Will there be après ski après Covid?
The Covid-19 pandemic may have originated in China but for many in this country the reality of the situation first struck home when there were several significant outbreaks, particularly in European ski resorts, in March of this year.
The European ski season was cut short much earlier than usual. So what will happen next season, which will soon be upon us?
On 24 September 2020, the Austrian government announced plans to change how their ski resorts would operate for the foreseeable future in light of Covid-19.
The winter season is a huge business for Austria and Austrian tourism. We are told "there will be no après ski as we know it from earlier times". Standing, dancing and singing whilst packed into small bars or even under umbrella bars is an obvious source of infection and the new rules will mean that there is a requirement to sit at tables both in bars and restaurants inside or out.
And on 25 September the body representing the French mountain resorts, France Montagnes, published details of their Covid-19 rules for the coming season. Some things will be the same but others, as in Austria, will be very different. For example all guests must wear a face mask when walking in a bar or restaurant and when walking around the premises. And once seated, similarly to Austria, a table service only will operate. Tables are to be 1 metre apart minimum or separated with fixed or removable panels to ensure physical distancing.
In France on ski lifts specific measures are being applied including social distancing, single-directional movement and flow management in lift queues, obligatory mask-wearing and regular disinfection of equipment. Austrian measures are similar - the authorities plan to impose mandatory face covering requirements for people using ski-lifts and there will be distancing requirements when using winter transport.
We look back to the days when skiers were crowded into packed cable cars and small bubble lifts, and so going forwards unless there are many fewer skiers then one can foresee significant disruption to the usual easy flow from piste to piste.
One has to remember what happened in Spring 2020 in Ischgl – the Austrian resort where there was a significant outbreak. Legal proceedings have already been initiated and it is said that over a 1000 people are seeking to claim against the government for failure to deal properly with the outbreak in the resort. In June, results of a study by the Medical University of Innsbruck showed that some 42.4% of tested Ischgl residents had coronavirus anti-bodies. It must be assumed that what occurred in Ischgl and the consequent fall out will play a significant part in how Austria will handle the pandemic in the forthcoming winter season.
It is also proposed that Austrian measures will include a 10 p.m. curfew in the tourist states of Tirol, Vorarlberg and Salzburg.
These measures, from curfews, distancing on ski lifts and a ban on traditional après ski, will have a significant impact on how the resorts run efficiently and for the enjoyment of tourists, many of whom are used to going on skiing holidays not simply for the skiing but for social scene.
Add to these issues the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) will not be valid for travel after 31 December 2020, once the UK has left the EU on 31 December.
And of course there are currently quarantine requirements between many ski destination countries with people being requested or required to isolate for 14-days both ways.
If this remains in place there may be very few British skiers and snowboarders who will head to the French Alps or the Austrian Tirol.
The French ski season is due to start in the glacier resort of Tignes on 10 October and in Austria the Arlberg ski runs will open again on 4 December.
There may well be a latent demand for travel but whether these measures will significantly dampen the enthusiasm for ski holidays is a huge concern for those involved in the industry, from the resorts themselves to the many ski holiday providers in the UK.