Tour operator guiding goes to French Court

9th January 2013, by Abi Butcher

UK tour operator Le Ski has more than a month to wait until a French court decides whether the company was illegally providing employees to show holiday skiers around the pistes in the Three Valleys last season.

On Monday, 7 January, Le Ski managing director Nick Morgan appeared in court in Albertville, accused by French authorities of allowing employees to take holiday makers around the slopes. Under French law, the prosecutors claimed the employees — call them hosts, leaders or guides — must be fully-fledged ski instructors with the highest qualifications to be allowed act as a ski host in France.

The prosecutor acknowledged that the issue of ski hosting by UK tour operators has become a very important political point, and that its national ski school, the ESF, had to be protected from unqualified hosts.

Indeed Méribel ESF is claiming €12,000 compensation (around £9,800) from Le Ski for lost business, despite the fact that Le Ski is based in Courchevel not Méribel, and if clients want ski lessons Le Ski sends them to Courchevel-based ski schools.

During a four-hour hearing in front of three judges on Monday, lawyers for Le Ski said that EU law does not support the French protectionism case and that if Le Ski loses here it will appeal right up to the European Court in Brussels.

A decision is expected to be announced in Albertville on 18 February.

Tour operators are widely regarding this as a test case and if the judgement and subsequent appeals go against Le Ski, UK tour operator guiding will be no more (in France, at least).

In our view, it is totally crazy for the ESF to be claiming that UK tour op ski hosting loses them business. Hosts do not teach and do not take clients off-piste. And many people like to be shown around the ski area without the hassle of looking at a piste map all the time but would not pay ski instructor prices for that.

In North America nearly every ski resort provides free ‘piste orientation’ tours by volunteers once or twice a day and don’t see it as a threat to their ski school business. On the contrary, they see it as an essential attraction that brings more people to their resort and results in more lift passes being sold and more money spent in the resort. French resorts should take that attitude too. Otherwise we might all head for North America, Austria, Italy, Switzerland or Andorra instead.

By Editor Watts

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