Despite the energy crisis
Foreign guests save business: Hotel and mountain railway owners expect a strong winter season
Switzerland Tourism expects more hotel stays in the winter than before the pandemic. Ski camps are experiencing a real boom.
It was still a realistic scenario in the summer: at worst, the mountain railways threatened to stop if there was a power shortage. That would have meant enormous economic damage. A severe electrification crisis has now been averted for the time being: although the situation is still precarious, the mountain railways expect stable operation in winter. And not only that: the tourism industry is looking forward to a better winter than it was before the pandemic.
The forecasts were “extremely confident,” Martin Nidger, Switzerland’s director of tourism, said at a media conference on Wednesday. According to forecasts, overnight stays in hotels are 1% higher than in the last full season before the pandemic, i.e. winter 2018/2019. This is subject to the condition that the weather cooperates.
Crowds of overseas guests and ski camps boom
Foreign guests are mainly responsible for this rise: their number is expected to increase by 18 percent compared to the previous year. “Despite the difficult circumstances, the desire of foreign guests to travel again has already awakened,” says Nidger. With guests from France and Germany in particular, Switzerland scores as the “ideal domestic travel destination accessible by train.”
Even the Swiss Tourism Authority predicts an all-time record for ski camps. Currently 361 ski camps are booked, equating to about 16,500 students. The industry organization is pleased that the younger generation is the “engine of growth”. According to a study by the Federal Sports Office, skiing is the number one sport for children and young people.
The number of Swiss guests is declining
The outlook for regular Swiss winter guests is poorer. They are more numerous than before the pandemic (plus 14 percent), but not as many as in “very good” winters, according to Nydegger. Next winter, total stay in the mountains is expected to be around 6 percent less than the previous year.
One of the reasons for this may be the high costs involved in a ski trip. As reported by CH Media, two out of three ski areas add to ticket prices.
Compared to 2019, the number of overnight stays in Switzerland increased by 18% in the first nine months of 2022, while the number of foreign guests decreased by a quarter. Only a fifth of the guests came from China, Taiwan, Japan and India. Overall, there is less than 5 percent compared to the pre-pandemic year.
From the point of view of the industry organization, the development in travel behavior is satisfactory. Nidger explained that there is a trend towards Switzerland “one way”. Guests enjoy a higher travel budget and stay longer in Switzerland.
Of course, the industry also has problems – these are all well known. Nidger spoke of the “accumulation of crises in recent months that have occurred together and sometimes even linked.” First and foremost is climate change. However, energy supplies, shortages of skilled labor, inflation, and the strength of the franc compared to many weaker currencies are also knock-on factors.
This is how the mountain railways want to save electricity
However, the mountain rail is also confident. The ski areas recorded “very good sales figures,” said Berno Stoffel, director of Swiss Cable Cars. Frequencies are also strong among those who have already started the season. Thanks to the low temperatures, snow making conditions are also good.
Stoffel defended himself against the image of mountain railways as energy-intensive. In 2021, railways would have accounted for just 0.24% of electricity consumption in Switzerland. “With that, we’re making our contribution to saving electricity,” Stoffel explained. For example, trains will run slower or for less time, seat heating will be turned off or night skiing will be reduced.
And in retrospect, mountain rail “has successfully weathered the Covid crisis,” Stoffel continued. Last winter, the mountain railways had the highest turnover in transportation in 12 years. At the expense of Austria, 6 percent of the market share was captured in the German-speaking region. According to Stoffel, the reason is that, unlike in neighboring countries, the company has not been affected by closures nor by the obligation to obtain certification.