The rate of decline in the number of UK skiers may finally be 'bottoming out' according to the Crystal Ski Industry Report 2012.
The number of ski holidaymakers fell by 1.8% for the 2011/2012 winter season, equivalent to 16,200 skiers.
But this is a far cry from winter 2008/2009 when 13% of the market, 160,000 skiers, dropped out as a result of the economic slowdown, with a further fall of 100,000 the following year. Last winter 894,700 holidaymakers went on ski trips compared to a peak of 1.2 million for the 2007/2008 winter season.
Crystal Ski managing director Simon Cross was confident the decline had now stopped, with signs of growth in the premium ski market and the all-inclusive and added-value sectors.
"I really feel we are bottoming out in terms of the market. We have seen the rate of decline slow to a trickle and we should be coming back out the other side of that curve going forward," he said. "People are looking for value and are increasingly setting aside a budget for their holiday and not prepared to tolerate much change in that."
However, Cross stressed the need for the industry to attract first-timers back to the market. "What's happened over the last two to three years is that we have increasingly got the core market of skiers and less of the new entrants. As the economy has slowed it's been more difficult to get the pipeline of new skiers. The beginners or second-timers are less in evidence than four years ago."
Crystal Ski hopes to stimulate demand from the first-timers market by introducing free learn to ski packages at 23 resorts for winter 2012/2013.
According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Tui Travel, school trips are the biggest single source of new skiers. Significantly, the schools and student market showed the most signficant fall last winter with a 4.1% drop in skiers to 117,700, down from 122,700 the previous winter, mainly due to families struggling to finance school ski trips.
Within that, the schools market fell 6% to 90,000 and tellingly, Bulgaria, popular for first-timers, lost market share from 4% to 2.7%. "The schools market is fundamental to the future health of the market. Everything we can do to foster the growth in this area is very important," added Cross
The tour operator market also declined last winter with a drop of 1.5% in the number of skiers while the independent travel sector saw a fall of 1.2%, the fourth year of decline, which the report attributed to the increase in flight and ski carriage costs.
However, operators increased their market share for the third year in a row due to more skiers wanting the security and good value of a ski package, according to the report. The top eight ski operators increased their total share of the ski market by 1%, up to 86%.
Crystal Ski increased its share from 1% to 33%, which it attibuted to its value-for-money Ski Plus packages and former First Choice holidaymakers switching to its brand. First Choice, which drops out of the ski market for 2012/2013, saw its ski numbers fall from 10,000 to 7,000. Thomson Ski saw a drop of around 1,000 skiers last winter.
Overall, Tui Travel remains the market leader for ski, with a 41% share, up 1% year on year, followed by Hotelplan (owners of Esprit, Total Ski and Inghams), down 3.7% to 26%, and Thomas Cook, including Neilson, down 6% to 14%.
France remains the most popular ski destination, followed by Austria and Italy.
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