Ski season is fast approaching. Carolynne Dear asks Club Med’s Vincent Ong where we'll be rugging up in Asia
Club Med is hoping international guests will be back on Japan's mountains in early 2021.
Asia Pacific has been hard-hit by coronavirus travel restrictions with lengthy quarantines and strict entry requirements still in force in most of the region. There has recently been talk of ‘travel corridors’ with certain countries - Hong Kong has reached out to 11 countries including Japan, but so far there has been no concrete progress made.
So with ski season just around the corner, how likely is it that families in the region will be able to take a ski trip this winter?
Vincent Ong, who is vice president of marketing with Club Med Asia Pacific admits the outlook is not overwhelmingly positive.
“Although we’re seeing some pockets of recovery in the travel industry across the region, these are at best domestic, opportunistic and still limited,” he says.
“But on the positive side, while travel has been impacted this is not due to drop in demand from travellers… The number of inquiries for ski holidays has not waned.”
Ong believes that while an early ski season filled with international travellers is improbable, he is hopeful of some recovery in the first quarter of 2021. “We won’t be seeing snow holidays hitting 2019 volumes, but at the same time we’re not going to be ‘falling off a cliff’ either,” he says.
In terms of destinations, Ong believes regional and short-haul locations will be preferred. “I’d say the majority of Asian-based families are likely to head to Japan, or possibly even the mountain resorts of Yabuli or Beidahu in China.”
While skiing is a naturally socially distanced sport - it’s impossible to get up-close-and-personal when you’re staggering around on a pair of skis and submerged under multiple layers of clothing, safety goggles, woolly hats, gloves and scarves - the apres-ski culture in European ski resorts earlier this year created something of a virus melting pot.
“There have certainly been a lot of learnings,” says Ong, admitting that Club Med has adapted and has been working hard to mitigate these risks. He says there are two drivers shaping the new Club Med in-resort safety and hygiene policies. The first are the prescriptions from local health authorities and the World Health Organisation, which Club Med has been taking very seriously (“there is no compromise here,” he affirms).
Secondly, Club Med has developed its own health and safety programme to add an extra layer of security.
“We have a responsibility for the health, safety and well-being of every guest and member of staff,” says Ong. “As a family-focused hospitality brand, at any one time we could have more than 200 children in our resorts. Add to this the rise in multigenerational travel, which means significant numbers of grandparents could be staying with us who fall into the high risk category.”
Apres-ski fun at Club Med Tomamu, Japan.
Club Med reviewed its ‘guest journey’ in a resort and how guests and staff interact. From this research, it launched ‘Safe Together’, a guest assurance programme developed with the support of Ecolab, a global hygiene specialist, in Asia Pacific.
On arrival at a Club Med resort, a guest enters a ‘cocoon’ where self-sufficient, in-resort resort facilities are available, with GOs (‘Gentils Organisateurs’, or ‘Gracious Organisers’) living onsite.
Social distancing applies from the moment you board the shuttle bus to your resort, with temperature checks and mandatory health and travel declarations on arrival. Room access is contactless.
“No brand can guarantee full safety,” says Ong. “But with the Club Med all-inclusive model where guests eat, sleep and play in one ‘cocoon’, we have been able to establish a ‘new normal’ operating with heightened reassurance."
The brand has introduced staggered meal times to control crowds in restaurants, social distancing throughout its properties, staff must wear masks and there’s a higher frequency of cleaning at common touchpoints. All dining tables and children’s highchairs are fully sanitised between each use.
“When we reopen our resorts we want to ensure that our guests have peace of mind. We want them to continue to enjoy the Club Med spirit, and embrace all the activities that we offer, but in a safe environment.”
Club Med is renowned for its all-inclusive winter packages, including ski instruction, kids club and activities and food and beverage. In terms of picking a ski resort when the time comes, Ong recommends Club Med Tomamu, Japan, and Beidahu China for beginners. Club Med Sahoro and Yabuli China meanwhile offer more of an adrenaline boost for advanced skiers.
“Last winter, we had 170 instructors across both our Japanese resorts, making Tomamu and Sahoro the largest ‘ski academies’ in the country,” says Ong. “That said, all resorts are ski havens for children and adults alike, with loads of family-friendly facilities. Tomamu also offers a wide range of experiences away from the ski fields, including an ice village and Mina Mina swimming pool.”
“We’ve come a long way this year and we can’t wait to open for the winter season.”
Let's hope travel restrictions can be lifted soon.