ESF tries to ban British ski hosts
The French national ski school is trying to stop British tour operators from skiing with their clients on organised tours of the local slopes. One operator faces a court case and last week meetings took place in London to try to resolve the issue. There have been further developments on Monday. All the major British tour operators are against the ESF.
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Many British ski companies offer a ski escorting service where a trained ski host takes small groups of clients round the slopes on familiarisation tours. They do not teach, do not go off piste or undertake difficult runs. The service is free to guests.
The ESF is now trying to ban it claiming it breaks national safety rules and the ski hosts are not suitably qualified under French law.
The organisation is being accused of protectionism and told it will drive British holidaymakers to other countries where the ski hosting is allowed.
France is the most popular destination for British skiers and has around 35% of the market.
In order to lead groups of skiers and snowboarders round the slopes in France the person needs to be a fully qualified ski instructor. This takes many years to achieve. The ski hosts undertake a training course but are not qualified to the same level as instructors and have other roles such as driving, airport transfers and chalet duties.
Relations between all the major British tour operators and the Ecole du Ski Francais are currently frosty to say the least.
PlanetSKI also understands there is also some friction between the ESF and the tourist offices from some French ski resorts and other tourist organisations.
The British companies, who normally compete with each other for business, have now joined together to fight off the attempts by the ESF to stop British operators from offering their clients guided trips round the slopes. They have all rallied round the single company involved, Le Ski.
Its co-owner Nick Morgan is being prosecuted by the French state and the ESF. A date for the case is set for early next year in Albertville.
At the moment Mr Morgan is unwilling to comment at all on the case.
Le Ski operates in Courchevel, La Tania and Val d'Isere. It is one of the most respected independent tour operators and has been running for 30 years. It is based in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.
At last week's meeting in London, that took place on Thursday, the ESF said it was simply following French law. Arguments were put that the hosts do not guide or instruct they simply enhance the holiday experience of their clients and if anything the ski hosts encourage people to go on to take lessons with the ESF.
One of the people at the meeting has told PlanetSKI that it was heated at times as the British put their view across but the ESF seemed intransigent. "We got a gallic shrug of the shoulders on more than one occasion," we have been told. "At one point the leader of the ESF delegation was texting on his phone and did not appear even to be listening to our point of view."
At the meeting was Jean-Marc Simon, the administrative director of the ESF in Grenoble, Simon Atkinson the ESF Director from La Rossiere, Eric Breche an ESF Board Director, and Sebastien Scott the technical director of the ESF in Aime La Plagne.
The French simply say that the hosts are not correctly qualified to take clients round the slopes and it is solely a matter of safety. The ESF denies all allegations of protectionism and trying to get more work for their own instructors.
Here at PlanetSKI we contacted the ESF for its response and received a blunt no comment. It said a statement may be issued later in the week.
Tour operators represented at the London meeting were Inghams, Esprit Ski, Ski Total, Crystal, Zenith, Thomson, First Choice, Neilson, Ski Olympic, Erna Lowe, Skiworld, the Ski Club of Great Britain and others.
It was a remarkable show of solidarity for the single company, Le Ski, and shows the strength of feeling.
Ironically this week 200 ESF instructors are coming to London for a media event to promote the ESF. On Thursday they will be in Parliament Square taking part in a flashmob in their distinctive red uniforms.
"It is somewhat ironic that on the one hand the ESF is trying to court British skiers with publicity stunts while on the other it is taking one of our number to court and trying to limit the enjoyment of British skiers on their annual skiing holiday," one observer, not involved in the negotiations, said to us at PlanetSKI.
On Monday morning there was another development.
The French National Tourist office in London, Atout France, was helping to promote the Flashmob event and has sent out press releases and was running a promotional campaign on Twitter. It now appears to have distanced itself from the event.
It has just posted the following tweet.
"For all enquiries concerning #esfflasmob , please contact France Montagnes, organisers of the event http://www.en-francemontagnes.com Thanks!"
PlanetSKI understands there are some concerns about the event.
The British operators have asked the ESF to drop out of the court case and have asked for a decision soon.
There is some talk of British operators boycotting the French resorts and this would cause severe harm to local economies if it actually happened. In Val d'Isere for example 38% of visitors are British.
However sources close to the discussions have told us that the ESF certainly appears intractable and it seems battlelines are being drawn up.
The British Association of Snowpsorts Instructors, BASI, has been quoted in the press as supporting the ESF even though the organisation carries out some training of the ski hosts. It has since clarified is position.
"The practice of 'ski guiding' is common place in many countries worldwide. 'Ski guiding' services and ski schools co-exist in harmony in many resorts throughout the world with no conflict of interest, indeed many "ski guides" provide a good source of referral business to the resort ski schools," BASI said in a statement released to PlanetSKI.
"The outcome of this case is important for the concept of 'ski guides'. British Tour operators will need to find a strategy to persuade the French authorities that they are of a like mind in regard to client safety and that 'ski guiding' services do not adversely affect the earning potential of the local instructors but to the contrary promote the uptake of lessons with qualified instructors, no matter what their nationality."
Here on PlanetSKI we will let you know how it all develops.
If you ski in France with a tour operator it could have an impact on your holiday. The stakes are high.
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