Hotels in Europe have had a headstart when it comes to adapting to the new normal. Many were allowed to reopen during the summer months in 2020 and have gained vital experience in processes such as contactless check-in, Covid cleaning protocols, social distancing in restaurants and changes to the traditional breakfast buffet. Locally-run establishments are particularly in tune with local regulations – in Austria all staff that work in the tourism industry are being tested regularly so that hotels can be marked as Covid secure. Couples and families will find hotel packages for this winter and next with the major operators easy to come by.
Apartments and self-catered chalets
As with self-drive, interest in self-catered apartments and chalets is set to spike as they present the chance to remain in your own bubble with limited social interaction – ideal for families or groups of friends. Luckily the variety and quality of accommodation has increased twofold in recent years and it’s totally feasible to mimic a hotel stay but with the benefit of having an entire place to call your own. Self-catered ski holidays do require some forward planning, however – whether you decide to take supplies from home, stop to shop at a big supermarket on route or use a meal delivery service once you get to the resort, here are our top tips for planning a successful DIY ski trip.
Who should I book with?
Trust, reputation and bonding are more important than ever this winter. Below we list the current booking policies and Covid-19 guarantees being offered by some of the leading ski operators and agents.
Crystal Ski Holidays has a number of Covid-specific terms in place to provide extra security and reassurance when booking, in addition to its usual bonded guarantees. These include: If a customer is diagnosed with Covid-19, or is showing symptoms and needs to self-isolate before they are due to travel, they can amend their holiday free of charge – the same applies to anyone who can’t travel because their local area goes into lockdown. If there are local restrictions in a resort which mean you can’t ski, customers will be proactively contacted so they can amend or cancel their holiday free of charge. If customers need to quarantine when they arrive or return from a destination, they can also amend or cancel for free. And all importantly if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to a destination or if quarantine is imposed at either end of the journey, customers can amend or cancel for free as it will not operate holidays. Read more about Crystal’s Covid-19 cover here.
Inghams, Esprit Ski, Ski Total and Flexiski, HotelPlan’s leading ski brands, have brought in an ‘In Safe Hands’ promise, detailing extra measures being put in place to keep customers and their money safe in addition to usual policies. This includes the option to change holiday plans with no amendment fees up to the date their full balance is due, plus a Covid-19 specific refund promise – if guests have to cancel a holiday because of Covid-19, customers can pick another trip or get a full refund. What’s more, if a customer contracts the virus within 14 days of their holiday they can move it to the same holiday at a later date in the season. Holidaymakers are also able to book travel insurance through their partner Campbell Irvine, with additional comprehensive Covid-19 cover.
Ski Safari has changed its booking conditions to give customers more flexibility and has lowered its deposits to £100 per person. It has also removed any fees on changing a trip, up until the date the final balance is due. If a trip is forced to be cancelled because of government advice the operator, which is Atol protected, will do everything it can to find an alternative trip, or offer a full refund.
Ski Solutions is now offering flexible booking options to its customers as well as its usual Abta and Atol guarantees. The agent has reduced deposits from £250 per person to £150 and removed amendment fees up until 12 weeks before departure.
Mountain Heaven has introduced a Covid-19 guarantee to give extra peace of mind on top of its Abta and Abtot bonding. Should a resort have to close or travel restrictions, such as quarantine on arrival in France or Switzerland, and government advice prevent customers from travelling they will receive a full refund if an alternative trip can’t be arranged.
Skiworld is continuing to run chalet holidays this season and is assure customers they can book and travel with confidence. As well as offering protection through Abta bonding and Atol membership it has also introduced a Covid-19 refund guarantee, which offers to pay all money back or an alternative trip should the operator be forced to cancel because of the pandemic. It has also reduced deposits and extended its payment deadline, to 10 weeks before departure.
Ski France has recently updated its terms and conditions. All winter 2021/2022 stays in properties managed by Madame Vacances (Ski France’s parent company) and Ski France, will benefit from free cancellation until September 15 2021. After this date properties in its chalet collection will revert to standard cancellation conditions, which result in the loss of deposit if you were to cancel more than 30 days before arrival. In its hotels and apartments, conditions are a little more flexible – free cancellation until 30 days before arrival in apartments, and until 14 days before arrival in hotels.
Club Med is offering guests extra Covid-19 cover as part of their booking. In the unfortunate event of a guest contracting the virus while travelling with Club Med, medical expenses, including testing, transportation, extra accommodation (if a stay in hospital is required) and GP appointments, will be covered as part of the holiday package. The all-inclusive operator is also offering refunds, vouchers or the choice of a new date for bookings that are forced to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Find out more about how the all-inclusive operator is preparing for the season here.
Can I book lessons, equipment and lift passes?
Covid-19 has forced certain parts of the ski holiday experience into a digital evolution. Many resorts are encouraging guests to pre-book refundable lift passes online before they arrive, to save queues at face-to-face service kiosks. Equipment hire shops are also following suit and requesting prior booking online, to reduce time in store where masks will be mandatory.
In France resort bosses have announced that masks will also be required when gathering at the start and end of lessons, but not when on the slopes – group sizes are likely to be kept small, with increased demand for private tuition. In Austria masks will be required whenever social distancing cannot be maintained and lessons will be capped at 10 people. Find out how ski schools are adapting to the new rules here.
In an effort to reassure customers many resort bosses and local businesses, such as the Ecole du Ski France, Intersport Ski Hire and Ski Bro, a digital platform to find ski guides, are offering flexible cancellation terms and full refunds if your holiday doesn’t go ahead and chance to manage all bookings, lessons and guiding digitally.
What does the UK’s lockdown mean for travel?
During the lockdown, only essential trips are permitted, including travelling abroad, meaning holidays are essentially banned. People should not travel or stay overnight away from home, unless it is essential – and international travel is prohibited apart from limited exceptions until May 17, at the earliest.
Before booking a ski holiday, you need to check explicitly the policy of the operator or airline you are dealing with and whether they will allow you to cancel without penalty if your plans are impacted by lockdown or tier restrictions.