Navigating the new normal, building trust with the 98%

Of all the graphs presented at MOTEX last week, this one was possibly the most revealing.

The blue sliver is those respondents from the survey conducted at the end of April 2020 who confirmed they have booked a ski holiday for 2020/21. Just 2%. Whilst we don’t have comparative data for this exact point in the year, we would expect that overall figure to be above 20% at this time of year.

Whilst some holiday companies are reporting decent occupancy figures for next winter, much of this is due to holidays being moved from end of this season to next. This survey suggests that in fact the vast majority of skiers haven’t yet booked for next winter.

There’s a well known saying attributed to Bill Gates about the impact of technology, ‘we overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term’. Could the opposite be true of Covid-19? Certainly at first we underestimated the short term impact, which led to French resorts closing down hours after thousands of skiers arrived for their holidays in March this year. Now much is being written about the long term changes to our world Covid-19 will bring, though there is little in the way of evidence or experience from past global events to suggest that will be the case, only time will tell.

Short term means different things to different people, but if we take it to mean the next 12 months, what is the impact on our industry, and are we continuing to underestimate it? Certainly a quick glance across the homepages of many ski holiday providers would suggest it’s very much business as usual. There are some low deposit deals and mention of flexibility but in the main the product being promised for winter 2020/21 is very much the same ski holiday as everyone has enjoyed in recent years.

And yet….as countries begin to emerge from lockdown to varying degrees it is clear that there are some very significant barriers that remain to any kind of normality for the ski travel industry. Health passports, airport temperature checks, social distancing on flights, quarantine periods on arrival, land transport limitations (with social distancing again) are all being discussed, and that’s before arrival in resort, where again the term ‘social distancing’ could mean a myriad of different restrictions and impacts on lift queues, lift capacity and even numbers of skiers on a mountain, not to mention the impact on mountain restaurants, bars and social activities.

Much has been made of the wide open spaces offered by the mountains being very appealing for those looking (or having) to socially distance, but there are so many choke points that currently exist during a ski holiday (boot rooms, ski school meet ups, lift queues, gondola’s and chairlifts, lift queues again) that the idea of being able to social distance with ease when undertaking a ski holiday is surely a very complex problem to solve?

Consumers know this, they know as it becoming increasingly clear that our ‘new normal’ may well extend for 12 months or more that even simple activities will require a degree of planning and organisation that simply wasn’t required before. To transport tens of thousands of people to a mountain resort and move them safely up and around the mountain whilst providing lessons and rest facilities and everything else that goes with a ski holiday will be a massively complex organisational challenge.

But, we must solve that puzzle, and solve it to the satisfaction of skiers, the vast majority of whom will not book until we do.

Demand is no longer the most important emotion we must build amongst our customers. We must build trust, and we can only do that by working together as an industry to solve this most complex of puzzles.

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