Back on piste! Mansfield firm's school skiing trips can start again
A long-standing travel agency in Mansfield that provides skiing trips for schools is delighted it has been given the green light to take bookings again.
Interski, which has been based in the town since 1978, boasts a nationwide reputation for excellence for its holidays in the Italian Alps.
Like all businesses in the travel industry, it was hit badly by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the government issuing a blanket ban on school trips overseas.
But now that ban has been lifted, and Interski’s boss Robert McIntosh says the firm can at last look forward to the future.
"The Department for Education has issued advice that schools can start to book and make preparations to travel from the beginning of this autumn term,” said Robert.
"This is really good news for us. The last 18 months have been a difficult ride, but I am confident now that we will start to turn the corner.”
Interski employs 11 full-time staff, plus about 50 seasonal staff during the winter and up to 400 ski instructors in the three resorts of Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila in the Aosta Valley of Italy, where its skiing holidays are located.
Relieved Robert stressed: “We are a strong and stable company and, thankfully, we have been able to keep going. But last winter, we lost all our business, with no passengers at all, while the previous winter, we lost about 40 per cent of business.
"Now, I am as optimistic as at any point in the last 18 months. The vaccination rollout is great news, and the change of stance on school travel is great news.
"There is a real sense that we are returning to normal, which is good too for the schools and students. They have really missed out because skiing trips can be wonderful, life-changing experiences.”
Ninety per cent of Interski’s business focuses on school trips, with ten per cent on general skiing holidays for adults and families.
In a normal year, it would help to organise 250 trips for schools and colleges across the country, including the Mansfield area, which equates to between 10,000 and 12,000 passengers.
It holds the government-backed Learning Outsider The Classroom Quality Badge, which ensures stringent health and safety measures.
The lifting of the travel ban is timely because the School Travel Forum, the trade association for companies providing educational visits overseas, was preparing to seek a judicial review to overturn it.
Gill Harvey, chief executive officer of the School Travel Forum, said: “Educational visits, such as those run by Interski, have a transformative impact on young people.
"They broaden horizons, build understanding, bring a subject to life and improve academic attainment, confidence and behaviour.
"Schools need to make their own decisions about future travel. Being able to plan ahead means they can secure the best price for their group.”
Robert feels that if the go-ahead for bookings had been delayed much longer, it could have put school trips in jeopardy.
He added: “It takes schools nine months and upwards to plan a successful and safe educational visit overseas.
"This gives families time to save, and teachers time to build the trip into their yearly plans, and to prepare students.
"The previous advice given by the Department for Education was preventing many schools from planning for next year.”