Swiss ski industry expects snow but fewer tourists

Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:23am EST
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By Catherine Bosley

GRINDELWALD, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - Rob van der Erve, who has visited the slopes overshadowed by the vertiginous Eiger north face for 30 years, surveyed the usually busy runs and smiled at the sparse number of skiers.

"The snow, it's ideal. It's so wonderfully peaceful," he said, settling down to a lunch of fried eggs on a sunny terrace.

But the tranquility that van der Erve is enjoying may not be so good for the Swiss tourism industry, which makes up some 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Last year the winter sport sector enjoyed a bumper season thanks to generous snowfall -- and despite the downturn. This year will probably be a tough one for hotels and tour operators with fewer guests expected and those who come likely to watch their wallets.

"We're a bit nervous because of the financial crisis. Of course people will save a bit and our resorts are more expensive than others," said ski instructor Svenja Grulke, sipping a steaming hot drink whilst looking up at the infamous "White Spider" ice field by the Eiger's summit.

From the town of Grindelwald, part of the Bernese Oberland's Jungfrau region, a heated train snakes halfway up the Eiger to deliver skiers to the pistes. The mountain's 1,600 meter (yards) north wall is one of mountaineering's grimmest, and dozens have perished trying to scale its summit.

"I've noticed it," said Grulke, from Germany. "Many Germans just can't afford it even if they want it very much."

The economics consultancy BAK Basel forecasts a 3.7 percent drop in overnight stays for the winter season, with demand from foreign tourists down 5.1 percent. The figures include conference bookings.   Continued...