The Coronavirus Effect: The Future for Ski Resorts

POST PANDEMIC PREDICTIONS FOR SKIING WINTER 2020/21

Is it safe to book your ski holiday now? Or should you wait and face rising prices? The ski industry is holding its breath praying there is no further fall out for skiing and ski resorts...

If you found this feature through Google then you're probably thinking about your skiing or snowboarding trip for winter 2020/2021 and searching for info on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on ski resorts.  You're worried if you can book a ski holiday. Should you? What if the ski resorts don't open because of a second or third wave of coronavirus? Or the airlines go bust?

It's like an avalanche has hit and the ski industry is holding its breath praying there is no more fallout for ski resorts next winter.

If you have deep pockets but no ski chalet to call your own, then chances are you've already booked your private chalet. This is because having your very own chalet is one of the most obviously safe ways of doing your next ski trip. Cheerful cosy chalets shared with strangers and dinky Alpine hotels packed with multi-national tourists suddenly seem less appealing now there's the fear of further infections. 

Post lockdown, it seems people want to get away from it all. Literally.

Who would want to splash that much cash?

For a mere £750k you can book the whole winter in Chalet Montana, located in the private enclave of Les Carats in Val d’Isère, sleeping 10 adults and four children with ski-in/ski-out access and your own pool and spa area. Who would want to splash that much cash? Plenty according to Consensio chalets who are already getting snowed under with requests for their luxury chalets in Meribel, Val d'Isere and Courchevel for this summer and next winter. 

Ceri Tinley managing director of Consensio, reports, "The last few weeks we have seen unprecedented enquiries for longer-term options. Ranging from summer rentals from June to September, through to a full year booking from this May through to May 2021. Some clients want the full service, and others want to bring their whole team along with their family to include grandparents and children."

Of course, having the cash to splash also means not having to travel with the hoi polloi breathing their potentially infected air in departure lounges and sitting shoulder to shoulder on board a packed plane. Why would you if you have a heli or private jet to whisk you in supreme isolation except from friends and family to your ski resort?

Furloughed, fired or fallen off the financial bailout radar

Yes, there's the very real possibility that skiing next winter will be the sport of kings and the wealthy heli-set. At least until the industry recovers. This is because currently it's the middle class ski tourist who has been hammered by the lockdown, furloughed, fired or fallen off the financial bailout radar as self-employed, small businesses or freelancers. The ski holiday would, understandably, be one of the first middle class luxuries to go out the window until bank balances return to normal.

But many die-hard (OK maybe that's an insensitive adjective) skiers and snowboarders will not be so easily put off. With last Easter ski holidays cancelled plus any March/April trips to the mountains, some have simply taken up the offers for transferring bookings to next winter with fingers crossed there will be resorts open to welcome them. Or they've gone with the savvy ski operators who are offering a full refund if the resorts do not actually open. In the US, those who took advantage of early bird offers for the Ikon ski pass now have the benefit of Adventure Assurance, allowing next season's pass to roll over to winter  2021/22 with no fee if the COVID-19 outbreak is still raging. 

Easyjet, meanwhile, has snagged many an optimist by offering not only cheap flights for next winter, but also baggage transport for 99p per bag. With the sword of Damocies over the airline industry and the prospect of sky high flights when they next take off, the cheaper flights offered now are understandably tempting even if paying out, currently, to Easyjet may be seem like throwing good money down a glacial crevasse as the airline has still not sorted out its refunds from March. But where there's financial hope, it has to be said, there's a skier/snowboarder looking forward to next winter's ski holiday.

 Ski resorts received lots of negative publicity during the outbreak of COVID-19

"The ski industry may be slower to recover than other sectors (especially those resorts relying on the international market), and will have to work hard to regain consumer confidence," says Simon Hudson, Tourism Professor and author of the upcoming book COVID-19 & TRAVEL, published by Goodfellow this August, 'Remember like the cruise industry, ski resorts received lots of negative publicity during the outbreak of COVID-19. Resorts will have to make health a priority and convince skiers that they are safe to visit. The Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, closed all the resorts there because of data showing coronavirus infection rates in Colorado's ski towns were 20 to 30 times higher than average. So until there is a vaccine, skiers will be wary. 

"On the other hand, certain target markets will recover quicker than others post COVID-19. Research related to crisis-resistant tourists has shown that a segment of tourists exists, which is inherently more resistant to crises than other tourists. This market is younger than average (millennials), more extrovert, willing to take high physical risks, motivated to travel by opportunities related to sports and health, and actively engaged in activities like skiing and snowboarding. They can also be influenced directly through social media, so resorts might recover quicker if they go after this market.

In the short-term, branded hotels will be considered a safer option than Airbnb

"Families and baby boomers will still ski, but may choose to change their travel behaviour by driving to resorts and by staying in what they consider 'safe' accommodation. I think in the short-term, branded hotels will be considered a safer option than Airbnb.

"In terms of operations, I think we can look at resorts around the world that have reopened as a sign of things to come. China, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Sweden and Norway were all operating resorts in March and April, but with very strict opening and operating restrictions, and mainly for the use of local people only (domestic tourism will be quicker to recover than international). Norway was insisting on social distancing on lifts and restaurants, in China skiers needed a medical health certificate in addition to a quality face mask to ski, and most resorts drastically limited numbers of people on the slopes.

"This may push up prices in the short-term (next season anyway) as resorts will not be able to run at full capacity but will need to recover fixed costs."

 This is a certainly a conundrum.

So how do ski resorts plan to run - and survive - if not at full capacity? For those resorts with lift systems aimed at carrying as many tourists up the hill as they can ram in - that can be up to 5000 an hour via high speed gondolas - this is a certainly a conundrum.The pack-'em in and spit them out philosophy is going to have to change even if social distancing has relaxed because the legacy of coronavirus - if it has indeed been laid to rest by then - is that no one will want to be in air-sharing crowds for a while, whether in lift queues or crushed into gondolas.

The Aiguille du Midi cable car, one of the first French lifts to reopen for business on 16th May will have summer capacity reduced from 80 to 30 and restrictions in place including wearing face masks as compulsory and all passengers checked by thermal cameras before entering. Is this the future?

And what about apres bars? Hands up if you want to dance on the tables in ski boots, down shots and party with a bar full of strangers like it's 1999? Thought not.

Ischgl has been fondly known as the Ibiza of the mountains but less favourably recently dubbed ground zero for the spread of coronavirus owing to it's hedonistic festival-style apres atmosphere. But now the resort has vowed to change it's image. Eight hundred infections in Austria were traced to have come from this party town, with 1200 more taken back home by tourists from Germany, Norway and the UK, to name but three countries who blame Ischgl for some of the early super-spreaders. The resort, which closed on 13th March, is going into rehab to recreate its image so that, according to Mayor Werner Kurz, there will be, "More quality and less party tourism, prioritising skiers and fewer day-trippers on buses who only come to party,"

  Let's throw Brexit into the mix

Will the same go for the other party resorts? Will they douse the Folie Douce atmosphere in Val d'Isere?, Curfew the stag-do bars in Sauze d'Oulx? Is this the turning point for those ski holidays where it's more about the apres than the sport? On the piss rather than on the piste. There's also talk of no restaurants opening up if there is still the fear of coronavirus hanging over resorts, which might put off the social cafe skiers who enjoy their elevenses and lunches up the mountain, although it would certainly save them money.

And now let's throw Brexit into the mix for a recipe for big change in Europe. If the post grad and gap year young Brit brigade on a pittance for wages (but with 'free' bed, food and ski passes) cannot be employed because of European law, let alone shacked together in cupboards (that the tour ops call staff accommodation) thanks to Covid-19, then a major element of that carefree Work, Ski, Sleep, Drink, Repeat seasonaire lifestyle has already been lost. Add the higher prices of employing local staff, instead, and, yep, not only is the atmosphere altered but also the increased cost for tourists.

The number of people who will go skiing in China this season is forecast to fall by 47 percent.

Meanwhile, over in China, there must be a huge sigh of relief that, phew, the Winter Olympics in Beijing are not until February, 2022, giving the country a chance to recover global goodwill let alone its economy.

"The country’s ski industry had hoped to use the years before the lighting of the torch to get new skiers on the country’s slopes and generate public interest in alpine and snowboarding thrills," according to Russell Flannery, Forbes magazine. "Travel, hotel, ski gear, ski apparel, real estate, and food and beverage businesses are among those looking to benefit.

"Those hopes have been largely wiped out for this year by the coronavirus outbreak. Short-term ski industry losses amid the coronavirus outbreak could exceed eight billion yuan, or $1.1 billion, government-published China Daily said..

"The number of people who will go skiing in China this season is forecast to fall by 47 percent to around 11 million, according to an industry report, the newspaper said. The number of ski areas this year is now expected to drop to 720 from 770 last year.

China fans and consumers have been courted

"China’s earlier hopes for gains in the popularity of winter sports was part of a larger trend toward more spending on athletics as disposable income has increased over the years in the world’s No. 2 economy. Among US groups and businesses, China fans and consumers have been courted by the likes of the NBA , NFL and Nike. China sportswear supplier Anta, looking to expand its winter offerings, teamed up with Internet giant Tencent, FountainVest Partners and North American billionaire Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon sports apparel, to purchase European winter sports brand leader Amer at a valuation of $5.2 billion last year."

Yep, it's not just coronavirus we have to fear from the Chinese - prepare for the Chinese takeaway of ski brands.. Even if there is a cure for coronavirus before the winter; even if we all become immune or even if there's a vaccine, money is going to be tight for most ski tourists and there will be a vulnerable ski industry. It's your duty, then, to take up your skis or snowboard, get in the car (if no flights) and return to the mountains as soon as you are financially able. If the lifts are closed, there's always ski touring...