In view of the upcoming ski season, a discussion about winter sports in the Corona crisis has broken out in Germany too. “We will try to vote in Europe on whether we can close all ski areas,” said Merkel on Thursday in the Bundestag. And she noted: “Unfortunately, when you hear the Austrian pronouncements that we could do it so easily, it doesn’t look like it, but we will try again.”
ORF-Video: The pressure on Austria is increasing
France opens ski areas, lifts remain closed
The French ski resorts can open during the Christmas holidays, but the ski lifts will remain closed: France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex made this clear on Thursday at a press conference on the planned relaxation of the Corona requirements. The French lift operators spoke of a “crazy” decision. The start of the season is now flat for skiers. President Emmanuel Macron had previously emphasized that opening the ski resorts on the holidays seemed “impossible” to him because of the continued high number of corona infections.
Switzerland against closure
Resistance also came from Switzerland and from the lift operators in Germany. A winter sports ban would be catastrophic and incomprehensible for the regions concerned, said Matthias Stauch, board member of the Association of German Cable Cars (VDS), on Thursday. Exercise in the fresh air is healthy and the infection rate in Ischgl did not originate from skiing. “It doesn’t come from skiing. We don’t want a Halligalli here.”
A winter sports ban would push many operators to their limits. “This is a threat to the very existence of our operations,” said Stauch. “If we lose business between the Christmas holidays and January 10th, it will be catastrophic.” The lift operators demanded a uniform regulation. “There has to be a European solution: that everyone open up or everyone stays.” The health of guests and employees is the top priority. However, the companies showed in the summer that their measures were working.
Due to the pandemic, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had proposed that ski areas be kept closed until at least January 10th, thus triggering a dispute among the Alpine countries. Austria is vehemently resisting a Europe-wide closure of ski areas. Opening steps in all areas, including sport, would be handled differently by the states, said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) on Wednesday. “That is always related to the number of infections, namely the number of infections here in Austria.” When someone uses a lift, it is similar to when they use public transport, “says Kurz. Decisions have to be made on the basis of these aspects.
Austria demands compensation
Austria’s Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP) had demanded billions in compensation from the EU if ski lifts were to be shut down over the Christmas holidays. As a result, Austria expects a loss of sales of 800 million euros for each of the holiday weeks. Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) expects a slump in winter tourism of up to 50 percent. She refused to allow the EU to intervene and stressed that provisions were also made for sick holidaymakers.
Resistance to the closure of the ski areas also came from Switzerland. “In Switzerland, the Federal Council, authorities and the tourism industry are convinced that the Swiss path – for the moment – is the right one and that the winter season can take place safely,” said Markus Berger, spokesman for Switzerland Tourism, on Thursday.
The topic is not new. “The approach of a Europe-wide coordinated operating time / season opening of winter sports destinations was informally discussed in the Alpine countries as early as late summer and was not pursued further as unsuitable,” said Berger. “We assume that this approach will not be successful even now.” Like Switzerland Tourism, the Grindelwald ski area also expresses itself. The Zermatt Bergbahnen also reject Merkel’s initiative.
In Switzerland, too, one is dependent on German guests
In Switzerland, German vacationers are immensely important for the ski season. Of the 7.8 million guests in the 2018/2019 winter season, almost ten percent came from Germany. The situation is similar in Austria. “The German guests are simply the most important group of foreign guests and so it is very important that they take part in the winter holiday in Austria, can travel to Austria without restrictions and have a vacation here,” said Oliver Fritz, tourism expert at the Austrian Institute for Economic Research Ö1 “Mittagsjournal” of the ORF radio.
In France, the ski lifts are said to be shut down during the festive season, but the winter sports resorts themselves should be open. “Of course it will be possible for everyone (…) to go to the resorts to enjoy the pure air of our beautiful mountains, the shops that will be open – except for bars and restaurants,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday. But it is very simple: “All ski lifts and public facilities will be closed to the public.”
Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) supports the Italian initiative to close the ski areas. The Free State put a stop to skiing in neighboring countries on Thursday. Anyone who travels to a risk area, which is currently classified as the Alpine countries Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, has to be in quarantine for ten days when they return to Bavaria. This also applies to day-trippers from December; an exemption that is still in force is to be discontinued from December. According to the State Chancellery, the Bavarian cabinet decided that.
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