They say a week is a long time in politics. For the travel industry, just 24-hours is enough to flip the entire industry on its head, and then back again.
So what has happened? Well firstly, for months the UK travel industry has been waiting for the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to announce a reduction in the number of days required for self-quarantine when returning from an overseas trips (the current ‘safe-travel-corridor list’, where no quarantine is required, includes only a couple of ski nations).
The change means skiers and snowboarders returning from their holidays could abandon the 14-day obligatory quarantine, and instead enlist in a “Test and Release” system. Those paying for a private test after just five days isolation and getting a negative test result for covid were good to go.
This is a game-changer for British skiers and boarders because it meant that during the two-week offical school holiday periods, skiers with families could hit the slopes for the first week – say for Christmas – then stay home for the second week – the new year week, and simply return to work and school on the normal allocated days and not have to take any extra quarantine time off work or school. Win win.
The 5-day Test and Release system is due to come into effect on the 15th of December. The news, naturally, brought rapture to the travel press, though few also took into account the fact that this news was for England only at this stage. No parallel announcement from the other union member states was made at the time. Nevertheless, it was a welcome statement, and with it came an unexpected bonus too: Shapps also announced the trial of an even new system that might mean a further reduction of quarantine – possibly down to zero extra days off work for returning travellers.
Ski companies welcomed the news. “Of course we all want to see British skiers out here this winter,” said Arnaud Coppel, head of Intersport Rent in France. “And we know that the quarantine on the way back into the UK is a real problem for our British friends. We welcome the UK government’s change in the number of quarantine days, and we can assure our customers that our shops are ready for this unusual winter, with a virtual queueing system, obligatory alcohol gel and masks and a no-questions-asked refund policy.”
Intersport had even surveyed their customers in the run up to the announcement, and found that although 80% still expected to be hitting the slopes this winter, only 31% of those questioned had actually made a reservation of any kind. The survey, released under the title ” Intersport Survey Confirms Reduced Quarantine Is the Key to Unlocking Winter 2020/21” contained more nuggets: although nearly half (46%) said that they were not prepared to quarantine at all, the reduction to 5 days would see 34% of those surveyed think that was fair enough, and it would allow them to book their yearly ski trip.
“To our friends in Great Britain we say this,” said Arnaud again, “whenever you can get here – no matter how late in the season – we’re ready!”
Ski Sunday’s Ed Leigh – who hosts his awesome Ed Leigh’s Money Saving Snow Tips on Intersport’s platform, is also enthusiastic about there being a possible late influx of skiers and snowboarders in April.
“I’ve been pushing Easter as the best time to go skiing regardless of covid,” says Ed. “But with this change in quarantine regs, there’s a perfect week lining up. Take the kids out of school for Thursday the 1st of April, and get everyone to the alps. As soon as you arrive, Friday the 2nd and Monday the 5th are bank holidays, so if you stay all the way through until the following Sunday, you’re looking at ten full days on the mountain with only five days as declared holiday. Get back to the UK late on Sunday the 11th, and by Thursday the 15th you’ll have completed your quarantine. In total that’s ten days on the hill, and only nine days off work”
So everything was looking great through Tuesday daytime. Intersport reported their visitor stats on their site were up, the sentiment in the industry was high, and Twitter and Facebook were full of positive comments concerning the resuscitation of the ski season.
Then French president Macron stood up at 8pm GMT and said that it was “Impossible d’envisager une ouverture pour les fêtes.” – there was no way any ski area in France was going to open for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Cue: a wave of negativity washing over the ski industry. Now true, Macron is not ‘officially announcing’ this news. And the French government has repeatedly said that it would like a further week before making a definitive statement on the state of the opening of ski areas, but it would be a brave gambler to bet on anyone getting any turns in wearing a Santa suit in 2020, that’s for sure.
Intersport say they expect Austria and Italy to follow the same route. Switzerland, itself struggling to keep its hospital beds from reaching peak occupancy to the pandemic, but the only major Alpine nation where ski areas are currently open, would be a brave, brave country to undercut everyone and open for the first major holiday period of the winter. An announcement is expected from the country’s leader tonight (25th November).
In these uncertain times, who knows what will happen?
Whatever happens Intersport say they have committed to doing everything they can to have their shops open, and complying to all health protocols (sanitising gel available to all, masks obligatory in all shops and distributed for free to customers, sanitising and servicing all ski or snowboarding equipment). The company also has a no-quibble cancellation policy, and an amazing customer service team.
The Intersport survey is still online here and all participants win an Intersport discount code.