Paul Carter, CEO of Hotelplan UK, whose brands include the ski operators Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit, plus Santa’s Lapland, Explore and Inntravel
While the impact of Brexit is a cause of uncertainty and worry for the industry, I expect pragmatism to prevail in most areas. The government will simply have to deliver on visa-free travel and open-skies access, which I’m confident it will do. However, without freedom of movement of labour, significant challenges and risks lie ahead for both inbound and outbound travel in terms of a potential industry skills shortage.
Restrictions to posting British workers overseas poses a serious problem for the ski industry. British skiers are today welcomed in resort by mostly British reps, cooked for by British chefs and generally looked after by British chalet staff. When I was working as a rep in the Alps 30 years ago, I was part of a much more cross-cultural team. Today, our industry is currently working on ‘what if scenarios’ should freedom of movement no longer exist. I have no doubt Brexit will have an impact on the product mix overall – meaning more hotels and apartments and reducing the number of chalets offered.
Hotelplan UK employs more than 1,000 British staff overseas and we’re one of the founding members of SBIT (Seasonal Business in Travel, sbit.org.uk), an association of more than 100 British-owned businesses in the travel industry. Their aim is to increase awareness of the potential impact of Brexit on the UK outbound travel industry by lobbying the government to protect the concept of the ski chalet holiday. Many of the larger companies are developing contingency plans to manage in a situation of restricted workforce availability. In certain cases, employing European workers will increase costs and therefore potentially add to prices, making these types of holidays less affordable to some guests.
The clock is ticking and it’s alarming there are still no political or commercial agreements in place. In order to best prepare for Brexit as a whole, it’s key for the travel industry to continue strong partnerships with suppliers to keep costs low despite the financial challenges ahead. A transition or implementation period would definitely help everyone’s preparations, rather than if we crash out at the eleventh hour. We need time to adapt business models and, in particular, develop more advanced resource planning and robust training opportunities where skills shortages are expected. But to ensure holidays combine high quality and good value, we need to future-proof our industry and we need to prepare by planning for a worst-case scenario.
I’m proud to be part of an industry that serves as a force for good in breaking down cultural barriers
On the flip side, I’m also a firm believer that the public’s desire to go on holiday and to continue skiing will remain strong and, in a post-Brexit world, it won’t only be about finding the lowest price. Because we increasingly value experiences shared together, and we share our experiences with our peers immediately on social media, I strongly believe that people will require memorable experiences from their holidays, meaning it’s not necessarily always about finding the lowest price.
The weaker pound has delivered a quick fix to inbound tourism, but outbound travel operators have always adapted to rapidly changing consumer travel behaviour and expectations. In a restricted immigration scenario, some specialised and diverse skill sets will become harder to fulfil. But in these increasingly insular times, I’m proud to be part of an industry that serves as a force for good in breaking down cultural barriers and broadening the minds of travellers.
In uncertain times, travellers always look to trusted brands – tour operators and travel agents – with experience, knowledge and a good track record in delivering value for money. I’m confident that people will still choose to book their holidays with Hotelplan’s long-established brands. Our businesses have always been customer-centric in their approach, delivering quality products and getting high customer repeat rates as a result.