Economy & Politics

How Corona hits winter tourism

The mountain railways and lifts in Bavaria’s ski areas are already at a standstill and it should stay that way until the end of the lockdown. Until this week, many operators and restaurateurs were still hoping for an increase in sales at the end of the year – when the Christmas holidays attract winter sports enthusiasts and excursionists to the ski slopes. The prospect of a postponement of the ski season beyond the lockdown light until the beginning of January is therefore causing severe headwinds in the industry.

Comprehensive hygiene concepts have been developed in the last few months, write the German Ski Association, Snowboard Germany, the German Ski Instructor Association, the Ski Safety Foundation and the Bavarian Ski Association in an open letter. An extension of the lockdown would have noticeable economic consequences: “Winter sport in all its facets is an indispensable economic factor for all tourism in the Alpine region.” According to the German Ski Association, up to eight million Germans – and thus almost one in ten – ski regularly ski.

Switzerland: booking backlog in October

In addition to the domestic winter sports industry, the advance is primarily angering the neighboring European countries of Austria and Switzerland. The business with German ski holidaymakers is even bigger here: measured in terms of gross domestic product, tourism accounts for around 2.9 percent of economic output. Even without the discussion about a ski ban during the Christmas holidays, the prospects in the winter tourism sector were therefore clouded. According to a survey in the Swiss hotel industry, the booking level in the ski areas at the end of October was almost a fifth lower than in the previous year, and for sports holidays it was even more than a quarter.

According to an estimate by the marketing agency and the economic research center at ETH Zurich, overnight stays could drop by 31 percent in the winter season. The absence of foreign holidaymakers is particularly noticeable. German guests recently made up the largest group among winter vacationers: one in ten of the 7.8 million guests in the past winter season came from Germany.

The move by Chancellor Angela Merkel was therefore rejected by Switzerland. A closure of the ski areas is not planned, announced the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. Two reasons were given: Extensive investments have been made in protection concepts, and some of the facilities such as those in Zermatt are already in operation. Depending on the success of an EU-wide regulation for the provisional postponement, Switzerland could become more attractive for some ski vacationers.

Austria: losses in the billions expected

Postponing the ski season would hit the Austrian tourism industry much harder than it would for Switzerland. With a share of 7.3 percent in GDP, it is more than twice as important in economic terms. A not insignificant part is accounted for by the 430 ski areas that have prepared for the upcoming season with comprehensive hygiene concepts, including test stations. Until recently, many operators have hoped for German guests. They made up almost a third of all holidaymakers in the past winter season.

For many years, Ischgl was a tourist stronghold with an average of 960 overnight stays for 1,600 residents. Since spring, Ischgl has also had a reputation as a corona hotspot: From there, the virus spread across Europe. In the debate about the ski ban, the place is considered a chilling example. “Ischgl is not forgotten”, was how Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder justified the harsh measures taken against its own ski industry. In order to curb tourism in the neighboring country, the Bavarian state government has made it difficult to vacation abroad. Anyone who travels to a risk area – currently including Switzerland and Austria – has to go into a ten-day quarantine on a day trip from December.

Austria experienced a foretaste of the consequences of such travel restrictions in the spring, when the ski season was shortened due to the Corona. Despite an increase in overnight guests by almost five percent in November and December 2019, the figures for the entire winter half-year fell by 18 percent compared to the previous year. The Prodinger advisory group estimates that with travel restrictions such as in spring, overnight stays could, in the worst case, collapse by up to 45 percent. That would mean sales losses of up to 1 billion euros for the Alpine republic.

Austria’s finance minister Gernot Blümel calculates the losses at up to 2 billion euros. If ski resorts across Europe should be closed, the EU would have to pay for the associated loss of income, is therefore his demand. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz rejects this. A closure of the ski areas depends on the Austrian infection figures, he said. Due to the current lockdown, the start of the ski season will be postponed to mid-December.

Sporting goods manufacturers hope for outdoor enthusiasts

The Austrian ski manufacturers could also feel the delay in the ski season. According to the industry, every second ski comes from the Alpine republic. The international volume of the three big brands Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer and Head alone amounts to an average of 3.5 million pairs sold worldwide. However, due to the corona, sales this year are a fifth lower. Due to the uncertainties, manufacturers expect lower revenues this season.

Manufacturers do their strongest business from February to spring. Despite a possible postponement of the ski season, there is still hope that the industry will get off lightly. The trend towards more activities in nature could once again have a positive effect. This is already the case with touring skis and snowshoes.

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