A survey of 130 firms suggests Brexit will see the cost of ski holidays rise sharply with jobs at risk. Is it scaremongering or reality?


The research has been carried out for Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT), an organisation representing more than 200 outbound UK travel companies, many of them ski tour operators.

It concludes that 25,000 UK jobs are threatened, and that UK businesses and training opportunities for young people will be damaged.

Even before Brexit, the effects are being felt.

The companies surveyed said uncertainty over the future had led them to post 7% fewer British seasonal workers, such as ski chalet hosts and resort staff, overseas this coming season.

Some have even taken the decision to shut up shop.


Brexit is coming

There is no certainty about what it will mean or what will happen during the 21-month transition period, though free movement of labour will continue during the transition phase.

Some businesses in the ski sector, most of which are planning 12 to 18 months ahead, say they simply can’t wait to find out.

“After 14 years, I have made the painful decision to close two of our venues, Jack’s Bar and Evolution in Meribel as our business model is no longer viable under any forms of Brexit outlined to date,” says Charles Owen, Managing Direction of European Pubs Ltd.

“It’s impossible for me to wait until October to have the slightest idea of how I might be able to run these businesses and then have only five months to change or sell them.”

Jack's Bar, Meribel

Closed for business

The two venues at the resort popular with Brits in Les3Vallees in France have hosted award-winning musicians including Newton Falkner & Natalie Imbruglia and comedians Al Murray & Marcus Brigstocke.

They have employed and trained hundreds of British staff.

“In doing so we have contributed to the UK tax revenues,” Charles Owen says.

“All of that has come to an end as a direct result of Brexit. I am still waiting to see any up-side to this.”

SBIT survey findings

Survey stats

The SBIT survey is the latest in long line of warnings about the problems ahead for the ski industry that we’ve followed closely at PlanetSKI:

However it is not just Brexit that is causing the worries.

Here at PlanetSKI we believe the blame for an uncertain future can not be blamed purely on Brexit.

Many of the UK tour operators are now complying strictly with local employment laws, especially in France, and this has pushed up costs.

They are now being inspected to ensure staff are working the correct hours and other local rules are followed.

Our editor, James Cove, has many contacts within the UK snowsports industry and keeps a keen eye on these things.

“I know of many ski companies that are cutting back on holidays they offer, reducing staffing levels and putting up prices. They don’t want to do it but are being forced to by economic necessity to keep their businesses running”.

“Some have decided to close and others are thinking about axing their traditional catered chalet offerings next winter.  Some see the future as bleak and there are some very real worries as their business model is changing before their eyes with little they can do about it,” said James.

“What is less clear is whether this is a direct result of Brexit worries or other considerations.”

“My guess is that it is a combination of both and the worries within this report are not just due to Brexit. The reality is that the future will see less holidays on offer, fewer jobs and higher prices in the current business model,” he added.

“The UK snowsports industry is having its biggest shake up that I can recall – something will emerge but exactly what it is remains to be seen. The only certain thing is the old model is past its sell by date and the traditional mass market ski chalet holiday appears to be on the way out as things stand.”

The survey says the UK ski market contribution to the British economy is £3 billion which will be put in jeopardy.

It highlights fears that British holiday companies will no longer be able to employ their UK staff on the continent on UK terms – for instance paying tax and National Insurance in the UK for the NHS – and will instead have to pay into much more expensive continental state social insurance schemes.

It warns that these changes could mean:

  • An increase in costs of 58% for ski and other travel companies
  • Fewer staff from Britain being employed in the EU, reducing opportunities, especially for the young, and negatively impacting holiday experiences for millions of British tourists
  • The closure or merger of smaller family-owned holiday businesses
Ski chalet host

Too expensive to employ? – photo SBIT

The companies were surveyed by the independent research consultants LHM Conseil and have a combined turnover in excess of £470 million.

“Many independent UK holiday companies stay cost efficient and deliver great prices and service to holidaymakers by employing UK staff to work in the EU during peak times,” says Katie Waddington of Zenith Holidays.

“Our membership of the EU means no visas or bureaucracy and staff taxes and National Insurance contributions stay in the UK.

“The prospect of losing this has already started to push prices up as companies that can are trying to prepare for the worst. For others it will mean the end.”

SBIT says for many companies, cost increases of this scale will not be feasible and they are not set up to be able to employ EU nationals.

Ski seasonaires

Ski seasonaires – photo SBIT

There are an estimated 25,000 UK nationals working as seasonaires, most of them aged 18 to 24.

The study says their jobs are at risk with “any of the Brexit scenarios currently in prospect”.

The majority of them are trained by the companies that post them abroad and some end up working back in the UK.

“More than 75% of the team in the London office have worked overseas and they bring their knowledge and experience back into the company,” said Sarah Searson, Managing Director of Skiworld, the largest independent ski specialist.

‘Experience in customer service, logistics and operations are key skills in a service driven economy and it will be a loss for UK PLC, let alone for the holiday industry, if we cannot continue to seamlessly second our UK staff to Europe.’

Skiworld seasonal workers

Skiworld seasonal workers


The report also points to a loss of both competitiveness and possibly market share to European based multi nationals that has occurred already.

Two thirds of those in the survey have shortened their accommodation leases, reduced their programmes and introduced break clauses around Brexit into their contracts.

SBIT is calling on the UK government to:

Continue freedom of movement for seasonal workers after Brexit in March 2019

        • Set up a longer-term fast-track work permit/visa process to allow UK citizens to work in the EU on a temporary basis for seasonal work post Brexit
        • Keep the ability of workers posted abroad temporarily to remain in the UK social security system
        • Push for the protection of holidaymakers’ rights, such as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), maintain visa-free travel in Europe for UK citizens and protect the aviation industry.

There has been some reaction on social media to the report and our coverage of it.

Some interesting, informed and intelligent…others perhaps somewhat less so.

And then, of course, the downright rude and we have edited those comments.

Anyway here at PlanetSKI we leave you to read the comments make your own mind up on their validity or not.

Nick Cansdale: I think it’s got more to do with having to conform to French employment laws than a what if.‬‬

Kevin Owen: #projectfear‬‬‬

Dick Congdon: ‪ It’s a pity they are shutting up shop. How can this be scaremongering?!‬‬‬

Jonathon Crawford: ‪ Go to Canada – SIMPLES‬‬‬

Dave Haines: ‪ Yay Brexit! Sterling continues to get a pounding today, tomorrow and until God knows when! Next year’s holiday is going to be pricey just because the pound is so weak. Sad times all round really!‬‬‬

Sian Baumann: Why is this scaremongering? It’s a factual article with balanced reporting citing problems companies are facing and the FACT businesses have closed down.‬‬‬

Nicolas Hambis:  ‪ I’ve looked at prices for 2019 seems much more than this year‬‬‬

Richard Moss:‪ This in my eyes is not Brexit based. It’s been spun that way as UK holiday companies used British staff and grossly underpaid them against the indiginouse work force. This and this alone has, and will impact UK holiday prices, which will put them inline with the real cost of a ski holiday. This was a loop hole now closing, and I agree it should!… it just happens to fall inline with Brexit. (Expat living in the alps, should anyone question my motivations on this comment)

Phil Riches: More scaremongering bull shit !!

Katherine Anne: ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‪ …lift prices are skyrocketing as independent resorts are being bought out by large corporations. It’s a world wide thing.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Chris Costigan: ‪ Well we will just book our ski trips abroad by flying to cheapest European city then book from there‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Tim Dundee: ‪ ‬‬‪ Arseholes‬‬‬

Ron Evans: Lot of factors impacting on commercial operators from weak £ to tightening up on local employment regulations stopping slave labour seasonaire “contracts”. UK want control of their borders & Europe tightening up to give equal opportunities to locals on the job front. About time they did something about all the illegal British cars as well.‬‬‬‬‬

Ron Evans:‪ Not scaremongering. We only rent out a 1 bed apartment but held Gbp prices so far. Means we’re 15% down but costs continue to rise. Something for commercial operators has to change and the only change they can make is price.‬‬‬