It's Crisis Point For Our Ski Industry's Future


Will we ski this season? Will UK seasonaires be able to work in Europe, gaining invaluable life skills at the University of the Mountains? Will skiing become so expensive it will go back to being the sport of kings - and the rich? With the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit, the future is a bit of a white out for the ski industry. Here's the outlook from SBIT, Seasonal Businesses in Travel with over 200 members from British travel and service industries...

Interview with Diane Palumbo, Sales & Marketing Director, Skiworld, and Spokesperson, SBIT

Can you outline the issues for the UK ski travel industry operating in Europe from 1st January because of Brexit (and COVID-19)?

How long have you got!

In essence the issues are around the employment of UK staff in the EU and now infection rates across Europe and the resulting actions of each respective government – crucially the UK FCDO advice and (separately) quarantine requirements.

There are thousands of UK citizens who head to Europe to work a ski season – many do this regularly. They underpin the operations of most travel companies, be they hosts, cleaners, drivers or reps. They provide a workforce that is service driven, flexible, hardworking and with mother-tongue English.

Our French partners recognise how important this workforce is for resorts that are so acutely seasonal and know they themselves (until now perhaps) have suffered from a shortage of precisely this kind of workforce.

We knew the Posted Workers Directive which enabled tens of thousands of us over the years to work in the EU and continue to pay uninterrupted our (lower) taxes and (lower) social charges in the UK would be over the second we left the EU.

We also knew that the automatic right to do just that, work a winter or a summer in Europe, would also disappear.

As a result of some positive support from MPs for the Savoie and Haute Savoie, local tourist organisations and lift pass companies - who are all cognisant of the contribution UK tour operators and skiers make to their local economies - we had lobbied hard and secured a way forward for this season.

However, beyond this 2020-21 winter, any UK citizen wanting to do a season in France (for example) will need to work for a French company and be on a French payroll. So it’s the French government who will receive the (higher) social charges and taxes.

UK citizens will also need a work visa (obtained by the employer who will have to advertise the role in France and prove that a French person cannot do the job) and then separately a long stay visa. Average time to obtain these? At least thee months and, of course, they are ‘applications’ which can be turned down.

This all equals time, uncertainty and money. Opportunities to do seasons will be the preserve of those individuals and companies who can afford to go through all this. And of course an increase in cost base, however hard you try to contain it, will sooner or later feed through to consumers, volumes may decrease and economies of scale will not be what they were = even more pressure on prices.

COVID-19 has now closed all bars and restaurants in France until 20th January. We also heard this week that lifts are closed – until when we do not know. All in response to infection rates in France and in the Alpine regions.

As a consequence, the FCDO is still advising against all but essential travel. So are there any insurance policies for staff and skiers that will cover you when you go against this advice and travel? Or if the area you live in is put in lockdown?

What actions are SBIT taking now to change the outcome?

We have redoubled our efforts to lobby the British government and all our European partners to establish a Youth Mobility Scheme for young people to be able to continue to benefit from seasonal work.

Our petition has taken off and we have over 1000 heartfelt stories of how ski seasons changed people lives and careers. Please sign and share!

What contingency plans do UK ski operators have (if any)?

We have thousands of seasonal workers on standby, hoping like us to be able to catch what might be left of this season….

As for 2021-22, if we fail to convince the EU and UK governments to agree a Youth Mobility Scheme, then ski operators are likely to have to reduce the size of the parts of their programmes that are dependent in UK staff and employ those with EU passports instead.

It will represent a loss of training opportunities, life/professional experiences and importantly jobs for UK citizens. This will impact the group already arguably worse affected by the economic fallout from the pandemic - those aged 18 – 34 who make up the backbone of our overseas workforces.

Worst case scenario, how might the staffing issues for UK travel operators impact on European ski resorts - and the future for ski holidays?

Our partners in Europe, particularly in France, recognise the economic contribution made not just by what the ski tour operators bring, but their teams in resort too.

They are aware that unless something is resolved, those thousands of seasonaires, who remain avid skiers for the rest of their lives will have an impact on their visitor numbers for years to come.

But in the absence of a Brexit deal, or if a deal is agreed without a Youth Mobility Scheme, it’s pretty certain that ski holidays are likely to be more expensive for British holidaymakers.

Best case scenario?

With a workable scheme in place, generations of young people will benefit from all that the mountains and learning skills in the holiday industry has to offer. More will come to love skiing and continue travelling and so the industry will have a better chance of recovering post COVID-19.

Very many customers who were refunded all their holiday money when the pandemic started, and now those who are being refunded as their tour operator has failed (and sadly there have already been a few) have recognised the value of booking their arrangements through an ABTA or ATOL protected company.

This adds a priceless element of financial security, the value of which is now being appreciated. That will help the industry.

Any other comments?

I’m desperate to ski this season!