This week saw the 21st edition of Grand Ski – the annual French snowsports event exclusively for the trade.   This year saw 460 tour operators and agents from 17 markets around the world meet up with 238 exhibitors.

Grand Ski was held in Annecy for the third consecutive year and will move to Chambery for 2013-2015.

France has sights set on the global top spot

Last year, at the opening of Grand Ski, the French Secretary of State for Tourisme, Frederic Lefebvre, spoke of his desire to replace the United States at the top of world ski league table.

Unfortunately with 53.2 million skier days in the 2010/11 season, France remained in 2nd place behind the United States (60m), although ahead of Austria (51.2m).

The lack of snow took much of the blame for this, but the French industry is aware that Grand Ski is the best opportunity to build growth in international markets, which represent 25% of their overall business.

Britain still the largest overseas market

Despite the large fall in UK travellers to French ski resorts, Brits remains the most common overseas visitors to French resorts.

The Russian market is growing fast however, particularly in Les Trois Vallees.  Apparently 15% of all visitors to Meribel are now ‘Les Russes’: Cyrillic can be seen on menus across the valley, as well as all over the Meribel stand at Grand Ski (see below).

Russian piste map on the Meribel Grand Ski stand

These are some of the figures quoted for percentages of British in some resorts:

Arc 1950 – 35%
La Tania – 95%
Chamonix – 25%
Val d’Isere – 25%
Avoriaz – 15%

Anne-Laure Du Chattel

Anne-Laure Du Chattel - Responsable Marketing, Chamonix Mont Blanc

Talent from outside the industry

We’re not sure if two people constitutes a trend, but it was exciting to meet two newcomers to the industry in key roles.

Anne-Laure Du Chattel recently joined Chamonix as head of Marketing, Web and Promotion, having previously worked for Danone.  Meanwhile in Meribel, Delphine Decanter has moved from Nike to take on the role of Marketing Director.

It may well be that fresh blood and fresh ideas are exactly what France needs and it will be interesting to see if other resorts break with the tradition of recruiting internally.

Les Grand Projets

If Austria has been faster off the mark at improving their product, it feels as if France is catching up at last.

There are some large projects underway, including the Aquariaz in Avoriaz (opening July 2012), the spa development in Arc 1950 (Feb 2012) and the new conference and sports centre in Tignes (July 2013).

Aravis rebrands as Lake Annecy Ski Resorts

Lake Annecy Ski Resorts

The other major change is the rebrand by the Massif des Aravis.

This area, which includes the resorts of La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand, Manigod and St Jean de Sixt, has been renamed ‘Lake Annecy Ski Resorts‘.

Initially this will just be for the international market, but next year will be rolled out to the French market as well. All the staff will have new uniforms which carry the logo of their resort as well as the ‘LASR’ logo, similar to the combined branding on Les Trois Vallees staff uniforms.

The change of name was decided after research showed that awareness of ‘Aravis’ was very low in the international market.

Annecy has much greater awareness, particularly after the 2018 Olympic bid.  The aim is that it communicates the proximity of this scenic city to the mountains, the non-ski options and both the summer and winter possibilities of the area.

Made in Hautes AlpesEnglish is increasingly the lingua franca

It’s notable that the LASR brand uses English words ‘Lake’ and ‘Resorts’.  In international terms, more people speak English than French, so it makes sense.

However, it was not the only campaign using English, as the new slogan ‘Made In Hautes Alpes‘ made its debut this week as well.

The number of Brits heading to France for skiing may have decreased, but at least one area of the market is becoming more anglicised.

By Iain Martin