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Business

Swiss slopes may be too pricey for many skiers this season

As ski resorts across the Alps gear up for the winter season, resort operators in Switzerland are worried about their business. The Swiss franc is strong and could scare away skiers paying in other currencies.

Swiss mountain resort

Swiss ski resorts are worried about empty slopes

Despite the global economic worries, Swiss ski resort operators still hope to attract plenty of visitors this season. But they admit it could be challenging. Adding to the cost of what is already an expensive sport is the Swiss franc, which has gained in value against the euro, the dollar and the pound.

"It's very difficult to give a prediction," said Daniel Luggen, director of tourism director for Zermatt, one of Switzerland's most popular resorts with 350 kilometers (217 miles) of ski runs and the glorious Matterhorn looming above them.

"Will they come? Will we find people? We hope that if we lose German guests, we can attract new ones from Russia or maybe even Asia."

Safe haven for investors

Luggen admits that many in Switzerland are worried about the future.

"The Swiss franc really is a safe haven for many investors," he said. "Of course, this can be a big advantage for some, but for us in the export industry, it's a hassle."

Swiss franc

The strong Swiss franc is attracting investors but scaring away skiers

Interest rates in Switzerland are practically at zero, giving the Swiss National Bank little room for maneuver. Earlier this year, the bank tried buying up euros to slow down the rise of the franc. But the measure wasn't especially effective: the euro has been falling again. Bank chairman Phillipp Hildebrand knows what his responsibility is, but it's not clear how many tools he has left.

"Our mandate is clear: we have to safeguard price stability and work to stay abreast of the current economic climate, so this will determine our fiscal policy in the future," Hildebrand said. "We will take the necessary measures to ensure price stability. That is what we have always said and that continues to be our policy."

Difficult winter ahead

But already the Swiss department of economic affairs is predicting a 1.5 percent drop in tourism income this winter, and Switzerland's director of national tourism, Juerg Schmid, is warning resorts of icy economic weather ahead.

"We're going to have to dress up more warmly this winter, if I can put it that way," he said. "After this winter, we hope things will get better. We should expect an upturn by the end of next year, but this winter will be difficult."

Matterhorn

The Matterhorn keeps pulling tourists to Zermatt

So how can the winter resorts minimize the damage? Some hotels are offering fixed prices in euros with ski passes thrown in.

Ski resort operators in Zermatt may be able to avoid a big dip in business, thanks to a base of wealthy customers – and the iconic mountain that keeps bringing them back.

"Without the Matterhorn, Zermatt would not have developed as it has," Luggen said. "After a nice day of skiing, people like to sit on the mountain terrace and look at the Matterhorn in the light of the evening sun. That's something they don't forget quickly. So for me, responsible for marketing Zermatt, the Matterhorn, is the best thing I have.

Author: Imogen Foulkes (jrb)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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