Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

Published on Monday, December 14, 2020

Back-from-the-brink ski specialist: 'We were hung out to dry'

The boss of ski specialist Alpine Elements - who last week bought the business back from administrators - has insisted he did everything possible to refund passengers but was left no option but to turn to ATOL and ABTA to bail out the company.

James Hardiman said the business only had enough to cover its overheads after receiving a fraction of the funds it had paid to suppliers.

Flights were still operating - often with no passengers, he said - meaning little was recouped from airlines.

Meanwhile, convincing landlords to hand back rent for chalet accommodation Alpine Elements had committed to was also largely unsuccessful.

Company acounts also showed that Alpine Elements made a small loss in 2019 of £6,393 - down from a £41,000 profit in 2018 - and only had £236,000 in the bank.

Hardiman said the loss of the 2021/21 winter ski season and the refusal of the government to introduce more nuanced travel advice, prevented it from trading through the crisis.

The comments came amid criticism that he had reacquired the busines, and may restart operations, yet was relying on ATOL and ABTA to refund 2,500 passengers.

Responding to critics, Hardiman said he 'understood concerns', but explained how numerous attempts to find backers failed, with the current investor only materialising after the business had entered administration

"It is heart breaking for me to lose this business and I can only reiterate that this is not something that I could ever have planned or wanted and I care deeply about my guests, suppliers and staff whom I feel I have let down," he said.

"Since Covid curtailed our ski season, we tried hard all summer to find new investors to help pay back our guests, but after no substantial offers and the month of November advancing, I was faced with the awful reality of the discontinuation of Alpine, a mass of job losses and the ruin of 23 years of work.

"We tried very hard, and got close, but in the end we could not find a backer to take on the business and the Refudn Credit Notess pre-administration.

"So, when the ski season was declared a non-starter this tipped us into administration process. During our administration process, I found the investment and a new backer willing to come on board post administration. The sale of the business and assets by our administrator to iGOSKI Ltd is in the best interests for our customers/creditors. And my many staff who remain employed."

Hardiman said providing cost-effecfive packages for British skiers is work that he enjoyed and 'is the only way of life that I know'.

"With a new backer we found at the last minute we hope to bring Alpine Elements back to our customers," he said.

"No wrongdoing or premeditated planning has occurred on our part, just a simple determination to keep my staff in their jobs and to allow our guests to enjoy the 'Alpine Elements Way' once again."

He said Covid created an 'impossible situation', with travel restrictions, lockdowns and the lack of government support crippling the business.

Any restart of operations would require a relaxation of those restrictions and a more understanding approach from the government, he said.

"We are governed by the PTR's and have dutifully worked extremely hard over the last 8-9 months preparing to refund our customers by way of investment (loans) and business continuation," Hardiman said.

"However, the 2020/21 ski season was necessary to our plan, and now that it is no longer going to start, we were left with nothing more we could do. A brick wall was upon us.

"We are utterly exhausted and full of concern and sorrow for our many clients of whom we have had to ask to wait for a refund.

"The most galling point for me is that the UK Government have given us no support and no consistent guidance. Indeed, we had a CBIL (Coronavirus loan) but it was so insignificant for our needs that it barely paid the overheads required to run our business and support our guests over summer.

"Like many travel companies without deep-pocketed backers, we have been hung out to dry, left to find our own means of refunding our loyal and patient guests, when there has been no rule or requirement for our suppliers to refund us.

"I wish for no more than to serve this industry as best I can, and as I have done for the last 23 years with a blemish free record.

"Surely I should be allowed under the circumstances to pick myself back up, work hard and start again?"

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  • Not Premeditated

    Mr Hardiman denies that it was premeditated so it must be a coincidence that Venture Holidays was formed on 15 May 2020. Look at their website!

    By Tony Wedgewood, Tuesday, December 15, 2020

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