I imagine like most people these days, I communicate with my friends and family via various WhatsApp groups. We only usually call each other when someone has either died or done something truly daft.
So when my phone rang a couple of Fridays ago, I knew something must have been amiss. My friend’s son was due to be going skiing on that very evening, but the school had emailed all parents two hours before departure to tell them that the whole trip was cancelled due to problems sourcing a coach!
The questions were: Would I bail the school out, and what had happened at the 11th hour to leave 50 unhappy children complete with specially-designed hoodies but little else?
The answer to the first of those was an emphatic no. We stopped heading over the water after the Brexit vote, and not once have I regretted it. I greatly admire the coach operators that are prepared to take the risk of breakdowns, accidents, the French police and issues at ports.
I watched the news and was fascinated by the queues at Dover. I did the mental gymnastics on drivers’ hours, rest and scheduling, and I was mightily relieved that it wasn’t my problem. I voted against Brexit. I believed then that it was short-sighted and inward-looking, and nothing has convinced me that I was wrong.
The second question is a more difficult one, and there are way more qualified people than me to answer whose fault it was that the coach wasn’t going to turn up.
Had the travel company even booked one? Had there been an administrative error between the travel company and the coach operator doing the job? Or more prosaically, had said operator simply dialled it in and decided that it didn’t want to, or couldn’t, fulfil the work?
I suspect it is more complex than all that, but I do know that my friend had no idea whose coach his son was supposed to be travelling on. He squarely has the ski company at fault. There is no reputational damage to anyone in our industry. It would seem to me that the entire cost of the whole fiasco fell on ABC Ski Holidays (not its real name), and we subsequently discovered that the same scenario had happened all over the country.
Emails were flying back and forth asking operators to name their price for last minute skiers. Many, I suspect, did not get covered, and the ones that did would have been for extortionate rates – and good luck to any coach company that did get a very large drink out of it.
Which brings me to the crux of this article. Has the appetite among operators for the continent diminished? Has the pandemic made us more risk-averse and all happier to work closer to home with less exposure? Or was it simply a bad year and a perfect storm of no supply and the huge delays at ports knocking schedules to pot?
Whatever it was, I suspect that next year there will be more money, but fewer skiers, for those of us who want to have a crack at it.