There has been a 1.8% fall in the number of British people skiing but it was smaller than some expected and there are grounds for optimism. Figures are released in the Crystal Ski Industry Report. See this updated PlanetSKI story with further reaction and analysis.
The number of people taking a ski holiday last winter fell by 16,200 to 894,700. That's a fall of 1.8% and is far short of the peak of 2007/08 when 1.22m skiers and snowboarders took a holiday.
France is still the most popular ski destination and is the choice of 34.6% of people though the gap is closing with Austria that now takes 27.9% of the UK market.
Up from 26.7% in 2010/11.
France those has stopped the drift away and has increased it percentage share of the market.
Perhaps most worrying is a drop of 4.1% in the schools and student market as the young people of today are the long-term skiers of the future.
The package holiday continues to grow with the number of people going independently dropping slightly.
It is however always difficult to judge the number of people who make their own arrangements.
The figures have just been published in the annual Crystal Ski Industry Report 2012.
It is the most accurate publicly available information. The report is sometimes criticised as it comes from a leading tour operator and some say it has an interest in putting a rosy gloss on the figures.
However here at PlanetSKI we reckon it is the best available set of statistics.
France holds up
Crystal is the largest UK ski tour operator and took 169,000 passengers last winter. The next biggest is Inghams with 100,000.
Crystal is owned by TUI that also has Thomson and First Choice. Inghams is run by Hotelplan that has Ski Espirit and Ski Total in its stable.
Crystal Ski strengthened its market leadership last season by 1% to 33% partly due to its value-for-money Ski Plus packages. Thomson Ski saw a decrease of about 1,000 skiers. First Choice saw a fall in its customers from 10,000 to 7,000 as a result of strategic repositioning.
However, TUI Ski remains the market leader with a 41% share, up from 40% last year.
Hotelplan's 3.7% reduction is mainly due to continued consolidation following the merger of Inghams with Ski Esprit and Ski Total.
Neilson, owned by Thomas Cook, remains in third place with a 6% decline in skiers.
Cutting up the pie
"The ski market has been resilient despite challenging market conditions. Tour operators regained a marginal share of the overall market due to their ability to produce exceptionally good value ski holiday packages," said the Managing Director of Crystal, Simon Cross.
He predicts a growing increase in the internet both for booking holidays and keeping informed and up to date on what is on offer.
It is a trend here at PlanetSKI we have noted as our traffic levels continue to rise and people turn to internet platforms more and more.
"In 2011, an increasing number of skiers turned to online channels to research and book their holiday. We expect this trend to continue into the next season and beyond," he added.
Switzerland saw the biggest fall of any country and now has 4.9% of British skiers - it was down from 6% of the market in 2010/11. This is put down to the poor exchange rate that has pushed prices up.
It has been a tough time for Switzerland though the country is fighting back and confident of its product.
'If you want a £300 holiday then we are perhaps not the best place to come but we do offer good value and the Swiss experience is unique in the resorts like Zermatt, Verbier, Davos-Klosters and St Moritz," said Marcelline Kuonen from Switzerland Tourism to PlanetSKI after reading the findings of the Crystal Ski Industry report.
"We also have a number of less well known resorts that people should experience too."
PlanetSKI is based in the Swiss Alps for much of the winter and although we recognise it can be expensive we reckon it has some of the best skiing in the mountains.
France's share of the UK market has gone up after falls over the past three years.There were real concerns about the drop and the resorts responded.
"France keeps attracting British skiers by constantly improving its products and offering good value for money. Moreover, France increased its share of the ski market against Switzerland which suffers from a strong Swiss Francs, but also against eastern Europe thanks to very competitive packages," said the Marketing Director of Val Thorens, Eric Bonnel.
Italy's share increased from 14.1% to 15.4% and Andorra rose marginally to 6.5%. This is the principality's third year of growth, despite poor snow early in the season. Skiers are being lured back by the improving quality of hotels, combined with less expensive prices.
North America's 4.5% share has dropped slightly. Bulgaria also saw a fall to 2.7% as did the smaller countries' sector that was down to 4.6%.
The fall in Bulgaria is especially interesting as it shows the decline in the budget end of the market. Inghams has pulled out of Bulgaria for next winter.
Although the Crystal Ski Industry report does not specifically go into how each type of holiday sold, we have detected at the PlanetSKI that the top end market has held up well.
It seems the bankers have still been getting their bonuses and are prepared to spend them on a ski holiday.
"Interesting that Crystal hinted towards revival in 'premium' market - and that's certainly where we've seen the growth," said the managing director of Ski Solutions, Craig Burton.
The company has told us that it also saw a significant rise in short breaks last winter. It is expanding its capacity next winter. Short breaks are for the time poor and cash rich as a four day break can sometimes be not much less than a week long holiday.
The saviour of last winter in Europe, in difficult economic times, were the heavy snowfalls in December and January that set many resorts up for the rest of the winter.
Huge snow falls
It was not the same in the USA though with poor snow and the overall market saw a drop of 15% though international visitors remained reasonable stable.
Not so good in the US
The figures are broadly in line with expectations - we previewed the report earlier this week and what we think happened last winter in this story on PlanetSKI.
For some observors the small fall is not as bad as expected and there are signs that the market may be stabilising after a reducation of over 30% in the past four years.
There is though some concern in the fall in students and young people skiing and snowboarding.
There are increasing pressures on student finances and yet developing their interest in skiing and snowboarding is fundamental to the future of the industry.
A recent survey revealed that 33% of people had their first experience of snowsports on a school trip. These trips have fallen with increasing pressures on family budgets.
We reckon some optimism is finally returning - though much depends on the overall economic position.
Reasons to be cheerful
For an interview with the Managing Director of Crystal, Simon Cross, see the video below.
He was speaking to the PlanetSKI content editor, James Cove, shortly after publication of the report.
A few people, mostly those who work in the industry, have asked to be able to comment on the story. You can do so over on our Facebook page.
Here is one interesting comment from Charlotte Swift.
"Interesting, but it only deals with skier holidays, and doesn't reflect in any way on the average spend in resort or anything like that. Our pubs and restaurants are experiencing a fairly substantial drop, and the mountain restaurants are suffering from people picnicing or going down to resort for lunch etc. The knock on effect of people scrimping to actually go skiing and then having nothing left to spend, is considerable."
If you wish to receive a copy of the Crystal Ski Industry report then please email us at email@example.com.
Note from Crystal:
The Ski Industry Report 2012 includes all information available on the winter sports industry into one unified report. The sources include tour operators' own statistics, Snowsport GB data, CAA published statistics, tourist office figures and travel agency feedback.