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What's Going On With Catered Chalet Holidays?

When Jon and I set up More Mountain back in 2006, catered ski chalet holidays used to be a right of passage. It’s where it all started for us here in Morzine. 

They were the done thing - rock up to the Alps with your friends and family, and enjoy a week of apres-soaked skiing, being looked after by chalet hosts who cook your meals, ply you with free flowing wine, show you the best lunch spots and ferry you to and from the slopes (originally Jon and I back in the old days)! 

While ski holidays in general aren’t going anywhere sadly, in the past few years, we’ve seen a huge change in the demand for catered chalets.

We genuinely believe there is a shift from the all-singing-all-dancing catered ski holiday, towards a cheaper self catered holiday with concierge services. Maybe this is the future. 

So, what’s going on out there?

Why have costs increased so much for catered and why aren’t we doing as many catered chalet holidays as we used to? 

Based on our experiences here in Morzine, we thought we’d let you into WHY we think things are morphing into a new style of ski break, and more importantly give you an insight into why we have reduced the size of our catered portfolio over the last 18 months, and subsequently grown and re-invented our self catered offering.

The Demand For Catered Chalets Has Changed Since Covid and Brexit

There’s no getting away from it. The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit hit the catered ski chalet market hard. 

It may surprise you to learn that the majority of ski holiday companies rent, rather than own the properties that they advertise. With cancelled bookings due to Covid, and uncertainty at the time about the future, many companies were unable to cover rents due on their properties meaning that they had to scale back to cover costs and reduce their portfolios. 

Unfortunately, in a few cases some chalet companies folded completely. It was a difficult period of time to keep going and at More Mountain we had to rethink our product, offering guests the flexibility to move bookings forward a year or two. Although we lost The Ark, one of our flagship properties, during this period, we were able to ride the storm and hang in there, thanks to some very loyal guests.

Increasing Operational Costs 

Catered chalet holidays always offered great value for money at a price point that wouldn’t break the bank. That’s why they’ve always been so popular! Sadly now with rising costs in general across the board, it’s simply not possible to deliver the level of service and experience that guests have come to expect at the same price point. Gone are the days of £799pp fully catered, luxury chalet holidays. 

There’s always been a premium to pay for running a business in a gorgeous mountain town, and Morzine is no exception. 

The cost of food impacts overall running costs for catered chalets and this has definitely gone up! Our local supermarkets cater to a captive market with prices reflecting this and often even increasing during peak seasons.

While we do our absolute best to provide delicious, gastro-style food to our guests, we have also seen a huge rise in varied and different dietary requirements. This means that we cannot cater for everyone as easily as we used to, resulting in increased costs, as well as complicated menu planning for our chalet chefs!

One of the biggest changes to catered chalets in recent years is the reduction of the number of nights catering from 6 nights to 5. This is a direct result of Brexit, as chalet companies need to adhere to the French working time regulations.

The new reality is that to run a catered chalet with hosts available to cook 6 days a week, like the good old days, we would need upwards of 5 staff per chalet. We cannot work with this model in terms of guest experience and staffing logistics so, like many other companies, we have reduced the number of nights catering to 5 evenings.

Seasonal staff also need somewhere to live that is affordable and, ideally, centrally located.

With an increasing accommodation crisis hitting ski resorts across the French Alps, including Morzine, suitable staff accommodation is like gold dust nowadays. 

Added into all of this is the general increase in the cost of living. While not as badly hit as some places, France has seen huge increases in energy and fuel prices. There’s also been a big increase in costs of materials and skilled labour needed for chalet maintenance and upkeep.

The reality is that some of these costs have to be passed on so we can all keep our businesses running, and keep welcoming guests to the Alps!

Post-Brexit Staffing Complications 

Finding good staff has always been our forté!

However, since Brexit, companies like ourselves based in France (and across Europe) are unable to employ UK seasonal workers as easily as before. In fact, according to a report published in 2023 by trade organisation Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBiT), there’s been a 72% decrease in the number of  UK staff employed in the winter season in France since 2017.

Visas & Work Permits

Gone are the days of turning up in a ski resort and finding a job if you don’t have an EU passport. All non-EU citizens now need a sponsored work permit to be able to legally work in France. 

Regulations around the types of permit available, who can apply for them, and advertising the job vacancies locally themselves, make managing the application process pretty much a full time role. Companies often need to employ an additional staff member to handle this aspect of their business. It is also increasingly time consuming, costly and admin heavy for the applicants themselves. 

All this means that it is easier to recruit Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians than it is to recruit Brits at the moment as they have reciprocal country agreements with France for seasonal work permits and working holiday visas.

On a positive note though, the European Commission recently announced that they will be opening negotiations with the UK Government around introducing a youth mobility scheme, which is fantastic news for the whole travel industry. 

Additional Employment Costs For Seasonal Workers

In France, employers have to pay around an additional 45% of an employee’s wages to the government each month to cover social charges. These social contributions cover things like healthcare and pensions, all things that employees should be entitled to, however the system is not designed to allow seasonal workers to access these benefits. 

No seasonal worker is going to be working long enough to claim a French pension, yet there’s no exemption for the employer from paying these charges.

There’s also a quirk in the French system that means people are not allowed to access the French healthcare system until they have been living in France for at least 3 months. A standard winter season contract lasts five months (from around December to April), therefore staff and their employers are contributing to a system that they are unable to benefit from. 

Sadly the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), previously known as EHIC, only covers emergency healthcare in the EU for holidaymakers, not workers. So, this doesn’t help either!

Why Can’t We Recruit Locals?

So, why not by-pass all these issues and employ EU citizens? 

To be honest, there just isn’t the same demand to ‘do a season’ working in a catered chalet from local or EU citizens as we’ve been used to seeing from the UK.

As mentioned above, the accommodation crisis is also having a real impact on employment. The lack of affordable places to live means moving to a ski resort for the Winter season is becoming a less appealing option for potential staff that have the flexibility to live and work throughout Europe.

In addition, the concept of a catered chalet holiday is quite unique to the UK ski industry. The majority of our catered chalet guests are Brits so we need to employ English speaking staff. It's an added bonus when our catered staff have actually experienced a catered chalet as a guest at some point themselves! 

We have a FANTASTIC team at More Mountain with staff from all over the world including the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Australia, NZ, Canada, Italy and even Brazil. We’ll keep jumping through the hoops to make sure we get the best! 

Do Holiday Makers Want Something Different?

At More Mountain we run regular guest surveys to gauge what’s influencing our guests' decisions around where they’re going on holiday and the kind of holiday they want. 

The results of our own survey for Winter 2023/24, reinforce the industry trends shown by The Ski Club of Great Britain's May 2023 Consumer Research Survey which found that only 9% booked a catered chalet compared to 38% pre-Covid, and 40% of respondents did not book a ski holiday for Winter 2022/23 due to cost.

With the cost of living crisis continuing, holiday makers are being increasingly savvy as to where they spend their money. 

As we’ve shown, the cost to deliver fully catered chalet holidays has gone up substantially over the past few years. Our price point has changed in the last 2 years from around £899pp to £1299pp, an approximate 40% increase, putting once affordable fully catered holidays out of reach for some people. 

Understandably, self catered options are becoming more and more appealing as the upfront cost is a lot less than a catered chalet holiday. You can book your holiday well in advance, know it’s in the bag, then save up for any additional extras.

We know from our own customer surveys, and supported by The Ski Club of Great Britain’s Consumer Research in May 2023, that around 60% of skiers now like to book their winter holiday at least six months in advance to secure the peak weeks.

As the catered market is shrinking, the demand, however, for catered peak weeks is increasing. Families that do want to book a catered holiday and are tied to the school holidays are being forced to look for alternative options. In many cases they're opting for hotels or self catered properties with services and are enjoying the change!

Smaller Group Holidays

Catered chalets were always perfect for big groups, however, budgets are being tightened and as a result there are not the same large numbers of people wanting to holiday together as a group. 

Catered chalets were also a great social space for smaller groups of people and couples wanting to meet new ski buddies, however, people are now much less inclined to share catered chalets, especially since Covid. We are seeing more and more guests wanting their own private spaces for exclusive use.

Post-Covid, 71% of respondents to our survey said they were more likely to book a self catered holiday over a catered holiday, with the majority stating that they didn’t want to holiday with people they didn’t know, or would feel less comfortable in larger groups. 

Social isolation worries have luckily disappeared in the past couple of years but the taste of smaller, more intimate, self catered holidays has taken hold. We’ve seen this trend continue into Winter 2023/34 with 67% of respondents to our latest survey choosing to stay self catered. This includes resorts across the Alps, not just in Morzine.

Greener Travel

Local environmental charity, Montagne Verte have seen a marked increase in the number of people taking advantage of their AlpinExpress reward programme for people travelling to Morzine by train during Winter 2023/24 compared to Winter 2022/23.

It's obvious that sustainability and environmental issues are becoming more important to holiday makers. 

Skiers prioritising greener travel, which tends to be more expensive than flying or driving, are also more likely to look for cheaper accommodation options than a luxury catered chalet.

So… What’s Next For Catered Chalet Holidays?

While the trend is definitely moving towards self catered accommodation, guests are still looking for the luxuries associated with staying in a catered chalet. This is leading to the rise of a new hybrid model that sits between the two: self catered chalets and apartments tailored to the demands of your individual group with add-on services to create a bespoke holiday that specifically meets your needs and budget. 

Let’s face it - at More Mountain we certainly know how it’s done in catered chalets. We've been doing it for nearly 20 years!

So... now it’s time to offer everyone a taste of the luxury catered chalet experience within our wide range of self catered properties. 

At More Mountain, we call this MORE Plus.

We’ve developed these additional services in direct response to guest feedback for more flexibility and control over their holiday, including:

  • Ski chauffeur slope transfer service
  • Lift passes collected and delivered
  • Fridge stocked with essentials
  • Meals delivered from a local restaurant and served up by our staff
  • Recommendations for restaurants and non-skiing activities

Let’s be honest though, the main reason people book a catered holiday is because they don’t want to have to cook, let alone spend those prime après hours queuing in the supermarket. And then there’s the small matter of the washing up...! 

This is all still possible with our MORE Plus offering by bringing in a private chef to give you full flexibility around menus and meal times. 

If it’s more important for you to have breakfast ready and waiting in the mornings, so all you need to do is wrestle the kids into their ski boots, then you can hire a private chef just for breakfast, and sort out your own evening meals. 

How luxurious would that feel?!

A number of our popular catered chalets are now available on a self catered basis, at a more affordable price. This means you can fill them to the brim with friends and family, or choose to enjoy these larger properties with a smaller group, and pick the additional services you want to complete your holiday. 

The Crows Nest - Sleeps 10 people in 5 ensuite rooms with 2 lounges, spectacular views and Jacuzzi

Chalet La Godille  - Sleeps 12 people in 6 ensuite rooms with 2 lounges, spectacular views and outdoor Jacuzzi

Chalet Jirishanca - Sleeps 14 people in 7 ensuite rooms with 2 lounges, very central location and outdoor Jacuzzi

Catered Chalets Aren't Over

So, in answer to the above question - will catered chalet holidays still be available? It is a big fat YES from us!

We know our guests love the More Mountain fully catered chalet experience and we’ll still be offering catered ski holidays at Chalet Le Stade.

Right in the centre of Morzine opposite the Pleney télécabine, it’s always a popular choice with 7 enormous ensuite bedrooms, and a fantastic living space. It’s available on an exclusive use or per person basis from next Winter. 

Here at More Mountain, we’ve been providing holidays in Morzine since 2006 and we’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years. We’ve managed to weather changing demands and industry pressures by continually listening to our guests and by adapting and flexing. 

Catered ski holidays aren’t over and done with forever. They may have fallen out of popularity for the moment, however, we still believe we’ll see a shift back to the fully catered ski experience that provide a true escape from the reality of day to day life.

In the meantime, choose where you want to stay and build your bespoke holiday experience in line with what you want!

We’ll be here, ready to welcome you with an Aperol or two! 

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