Ski season in Austria: “People want out, want vacation”

As of: 12/27/2021 11:03 a.m.

Austria’s second ski season in the pandemic starts under strict conditions. Landlords and lift operators hope for guests – but many of them have switched to shopping instead of après-ski.

By Silke Hahne, ARD Studio Vienna

The day of skiing on the Schafalm above Schladming is drawing to a close, the hut is well attended at this time of day. Hüttenwirt Heinz Schütte is halfway satisfied: guests are there, and they are also quite happy to consume, he says. “There are some groups that are not there who normally want to go skiing and having fun and partying and après-ski. We miss that. But the bottom line is that it is now starting up. It fits.”

They used to have après-ski parties here on weekends. Today they check 2G certificates, which are required in restaurants across the country. The upper floor of the Schafalm is currently closed. Not only guests stay away because of Corona: “We are missing about 20, 25 employees,” says Schütte. “We can no longer keep a third of the company open because the employees no longer come, because they don’t have the certainty that they will have the job for the whole year.”

Up to three vaccinations plus test

The ski lifts were also open in the previous lockdown. Hotels and restaurants in the Styrian Schladming were only allowed to open again on December 17th – later than in other Austrian federal states that are popular with ski tourists, but at least on time for the Christmas holidays in many countries.

For the holiday season, Georg Bliem from the cable car industry in Schladming is expecting 70 percent capacity utilization in the restaurant. He doesn’t dare to predict how the season will continue after the first week of January. “We learned to be flexible,” he says. “Of course this is a major economic challenge, no question, also for a large mountain railway company for the Planai.” Last but not least, with 430 employees, it is important to reschedule quickly if changes occur.

Changes like new entry rules. Since December 20th, tourists from Germany need either a booster vaccination or a double vaccination plus PCR test to enter Austria. For the Dutch, Danes, Norwegians and British, the following applies: three vaccinations plus a PCR test are necessary. Otherwise there are quarantines that make the vacation virtually impossible.

Many guests from Germany

Schladming is less dependent on foreign guests than ski regions in Tyrol, for example, says Mathias Schattleitner from the local tourism association – but 60 percent of the guests come from abroad, more than a third of them from Germany.

Most recently there was good news from Germany for tourism professionals: The Robert Koch Institute removed Austria from the list of high-risk countries. This means, for example, that unvaccinated children no longer have to be quarantined after their return from Austria. In Austria itself, unvaccinated children between 12 and 15 years of age still have to prove three tests per week, for adults 2G applies almost everywhere. Control on the slopes is via the ski pass: access to the lift only works if the relevant 2G or test certificate has been submitted – either online or at the ticket counter. FFP2 masks are also required in the gondolas.

Mathias Schattleitner hopes that the now tried and tested concepts will carry at least part of the hospitality industry through possible future pandemic years: “In the Schladming-Dachstein region, 80 percent of the total value added depends on tourism. Two thirds of all jobs depend on tourism,” he says . The region generates around two thirds of its income in winter – “and if you know that winter was canceled last year and is ailing again this year, then you can extrapolate that it will not work out in the long run.” Schattleitner shows understanding that areas that can hardly be made corona-proof have to be canceled – such as après-ski.

There is no longer any trace of the super-spreader: Ischgl’s city center.

Bild: picture alliance / EXPA / APA /

A “jolt” in the shops

At the moment, despite the Omikron, the rules ensure a feeling of security for many guests. Meanwhile, the guests spend their money on new equipment instead of après-ski: At the moment, customers bought almost as much as they did last in 2019, says the manager of three local sports shops, Stefan Eckel. “Where the doors have opened, where the gastronomy has also unlocked, it was a huge jolt for us. People want out, people want to go on vacation and of course you can also tell in our shop.”

Guests, hoteliers, business people – they all take what is possible and seem happy that a ski holiday in Austria is possible at all this year. Hüttenwirt Heinz Schütte: “We want to keep it open all winter, stick to the rules, check the guests and see the best,” he says.

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