Crystal Dominate UK Ski Market According to…. Crystal.

So the 2013 Ski Industry Report has been released by Crystal this morning. In a surprise development, they are yet again reporting that they are the biggest and best ski tour operator in the UK.

To be fair, they actually are the biggest by a country mile, especially when you consider that Thomson also fall under the TUI umbrella. In total they’ve got over half of the tour operator market in the UK, with only Hotelplan (of Inghams, Total and Esprit fame) even close. What they don’t mention is that the other TUI ski brand, First Choice, ceased to exist entirely last season. All existing First Choice bookings became Crystal bookings and all visitors to First Choice’s ski website were being sold Crystal products. Put simply, TUI didn’t really increase its market share, it simply shifted a few thousand passenger number from one brand to another.

There are several pages trumpeting their in-resort services, social media domination and other marvelous services that look an awful lot like what all medium-large tour operators offer.

It’s pleasing to see that the independent travel sector, which is a byword for independent chalets, has managed to increase their numbers by the same 1% as the tour operator sector. These are the guys and girls who stick their necks on the line and scratch a living running just one or a handful of chalets independently simply for the love of the mountains. They generally provide the best in resort service by a mile as their livelihood depends on ensuring every single guest leaving happy and spreading the word. This is in sharp contrast to the lottery of booking with a big Tour Op like Crystal. You’ve got just as much chance of being “looked after” by a hungover 19-year old boy who can’t cook or clean and only really cares about maximizing his ski and boozing time.

Their marketing department are so good they even got their logo into this post...

Their marketing department are so good they even got their logo into this post…

The worrying thing in the report that most commentators have yet to pick up on is the continued decline of the school and student market, down another 2% this year. Not a massive deal you might think, a few less rich kids being subbed by Mummy and Daddy for their week in the mountains last season. However these are the holidaymakers of the future and if they miss out on their first taste of the sport and reach the world of employment having never given it a go, they’re much less likely to make their first foray into skiing, put off by the high cost among other factors. We need to focus on getting them hooked at a young age, so that when they emerge from uni into the world of employment they are willing to make sacrifices to get on the slopes once a year at least. It’s a bit like cigarette marketing; no-one takes up smoking in their mid-20s.

The Crystal report is pretty unexciting at the best of times. Its release is always nicely timed to coincide with the middle of summer and drag our focus away from the sweltering heat and nail-biting cricket, and back on to cold weather pursuits. It serves that function nicely, it’s essentially a neat piece of marketing that never fails to get social networks buzzing with Crystal’s brand name. Well played.

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What a load of Arse

If you follow media coverage of skiing and related activities then you’ll probably have noticed a story that did the rounds last week and as recently as this morning was still being enthusiastically tweeted by people with a passing interest our beloved sport.

The article appeared in the Daily Mail, proclaiming that a poll had shown skiers to have the best bottoms in the UK. Loads of social media types in the ski industry jumped on the article, who can blame them after all? This is great coverage, it’s practically an advert for skiing being read by millions of web users. Hang on a second, if you remove the word practically from that last sentence it becomes even more accurate.

Some key questions that the author either didn’t think of or conveniently ignored:

1. A poll of 2,000. And we know nothing about those polled, who are they?

2. What question(s) were they asked? Were they multiple choice?

3. Who conducted the poll?

Skiing. Arse.

The answer to question 3 sheds quite a lot of light on questions 1 and 2. The poll was conducted by the Chill Factore indoor ski slope in Manchester. They haven’t revealed who they polled but it stands to reason that the customers in their database might possibly have a passing interest in skiing or snowboarding.

So a ski company polled its own customers (skiers) about who has the nicest bums? I’m sure we can all take a rough guess at how the question(s) might have been worded and I imagine they knew they were being asked on behalf of a ski organisation. There’s no way this can be called a representative survey, its results are worthless. What it is is a piece of clever marketing by the Chill Factore, who have managed to convince at least one national newspaper to paraphrase their press-release and give them a nice write up promoting their product without questioning any of the screamingly obvious flaws in the “research” they claim to have carried out.

Why am I moaning, this is just the sort of coverage that our industry needs, infinitely preferable to some of the drivel that was cooked up when snowfall was a little below average a couple of years ago. I guess I just long for mature, balanced coverage. At present, the only mainstream coverage of our industry is childishly sensationalist.

I think I’ll send an article idea to the Mail: “Moderate exercise in adequate conditions gives average enjoyment and some health benefit.”

On second thoughts, LOOK AT MY FUCKING AWESOME BUTTOCKS!!!!

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Health and Safety Expert Syndrome

Scientists have discovered a condition that only affects people when overseas and manifests itself in the sufferer in a quite bizarre way. When people come down with this surprisingly common condition, they become qualified experts in wiring, plumbing, traffic and vehicle regulations and general Health and Safety law, despite their only previous experience being the Daily Mail.

The condition doesn’t only affect paying guests, in fact it was a common complaint among staff during my seasons abroad. I myself suffered for a lot of my time overseas, only managing to shake it off towards the bitter end of my fourth season.

The symptoms can be spotted very easily, but that doesn’t make it any easier to treat, in fact there is no known cure. The only way to beat the disease is the application of common sense (known simply as sense) over a long period of time, in my case years were needed.

Lethal

HSES (to give it its scientific acronym) often appears within minutes of one’s plane landing. A set of stairs will be placed at the aircraft door and a little gap of a few inches between the fuselage of the aircraft and the start of the railings/bannisters will appear. Most people will simply stride quickly past the gap and down the stairs, but some people contract HSES the moment their skin hits the foreign air. They will point to the gap between plane and railing and mutter something about the lack of Health and Safety laws “over here”.

Lethal

In the majority of sufferers symptoms will manifest themselves as complaints in the general direction of the rep about the lack of seat-belts on the transfer coach combined with vague references to the “fact” that it’s illegal, despite coaches only being required by law to have seat-belts if they were built after seat-belt regulations came into force, the same as in Britain. It stands to reason that any coach without seat-belts would have been built before any such regulations came into being, as no manufacturer would build a vehicle which so flagrantly contravenes the law, and therefore that any coach without seat-belts is legally without them. Despite this fact, the vast majority of reps usually begin to suffer in sympathy and instead of pointing out to the guest that, in fact, seat-belts aren’t a legal requirement in all cases and will you please shut the fuck up, they simply nod and shrug something about the French/Swiss/Austrians and their “blasé attitude” to road safety.

You can probably see where this article is heading, and I’d like to offer you the opportunity to get out now.

Lethal

Arrival in resort will often result in a worsening of symptoms. Should there be a bigger than usual amount of snow on the ground,  a guest might lose their footing momentarily near their chalet and declare the area a “health hazard” due to the amount of snow and ice around. In the Alps. On a ski holiday. In mid-winter.

Having negotiated the perilous route to their chalet, you might think that the condition would ease once people find themselves within the safe haven of their accommodation. In many cases, the exact opposite is true. It is at this point that some of the most acute symptoms start.

In your typical chalet, 12 people might all have successfully negotiated the aircraft stairs gap, survived the seat-beltless transfer and life-threatening approach to the chalet and made it in time for afternoon tea. Their stress and general state of tiredness leads many of them to disappear quite quickly into their bedrooms to freshen up. It’s almost certain that one of the party will appear within half an hour to moan to anyone listening about a lack of hot water. If the moan comes from a HSES sufferer, this is followed by an acute bout of “dodgy French plumbing” statements. This particular symptom is also prevalent in staff as it gives them the perfect excuse to deflect any hostility away from themselves towards an unspecified foreigner.

Very probably lethal

Very similar to “dodgy French plumbing” is the “dodgy French wiring” symptom, which occurs when guests overload a single plug socket with a UK travel adaptor and extension lead and proceed to charge 2 iPads, a Samsung Galaxy, a laptop and a portable DVD player whilst drying their hair following their sub-zero shower and then whine when the chalet’s fuse box decides, quite reasonably, that it had better just shut everything down before becoming a human barbeque.

I suffered from acute HSES for most of my four seasons but found myself able to battle the symptoms and win. The day I knew I had beaten HSES was when dealing with a blocked drain in a chalet. The waste pipe had burst open and flooded the boot room with sewage. A couple of colleagues and I had to rescue a load of clients’ skis and boots from foot deep liquid shit and disinfect them. Halfway through unblocking, one of the plumbers found the culprit. He chucked a blood-soaked sanitary towel in my general direction. After vomiting I went up to the chalet to let the clients know that the problem was  sorted. It turned out that an HSES sufferer was among the guests and he immediately collared me to have a good grumble in front of the entire party about the “dodgy French plumbing” that had caused this problem. I so very nearly nodded my agreement, but instead I sat him down and proceeded to explain to everyone that the problem had nothing to do with dodgy plumbing in this BRAND NEW chalet and more to do with the used sanitary towels blocking the drains. The three adult females in the room all shifted awkwardly in their seats and I knew I was cured.

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The Insider Returns

I’ve been away. It’s getting on for two years since I could honestly post as the “Ski Industry Insider”. I had what can only be described as a grass is greener moment. In fact, I had two or three of them. First of all, the grass looked greener elsewhere in the industry, but that turned out to be a mirage. Then I was attracted to some particularly nice looking grass in a completely different sector, but ended up hating the work and more importantly my inability to do it well.

I simply can’t resist the pull of working in the industry I know and love. I’m back. I’m sticking with the format, I’m not going to reveal my name or who I work for. I will be upfront, brutally honest and highly offensive at times (that should read highly fucking offensive). I’d like to encourage lively debate and I promise, I solemnly promise that I will NEVER, EVER use this blog as a sales vehicle. I’ve even gone and joined twitter, so hit me up at @insider_ski. Bloody twitter with its bloody character limit.

Looks like business as usual in the ski industry right now, everyone’s having a little bit of down time, which might last until mid-late August before the shit (enquiries) hits the fan (email/phone). I’m going to go away and sharpen my pencil in readiness for a season of controversial discussion about all things ski related.

The Insider.

x

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What Shall I Do Next Week?

Blimey, seeing as there’s no snow in Europe right now, I’ve decided to abandon my            trip to Vallandry. Shame, as I really was looking forward to strapping my skis on and getting some serious hill time.

Well, without that to look forward to, now I really need something to occupy me. I had thought of a weekend away somewhere, perhaps surfing in Cornwall, or a romantic break in Paris.

Whatever I decide to do, it’ll be with a heavy heart as I have been away every December really since I started working in the Ski Industry. I suppose I could just cross my fingers, things can happen and it might start snowing any time now. My Eurostar tickets have not been cancelled as they’re non-refundable, so if the snow finally does arrive then I could go anyway. Just look at the state of it:

Europe. No Snow.

Austria. No Snow.

Meribel. No Snow.

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My Apology to Ben

I owe Ben Jackson an apology. Ben, I’m sorry. I doubted that you would bother replying to my email but you did. it was wrong of me suggest that you wouldn’t be bothered replying without even giving you a chance to.

Ben replied to me within about an hour of me emailing him and I promised him that I’d post his email reply to my blog. Which I’m doing. I’m also going to post my subsequent reply to him:

Ben’s email to me:

Dear Ski Industry Insider,

I note from your email you are the Senior Ski Sales Consultant for A major UK ski agency. This presumably explains your ‘blood boiling’ in your anonymous piece.

You asked me to respond, so I’d be delighted to make the following points. Please feel free to put them before your readers.

1. I have no anti-Europe agenda they have the world’s finest skifields – however I do understand yours is to sell ski holidays.

2. Europe has had the worst start to the ski season for 147 years. This is not generally disputed. We both hope it will improve.

However if I had booked an early ski season holiday I would think this is a genuine cause for concerned holidaymakers to ring you – whether they read The Sun or not.

3. You incorrectly say the story suggests Glencoe Mountain Resort is open, it is not and that is plainly mentioned in the eighth paragraph of the story.

4. The British Ski Club currently report Meribel has 0 cm of snow on its lower slopes.

5. I do follow your scribblings and last week you wrote: “there is no snow, quite literally fxxk all.”  In some resorts that has yet to change, particularly in the millionaire playgrounds of Klosters, St Moritz and Davos where wind has blown a lot of the very limited snow cover off.

4. We mention snow is at last falling in the Alps – and add that the most important time is from December 26th. Nobody is writing off the industry.

5. You may think the article was born of a hatred of “evil Europe.” In truth The Sun sometimes supports the underdogs, like Crawley Town playing Manchester United in the FA Cup.  Nobody realistically expects tiny Glencoe will out compete Meribel. It is simply a little skifield hoping to make the best of an early season run of luck.

6.  I appreciate you have the right to defend your industry and that your anonymous column gives you the right to rant – but if your opinions are to be valued why not put your name to your stories – like we do?

Having asked for my response  I trust you will good enough to publish it.

Regards,

Ben Jackson

Environment Editor

The Sun

My reply to Ben:

Ben,

Thanks for your reply, I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read my blog and reply. I have to say that I didn’t expect a reply and I thank you for it. I’d be more than happy to post your reply to my blog. I also apologise for my comment at the bottom that you probably wouldn’t bother replying to my email, which I’ll gladly retract.

I post anonymously for one main reason. As you can tell, my blog is a little edgy/sweary and my bosses would not appreciate having their brand associated with some of my less restrained rants, like this morning’s. They are aware of my blog and enjoy reading it. Out of respect for them, I will continue to post anonymously.

You make some interesting points below, I think one or two of them merit a little close examination.

1. My point re: Europe was referring to your publication’s openly hostile attitude to Europe and the EU, not your personal view, which I understand may be different from the editorial line you have to follow. I would be interested to hear if you disagree that The Sun is anything but anti-Europe?

2. What I’ve tried to be clear on is that whilst up until this weekend the snow hasn’t been great anywhere, the season hasn’t even started in most resorts (it is only 6th December) so to call it the worst start to a season in 147 years can’t possibly be true.

3. Your piece begins with a large picture of skiers at Glencoe and the caption: “Snow joke … you can ski at Glencoe, Scotland for a fraction of the price of foreign resorts” Regardless of what you have said in paragraph eight, your headline, main photo and caption are clearly suggesting that Glencoe is open for skiing. Do you accept that your statement about skiing in Glencoe being a “fraction of the price” of skiing is Europe is quite simply not true (unless you happen to live within a few miles of Glencoe)?

4. Indeed it does. Why didn’t you use a webcam photo of Meribel from today in your piece, not one from before the snowfall began? If you’d like to have a look, please do http://livecam.meribel-alpina.com/ . Perhaps you didn’t use this because the image your readers would have seen might have given them the impression that there actually was a bit of snow in the Alps and that your article was a gross overstatement.

5. I did say that last week, as last week it was true. I then went on to say that there will be snow, as there always is, and that even if it didn’t snow, resorts would be running their snow cannons to ensure that some pistes were open. Most major resorts would have more skiing available with just one lift and a couple of pistes open than Glencoe would with all its lifts open. As your article was published this morning, not only was the snow falling heavily and had been since Sunday night, but other organisations, the Daily Mail, Metro and Evening Standard were all publishing stories correctly stating that snow had now arrived in the Alps, with appropriate pictures to accompany them.

6. (you appear to have gone back to number 4 at this point, but I will continue in the normal order). Your article does indeed state that snow has started falling. “Yesterday some snow was at last falling in the French Alps,” In the second to last paragraph. Followed immediately by “though it was feared there will not be enough.”  So having added half a sentence of “balance” to your article, you have then contradicted it and continued with your scaremongering.

7. I’m sure the Sun does support underdogs all the time, like the Tory party, the Murdoch family and of course Crawley Town.

8. I think I covered this earlier but will repeat. My blog is anonymous out of respect for my employers who may not want their brand to be associated with some of my more vulgar outbursts. I’m not sure what more value my opinion would have if it had my name next to it?

Ben, thanks again for taking the time to reply, which I really appreciate. I will post this email chain (edited for my anonymity) to my blog for my readers to comment on.

Regards

The Ski Industry Insider

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From the Ridiculous to… Words Fail Me

The British media leave me speechless. Yesterday’s headlines predicting a disastrous ski season were all based on the fact that in early December there wasn’t a whole lot of snow on the ground. Anyone with even a little knowledge of the Ski Industry knows (as I think I might have pointed out a couple of times…) that early season snow is variable at best.

The poorly researched Metro article which appeared on Monday was bad enough. At least today they have been able to run a story about how snow is now falling in the Alps and perhaps the entire ski season isn’t doomed after all. Funnily enough, their “correction” was buried somewhere near page 20 and took up all of 2 column inches, unlike yesterday’s front page “CRISIS!” style headlines.

To their credit, and anyone who knows me will know that I’m not often one to praise them, the Daily Mail have actually run a full length story today detailing the new snowfall. They even referenced a photo from their doom and gloom story about “Val d’Isaster” from last week. I’ll give this story a green arrow.

On the downside, even the normally quite sensible BBC have decided to jump on the bandwagon this morning with a piece on the Today programme on Radio 4.

However, today’s prize for shamefully poorly researched journalism goes to Ben Jackson at The Sun. I’m not sure if I can even bring myself to post the link, I don’t know if I could live with myself if I contributed even one little click of traffic to their utterly fictional story.

Whilst I mull that over I’ll summarise Mr Jackson’s “report”. Clearly, given The Sun’s pro-Britain, anti-foreigner agenda, he was asked to produce a piece about how the UK trumps Europe. He might have been assigned to a weather story, or possibly a leisure or travel story, or perhaps he had free reign to invent whatever fucking tripe he wanted, just as long as it was anti-Europe. So on the same day as most other media outlets were hurriedly reporting the new snowfall all over the Alps, he headed up to Glencoe in good old Britain to check out the scene there.

After speaking to Glencoe’s managing director for an objective opinion he declared that skiing in Glencoe beats Europe hands down. Not only does Glencoe have loads of snow (unlike Europe, says Ben), but it’s cheaper and the European resorts aren’t even open yet! Further to all of this, people booked to travel to places like Meribel are being rebooked to dates later in the season.

I’m struggling to contain my blood boiling rage at this work of fiction. Deep breaths, let’s go through Ben’s claims one by one shall we?

  1. Glencoe does have snow right now, I just went on their website and had a look at the webcam. I also went onto the Meribel webcam for a look at theirs. Amazingly, the scene there seems almost as if Ben Jackson didn’t actually bother doing any background research, as it seems as though it’s been snowing there too!
  2. “Cheap” Glencoe’s day pass is £25 according to Ben. A Meribel valley lift pass, which provides access to nearly 80 lifts and 200km of piste is £171 if you stay a week. That’s £28.50 a day. Head to Glencoe and you’ll save £2.50 a day! You’ll also have to make do with 7 lifts and 19 pistes when the whole ski area is open. Now Ben, have you ever tried booking a ski holiday to Glencoe? No such thing. If you want to go skiing in Scotland you have to organise everything yourself, travel up there, stay in hotels about 15 miles from the lifts and you’ll probably spend £400 quid per person just to go for three days, assuming you live in southern England. Compare that with package prices to places like Meribel at under £500 a week in low season. That’s a flight from London, transfer to resort, accommodation, catering (including wine, Ben) and direct access to a 200 lift, 600km ski area.
  3. Another minor detail than Ben has either not bothered to find out or conveniently ignored; Glencoe’s ski area isn’t open either!!! Just a simple click on their website shows on the front page that of 7 lifts, none are open. None. The first photo on his story shows three skiers, true enough. In the background you can quite clearly see the pylons of a button lift. The thing is, where are the buttons themselves? Could it be that they’re all safely stored down at the bottom station, seeing as the lifts aren’t even open? My guess is that the skiers in the photo are probably employees of Glencoe who’ve been instructed by their manager to get their ski gear on, hike halfway up a nursery slope and ski down towards the Sun’s photographer. All in the name of some favourable coverage in the UK’s most read “news” paper. A photo further down the page shows a chairlift which is clearly not running above all of 2 inches of snow on top of a rather rocky looking slope. I’d love to watch Ben Jackson ski down that. I really would.
  4. I work for a ski agency in the UK. We have hundreds of clients booked to depart in December. I am not aware of a single tour operator that has rebooked a single client for later in the season. I notice that Ben hasn’t even bothered giving a source for this claim. The only thing we’ve encountered is a few people who have unfortunately read some of the scaremongering dross being peddled by people like Ben and have called us up worrying about the state of the snow for their upcoming holiday.

Apart from the bit about there being some in Glencoe, the entire story is a work of fiction. The most upsetting thing about this is that it’s clearly been concocted by Ben Jackson as his editors wanted something about how much better Britain is than Europe. “Take your ski holidays in the UK! Boost the British economy!” What you’ve completely overlooked, Ben, is that fact that stories like this do nothing to boost Britain. Best case scenario is that people read it and laugh, knowing for themselves that it’s complete crap. The worst case with this is that people will read it and be put off booking a ski holiday. Who would they have booked their holidays with? Well they might have headed off to the evil EU but 95% of British skiers would have booked at least one component of their holiday with a British company. Be it a whole package deal with someone like Skiworld, a BA/easyJet flight, a ferry crossing or a stay with an independently (British) run chalet company. Scaring these people off is achieving the exact opposite of what the Ben so foolishly thinks he’s doing, it’s threatening the revenue of countless small businesses and plenty of big ones too, all British, employing thousands of British workers, like me.

I’ve emailed my post to Ben (well, I took a few guesses at his address), although I doubt I’ll get a reply. He’s probably off on his next assignment, looking for bogus asylum seekers who’ve built igloos in our pristine British snow. How dare they.

I suppose I really should include a link to Ben’s story, much as it pains me to do so. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/3980016/Want-snow-and-ski-Scots-got-the-lot.html

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