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Hunger for travel is driving affluent tourists to the ski slopes

by Staff

There’s nothing like a hot, dry January to stir dreams of adventurous winter holidays. Once you’ve ticked the beaches of Bali, the hills of Rome and the pyramids of Egypt off your travel wishlist, the next thing to conquer could well be something a little more exotic: the snow-covered slopes of North America, Europe or Asia.

Snow holidays are increasingly regarded as a bucket-list experience for well-to-do South Africans who are craving fresh mountains to conquer.

A new report by Club Med Southern Africa suggests there’s a growing trend towards bucket-list travel, as people take the trips they had yearned for during Covid. These are increasingly taking the form of long-haul trips as travellers spend more time in destinations, stop over in cities, and seek to experience local culture. 

Club Med Val d’Isère resort is located at an altitude of 1,850m above sea level, in the heart of the Vanoise massif mountain range in the French Alps. It has spectacular views. (Photo: Supplied)

Multigenerational family travel, pop-culture excursions and musical pilgrimages are also more popular than ever, as reflected in a 10% increase in the number of multiple or group bookings to enjoy a more varied experience. 

Niche market

In South Africa, the ski market might still be niche, with Tiffendell and Afriski playing a leading role in introducing the sport to the public. 

The market is showing solid growth, though, especially since the pandemic lockdown restrictions were eased, the French travel and tourism operator said, as travellers are more enthusiastic about venturing further afield than in the past.

As Walt Disney would suggest, if you can dream it, you can do it. 

Travellers with disposable incomes are especially persuaded by all-inclusive package holidays that offer something for everyone and no bill shock at checkout.  

Snow business

The Club Med Ski Report, presented in Fourways, Johannesburg, last week, gauged the responses of 755 of the group’s newsletter and social media followers in SA — 45% from Gauteng, 30.7% from the Western Cape, 14.3% from KwaZulu-Natal and 10% from the rest of SA — 93.2% of whom have travelled abroad after Covid.

Their top five reasons for a snow holiday are wide and varied ski domains; authenticity and discovery; the choice of non-ski activities; proximity to nature or sport; and après-ski — the festive activities after a day’s skiing.

While most travellers (39.4%) prefer the January-February period to the more pricey festive season (29.9%), a growing number are heading to the mountains during the shoulder season (March/April) — the secret season, which offers lower prices, no crowds and more comfortable temperatures. 

More than a third (35.6%) of these travellers have never skied before. 

Their top reasons for considering a snow holiday include the cosy mountain spirit (setting), connecting with family and friends, the local culture, proximity to nature, outdoor activities and gastronomy. 

Bookings are rarely made on impulse — only 1.3% would book on the spur of the moment, with less than a month to arrange, while most (39.5% are planning their trips well in advance, taking six to 11 months to arrange. 

While 3% of the respondents would be prepared to spend more than R75,000 per person on a week-long trip, the majority expect to spend between R25,000 and R45,000 on a ski trip. 

Magical 

Skiing is not only exotic, but a magical experience for couples and families, explained Club Med’s global ski expert, Christophe Carraud, who was in charge of the group’s past seven refurbishment projects in the Alps.

“We have 22 resorts in the world. Recently we opened in Hokkaido, Japan. The quality of snow is superb… we are just below Siberia, with cold winds and fresh snows. It’s very exotic and extravagant.”

Club Med South Africa managing director, Olivier Périllat-Piratoine, admitted their ski and mountain offerings are a niche product, but that they create significant engagement because people are passionate about it. 

“You tell yourself it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you’ll want to come back for more.”

In France, operations have been buoyant. 

“We have exceeded our expectations in terms of both revenue and customer volume. France has shown an exceptional performance of our newly renovated upscale resorts, Val d’Isère and Tignes.”

Ski resorts are not only for skiers, Périllat-Piratoine said. 

“There are plenty of activities for non-skiers. You eat very well and you find whatever you look for. You must come prepared though: in Norway, they say there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Club Med has transitioned its entire portfolio into 4-Trident (4-Star) and Exclusive Collection resorts. From April this year, it will offer only premium, all-inclusive beach and mountain Club Med resorts and Exclusive Collection resorts. 

ski slopes

Club Med Val d’Isère resort is located at an altitude of 1,850m above sea level, in the heart of the Vanoise massif mountain range in the French Alps. It has spectacular views. (Photo: Supplied)

The latest revamp, Val d’Isère, launched in December last year. It is Club Med’s only Exclusive Collection Resort in the mountains and is focused on families and couples. It reopened in December last year after a €50-million refurbishment that got under way during Covid. 

Val d’Isère is the brand’s first entirely 5-star mountain resort, offering 216 rooms, care for children over the age of four, a spa, yoga programme and more. 

The resort in the French Alps is a true “ski in, ski out” property, meaning it is located next to the ski slopes. 

It’s also within walking distance of the ancient village of Val d’Isère, which predates Christianity. 

Club Med is also behind the Tinley Manor beach and lodge development on KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast — South Africa’s biggest resort investment since Sun City — which is set to open in July 2026. 

Next year, the group opens its first Exclusive Collection (5-star) resort in South America and the fourth resort in Brazil in Rio Grande do Sul, and the eco-friendly Club Med Borneo. 

Getting there

Air France, a Club Med partner airline, has been operating in South Africa since 1953. Its partner, KLM, has operated in the country for 85 years

Air France operates daily flights from Johannesburg to Paris, while KLM has daily flights from Johannesburg to Amsterdam. There are three seasonal flights a week between Cape Town and Paris until 26 March. 

Air France-KLM’s sales manager Faziela Saheb said: “Paris is a very popular city… It’s a hub for travel to Europe. But equally, people do visit France as well. We’re hoping to fly year-round to Cape Town, but it needs to be sustainable.”

Air France is currently offering a Rendez-Vous special, available until 6 February for departures from Johannesburg or Cape Town. DM

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