The hotel industry and operators of cable cars and ski lifts in the Swiss Alps say they have enjoyed a bumper winter season.This content was published on April 15, 2008 - 13:39
Favourable weather conditions with plenty of sun and snow provided good returns on heavy investment made in transport infrastructure and snow production.
Even before the winter season officially ended, operators of cable cars across Switzerland reported an increase in turnover of between seven and 30 per cent. Valais, one of the leading holiday regions, expects record results for the past winter.
The hotel sector said it recorded up to ten per cent more overnight stays compared with the previous winter season, which was marked by a lack of snow in tourist resorts.
About SFr272 million ($273 million) was invested in transport infrastructure, in particular the renovation of old ski lifts for the 2007/2008 season.
Money also went into the purchase of more snow cannon, including water reservoirs and pipelines.
Renate Schoch of the Association of Swiss Cable Car Operators expects investment into upgrading technical installations on the ski slopes to continue.
About SFr900 million has been earmarked for investment in transport facilities and snow cannon over the next four years.
Schoch says most guests want to be able to ski from the slopes high up on the mountains right down to a lower-lying ski resort.
"You cannot compete without snow cannon and artificial snow. It has become a decisive factor," Schoch says.
Twenty years ago there was strong opposition to the use of snow cannon from environmental organisations and conservationists.
Schoch argues that snow cannon are widely accepted these days because the impact on the environment has not been as damaging as expected and there are strict regulations on using local water resources.
She adds that modern snow cannon use less energy and are less noisy than they used to be.
However, the promoters of artificial snow come up against a hurdle in areas below 1,800 metres because the snow cannon cannot produce enough snow and temperatures are not low enough.
Environmentalists, including the Pro Natura group, are still opposed to making artificial snow.
"We are against snow cannon in areas which have had no such infrastructure so far. We also check projects carefully," says the organisation's Roland Schuler.
Pro Natura says the infrastructure needed to produce snow artificially for a large area also disfigures the environment for summer tourism.
Schuler says the alpine environment risks being seriously damaged if it is used more intensively, noting that Switzerland's reputation as a tourist destination is built on the image of a pristine and natural landscape.
He says it is highly questionable whether plans for slopes with artificial snow make sense from an economic point of view.
"These short-term mega investments are aimed at attracting guests for the next winter season, but it is at the expense of nature."
Instead, Schuler says winter resorts should diversify, and take a more creative and nature-friendly approach to remain competitive on the market.
swissinfo, based on an article in German by Renat Künzi
The Association of Swiss Cable Car Operators is considering a new pricing system for passengers.
Tickets could become more expensive at weekends or the price could depend on weather conditions.
The system is aimed at increasing revenue to help pay for planned investment in transport facilities. Upgrades are necessary in an increasingly competitive market, according to the association.
A survey will be carried out among passengers during the summer and the next winter season. Results are expected in summer 2009.
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