Russian tourism plunge chills traditional Alpine hosts

Fri Nov 7, 2014 6:42am EST
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By Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Oliver Hirt

VIENNA/ZURICH (Reuters) - A sharp drop in Russian visitors is sending an icy chill through Alpine ski resorts that have previously profited from free-spending eastern tourists.

Moscow's standoff with the West over Ukraine and a weakening economy that has seen the rouble drop by more than a fifth against the euro and Swiss franc this year, has made many Russians think twice about traveling to Austria or Switzerland.

"It has become more expensive. We are trying to save money," said Ksenia Konovalova, 32, the customer service manager at a Russian food company in Moscow. She has gone on holiday in the Alps for the last three years, but won't be there this winter.

"It's time to see how things are in Sochi when it is unclear what will happen with the rouble," she said, referring to the Russian town that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Bookings in some Austrian ski regions are down 30 to 40 percent, said one tourism official who requested anonymity. The Swiss tourism agency expects overnight stays by Russian guests to fall 7-10 percent in 2014.

Only the high-end, super-luxury market appeared unscathed, officials said.

Russians are famous in Austria for filling the "January gap" -- the lull between the end of the New Year holidays and the start of school term breaks in February -- because the Russian Orthodox Christmas holidays fall in that period.

"The Russians tend to come and fill the empty beds in high-class hotels. This has been very valuable in previous years," said a spokesman for the Austrian hotel industry association.   Continued...

Tourists walk in the snow at the Hintertuxer Glacier in the Austrian province of Tyrol August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner