Winter-sports fans are warming again to luxury packages

Snow Report

It will be some months yet until we have the official industry retrospective on winter 2010-11.

Six months ago, in the key autumn sales period, tour operators were optimistic about a bounce back after two seasons of UK market decline. However, ski holidays have been heavily discounted all winter, even in the usually sold-out French February holiday period. This doesn't bode well for a report of healthy sales.

But one sector does seem to be excelling this season. As most of us tighten the belts on our salopettes, luxury ski holidays, or at least the four-star market, are doing well. In fact, specialist ski travel agency Ski Solutions (skisolutions.com) reports that its bookings of upmarket ski holidays have risen by 60 per cent on last season.

Michael Bennett, managing director of the tour operator Ski Independence (ski-i.com), confirms this. "Four- and five-star properties are outperforming three stars for Ski Independence this season and we expect the trend to continue for winter 2011/2012," he says.

So, what's going on? Multiple factors are in play. There's that hard-to-define "value" aspect. Is it good value to get a cheap apartment then pay a fortune in low-cost airline supplements, transfers and in-resort dining costs, all made worse by the weak pound? Or is it better to have it all organised for you, private transfers from the airport and high-quality catering and accommodation included in a known price up front?

Ian Davies, product director for the market leader Crystal, says growing numbers are taking the latter route with the result that bookings for Crystal's Finest brand are buoyant. He says: "Above all, our customers like the all-inclusive for its excellent value in good four- or five-star accommodation."

The reticence of many winter sporters to lash out on their ski holidays, a trend in evidence after the economic collapse of autumn 2008, appears to be waning, too. Instead, skiers and boarders just want to feel that they're having a real holiday, rather than struggle to enjoy a basic ski trip that may feel little different to the pressures of their day-to-day lives of traffic chaos and careful budgeting.

Still, a good price remains crucial. "Although bookings for resorts such as Lech and Zermatt are largely 'recession proof' for us," says Craig Burton of Ski Solutions, "some really top-end five-star hotels and luxury chalets are down because our clients feel they get better value elsewhere, even at this end of the market."

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