Wednesday, 27 February 2008

In Defence of Tour Operators

Our busy fortnight has just finished here in Arinsal, and we are back to normal - the slopes are quieter and the bars are busier. The walk home has consequently become longer over the last couple of days (see the previous post on the hazards of apres ski).

The busy fortnight here is due of course to the timing of the school holidays in England and Ireland. Any families going skiing are forced to come in one fortnight in February (unless they go early at Christmas or wait until Easter). Since a lot of families go skiing, there is a huge demand those two weeks and most ski resorts in Europe will be absolutely packed. There is a similar influx of Spanish visitors here during the Spanish holiday periods.

Because of the demand over those two weeks, the prices increase massively. I have often heard people complain that the tour operators are being greedy and cashing in on families who have no other choice if they want to ski. I am not normally the biggest fan of big tour operators, and have often suggested to people that they find their own flights and accomodation on the Internet instead. However, I do think that in this instance the tour companies are not really to blame. The companies have to employ staff in resort for the entire season, and in order to keep prices competitive they have to block book a lot of accomodation for the length of the season. Hoteliers will not offer cheap prices for the busy weeks if they know they will be empty in other weeks. Everybody working, or running businesses in the resort has to make a living for the whole winter, and in such a competitive industry margins tend to be tight. This means that there are many weeks where the tour company makes little or no profit, and many cheap deals are sold at a loss, rather than have a paid for room left empty. For the company to drop the peak week price they would have to hike up the prices for other weeks in order to make any profit over the season. This would reduce the number of people coming in the quiet weeks, without any gain in numbers in the busy weeks (since the resort is already full). Reduced numbers in the quiet weeks would reduce the profits until the company can no longer maintain the resort as a destination for the winter. Unfortunately for people with children, the industry has to run on a supply and demand basis. Until the UK decides to stagger the holidays more, those weeks will always be expensive.

However, there are options. You may be able to take the children out of school for a week, particularly if they are younger and the school is understanding. I know there are areas where you get fined for this though. Personally I think a week in a foreign country, with exposure to other languages, lots of exercise and a dash of adventure thrown in can only be a good thing. It is a pity more schools do not encourage it. Alternatively, nearly all resorts will still be open when the Easter holidays come around - prices will be cheaper, people scarcer and the weather warmer. The snow will usually be consistent - icy first thing, then pleasant for a few hours, then slushy later on. In recent years the best snow has tended to come at the end of the season, and even if it doesn't the snow that fell earlier in the season will still be there.

Myself, I would like to see all the holidays swapped around, so that the six week break is in the winter. I can't see that happening though, somehow.

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