter sports holiday this year than previous years, perhaps to make up for lost time and missed holidays. Data from within the Club Med business supports this, showing that the Average Order Value (AOV) for ski trips has increased by 22% compared with 2019. Following trends in recent years, we are also anticipating an increase in customers booking onto more experiences to make the most of their holidays, and are opting for excursions and activities such as dog sledding, spa treatments and nordic walking  to name a few.  

In light of Covid-19 the type of accommodation people are looking for has changed. Over a third (35%) of those polled have changed their choice of accommodation, with self-catering proving to be the most popular option (41%) followed by an all-inclusive resort (28%) and catered chalets (27%).  

Destinations 

With the introduction of the traffic light system earlier in the year, which saw a number of popular British holiday destinations constantly moving between the green, amber, and red lists, followed by the changing of travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Brits, holiday destinations have been a popular topic of discussion throughout 2021.  

Switzerland ranked as the top choice (37%) for British travellers, followed by France (33%) and Austria (24%) with these results increasing since the 2019/20 season, suggesting that people are opting more for traditionally sought after alpine destinations and those which were previously shaped by the traffic light system when it came to green versus amber lists. Currently, Club Med’s resorts in the French Alps including Val Thorens SensationsAlpe d’Huez and Les Arcs Panorama are all proving to be the bestsellers for the upcoming season, with February half term, new years week and the Easter holidays being the most popular weeks booked to date.  

Almost half (44%) are considering a new destination this year for their winter sports holiday in light of Covid-19, including destinations closer to home, with one in ten (16%) saying they would consider a Scottish winter break compared to last year, when just 7% said they would consider visiting Scotland to ski or snowboard. Winter sports holidays in Scotland are most popular for those aged 60 or over, perhaps in part due to the higher anxiety about foreign travel in older age groups more at risk from Covid-19.   

Aspen in the USA was the number one resort (18%) that Brits have or would like to book for their winter sports holiday, overtaking Les Arcs in the French Alps which was at the top of the table in 2020. Given there have only been changes to travel to the US within the past few weeks and these will not come into effect until much nearer to the season starting, the most popular resorts in the Alps, including Saint Moritz (16%), Les Deux Alpes (10%), and Alpe d’Huez (10%) are likely to be the strongest destinations in reality. Canada was the top long-haul destination for a winter sports holiday at 14% and given the lift in restrictions on travelling to North America, Club Med is expecting to see pent-up demand convert into trips to their brand new resort in Canada, Quebec Charlevoix, the brand’s first resort in North America, set to open just in time for the upcoming ski season on 4th December 2021. 

Estelle Giraudeau, Managing Director, UK & Northern Europe at Club Med comments: “The last two ski seasons have been plagued by disruption and we understand Brits are more eager than ever to hit the slopes. While short-haul destinations continue to be favourites, it’s promising to see that there is that appetite for destinations that are further afield, particularly with the opening of our first ever Canadian resort, Quebec Charlevoix where bookings continue to be strong for its first ever season with the resort at over 80% capacity for its opening week.” 

Perennial favourites such as St Moritz have increased in popularity this year, perhaps highlighting a desire for familiarity. Nearly one in six (16%) of Brits say they have either already booked or are considering booking at the Swiss destination this year. This compares to the 2019/20 season where just 8% of those surveyed were planning on a holiday to St Moritz. This rise in popularity is backed up by Club Med’s sales data that shows a 19% increase in bookings compared with 2019 for their resort, Saint-Moritz Roi Soleil. 

Sustainability  

Over the last decade, discussion around climate change has shifted from speculation to a pressing concern for the travel industry and holidaymakers alike. Climate change is ever present in the news and the recent IPCC report made front pages around the world, declaring a ‘code red for humanity’, which surely contributed to the 42% surveyed who said they were currently reconsidering the type of holidays they take in light of the recent news around climate change. 

The other dominant force of the past year has of course been Covid-19, which has provided an opportunity for people to step back and assess their travel, where they are going, how they are getting there and how often they will go. Some of the changes in attitude and behaviour due to Covid-19 are safety-related, but they could still have a big (if unintentional) impact on sustainable holidays. As stated in the previous chapter, 44% said they are considering new destinations due to Covid-19 - and of those, 43% said they were doing so in order to avoid flying. Repeated behaviours have a tendency to become habit-forming so if safety concerns around flights persist, we could see the shift to other modes of transport becoming a permanent trend with an associated positive impact on the environment - following in the footsteps of other European countries such as Sweden.  

It’s not just the environmental impact of transport which holidaymakers are scrutinizing. Over half (55%) of those surveyed said they look at the sustainability credentials of the resort before booking their ski holiday, this being the greatest concern for those aged between 16-29 years (64%) followed by 30-44 year-olds (57%). One in eight (13%) also cite that a resort’s eco-credentials was the most important factor when choosing where to stay.  

Estelle Giraudeau, Managing Director, UK & Northern Europe at Club Med comments: “We are very conscious of our impact on the environment and it is of paramount importance to us and our guests. We have now implemented the total removal of single-use plastics in all resort bars and restaurants, and we are working on removing all single-use plastics throughout resorts this year and this is just one part of our Happy To Care sustainability commitment. In the new resort of Quebec Charlevoix in Canada opening this coming season (2021/22), we have partnered with Solucycle, a food waste management company, to implement a sustainable system that turns waste into green energy or compost. These types of partnership and innovation are going to be vital in our efforts to provide the family holidays our guests know and love, with the smallest possible impact on the environment.” 

 

A summary of the 2021 Club Med report can be found online here.