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COVID-19 and Ski Resorts (IV). The Road to Recovery

Obergurgl, Tirol (Austria). Foto: Ski Paradise

The 2020 outbreak of COVID-19 has produced the longest shutdown of tourism on record (and we don't know how long it will last).

The Tourism sector, and ski resorts particularly, are severely affected by the current Corona crisis, and the global spread of the pandemic is going to impose a significant dampening effect on the rate of recovery.

Three elements will be decisive in the process of recovery of tourist demand in general and in ski resorts in particular:

  • Fear management and confidence-building

Risk and fear may alter tourists' travel plans, influence their choice of destinations and, in some cases, lead them to decide not to travel. How countries and destinations manage the crisis and get out of it will be a fundamental element in their recovery process.

The speed and strength of the recovery will depend on the perception of risk, and the guarantees that destinations can offer to visitors.

Mature markets may adopt a more cautious approach to travel, looking for safe destinations. Proximity and moving within a socio-culturally similar geographical space can be decisive elements in increasing the sense of security for these markets.

The worst-case scenario for recovery would be that COVID-19 was perceived by people like an open crisis with governments that do not control the outbreak.

Closed borders and restrictions to tourism will be still in place until is completely safe to travel again.

  • The Economy

Safety and security represent only a part of the bundle of issues producing weak travel demand. Coronavirus is a global economic catastrophe. Figures from countries around the world show we are seeing a massive surge in unemployment, unprecedented in historical terms.

Current uncertainty defies all efforts to forecast where the economy may go in the future.

High unemployment rates and people's fear of losing their jobs lead to lower consumption, starting a cycle that will lead to an economic depression. Concerns about the economy falling consumer confidence and consumer concerns about not having enough money to travel. Reticences to spend will slow recovery long after the direct crisis ends.

After more than three weeks of severe restrictions due to the Corona crisis, surveys are beginning to show a declining mood in society, with more people expecting a very negative or negative economic development in the future.

As a consequence, more people will limit their consumption after the crisis. This would particularly affect travel, shopping, restaurants and cafes, and the purchase of luxury goods. In addition to consumption, the possibility/desire to go on vacation this summer also decreases as uncertainty about the future increases. For people who still want to go on vacation, most of them will choose to travel within their own country.

But we can be optimistic. The good news for ski resorts is skiing tourism has shown in previous situations that it is more resilient to the crisis than other sectors in the tourism industry. Travel is related to income and the family income of skiers is higher on average than that of other tourism models.

  • Self-reward. The desire to travel

The coronavirus lockdown and mass quarantines are typified to be long periods of hardship and strict modification of normal behavior patterns. Evidence shows that a sharp period of restriction results in an increased desire to travel. Travel is considered a core necessity by a large share of the western population and a fundamental part of their way of life. Tourists are mainly motivated by the desire to escape, to "get away from it all". One of the key characteristics of the XXI century tourists is their need to escape from everyday routines and issues in a bid to achieve some form of fulfillment. The current trend of tourist experiences include some degree of escapism, and many people would express the need to travel away as the main reason for taking a holiday.

Skiing Tourism provides an opportunity for the population who are seeking self-fulfillment and excitement through participating in physically and mentally stimulating activities while traveling to breathtaking mountainous areas. For passionate skiers travel to ski resorts to ski is the ultimate form of self-reward or self-indulgence.

Walking the road to recovery will require a complex roadbook full of recommendations.

  • Focus in local and regional markets

Restrictions to travel will be in place for a long time. So, local and regional markets (drive distance source markets) will rebound faster once the crisis ends. The rate of recovery will be in direct proportion to the extent and magnitude of privation that has been felt by the population.

Long haul markets will not recover for at least a year, and there is great uncertainty in how airlines are going to face this crisis and how it is going to affect our way of traveling.

Based on current developments, and notwithstanding the high level of ongoing uncertainty regarding the pandemic, IATA estimates that industry-wide RPKs (Revenue Passenger Kilometers) will contract by almost 40% in 2020, with the decline broad-based across all regions. The rebound in air travel after COVID-19 is expected to take longer than the recovery seen in previous crises due to the unprecedented travel restrictions around the world and the global recession which has been triggered as businesses and borders are closed.

  • Inspire.

We must focus our efforts on the inspiration phase of the customer journey. People are dreaming (#dreamnowtravellater) so keep them inspired with good memories. It is time to keep our clients emotionally linked to our destinations. With people isolated and plenty of time to surf the internet, social media offers a tremendous opportunity to attract and keep on the loop a significant share of this pent-up demand. Markets are not yet receptive to promotional campaigns but that will change immediately once the outbreak passes. Ski Resorts must be prepared with inspiring promotional campaigns ready to be launched in short notice.

  • B2C

The answer to the crisis is Personalization. Guests demand a customer journey more personalized, emotional, on a one-to-one level. Restrictions to travel encourage individual travel. Transactions will be more impulsive and instantaneous, and for these times Business-to-consumer marketing will be key. B2C marketing refers to the tactics and strategies in which a destination promotes its products and services to individual customers. B2C marketing efforts will tend to focus on building trust and inspiring desire, and rely strongly on the power of emotion and shared values. The biggest challenge for ski resorts B2C marketers is reaching and engaging their customers and understand how to break through all the noise to reach them. And also establishing an emotional connection with your customers means more work and a bigger investment in personal terms. The easier the planning and booking process for the customer is, the better. It must require lower levels of investment for them in terms of time and money. And we must add to the equation flexibility, to pay and cancel.

First walk after the quarantine. Patsch, Tirol (Austria). Foto: Ski Paradise

I am writing this from Tirol. Tourism is very important for Austria, and ski resorts a fundamental part of Tirol's economy. Businesses are suffering and friends have already lost their jobs. It is no wonder there is despair in local businesses and companies especially taking into account that more than 80 percent of the Tourism business in Tirol are family businesses.

But there is room for hope. On Tuesday the most extreme measures of the quarantine were lowered: a breath of freedom on the way back to normality in Tirol. You can go for a walk in the fresh air and leave the limits of your municipality of residence. The city of Innsbruck reopened its parks and gardens. Definitely a first step on the long road to recovery.


Ski Paradise
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