The downward trend of the past four years continued with a slight dip of 1.8% in the overall market in 2011/12 – but with that equating to just 16,000 skiers in a total figure of nearly 900,000, the signs are there that the decline is ‘bottoming out’ according to Cross.
More significant, however, was the greater dip in the schools and students market, with a 4% decline in the numbers going on ski holidays – 6% among schools – a trend which leaves Cross worrying where the skiers of the future will come from, as around 34% of skiers polled by YouGov for TUI Travel say that their first taste of it came at school.
‘The health of this market is vital for the ski industry overall. Anything we can do as an industry to nurture this is important,’ he said.
‘What's happened over the past few years of decline from the high point of 1.2million ski holidaymakers in 2007/08 is that we have now got the core market of skiers and less of the new entrants. As the economy has slowed it's been more difficult to get the pipeline of new skiers. The beginners or second-timers are less in evidence than four years ago.’
‘Tour operators will be working hard to attract the next generation. We need to demonstrate the benefits of skiing – the health and social aspects – and really engage with customers more to raise skiing in people’s consciousness.
‘There are a lot of mental barriers to new entrants, so many nuts and bolts questions – from childcare issues, to kit queries to something as basic as “where do I go to the loo on the mountain”. If people can’t find easy answers they will decide it’s not worth the hassle and we don’t always make it easy for them.
Cross cites Crystal’s own ‘Get Satisfaction’ customer response scheme as one way of smoothing out the process. Would-be skiers can email in their questions and get speedy answers. ‘As tour operators our role is to be the expert hub where people can get answers to all their questions.’
Crystal is also hoping to stimulate demand among first-timers for the 2012/13 season with its ‘Learn to Ski Free’ packages in 23 resorts across eight countries. It’s Ski Plus brand will offer complete packages from getting to resort to getting onto the slopes.
It is also increasingly working with UK ski centres to tempt would-be holidaymakers to take the plunge.
Overall, Cross attributes the 2011/12 decline to continued uncertainty in the economy, allied to a relatively poor early snowfall in Europe, ‘although when the snow came it was fantastic and there was a surge in bookings that remained steady throughout the rest of the season’.
Among tour operators, TUI Ski remains the market leader with a 41% share. Crystal itself increased its share slightly to 33% - up by 8,000 skiers to 169,000.
WHERE WE’RE GOING
France remains the top destination among UK ski holidaymakers with 34.6% of the 2011/12 market (up from 32.5%). Austria is second with 27.9% (up from 26.7%), then come Italy with 15.4% (up from 14.1%) and Andorra (up 0.1% to 6.5%). Switzerland saw a drop from 6% to 4.9%, reflecting the strength of Swiss Franc, while there was a slight drop in skiers travelling to the US and Canada (4.5% from 4.6%). Bulgaria was down to 2.7% from 4.0% - a hangover from especially poor snow conditions in the 2010/11 season.