ENGELBERG, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - Switzerland’s shimmering ski slopes, luxurious hotels, and breathtaking vistas have always come at a price -- too high a price for many holidaymakers this year as the Swiss franc reaches peaks of its own.
The country’s strong currency is making mainland Europeans, Brits and Americans, who’d love to cut through the virgin snow of the Swiss Alps, think twice about spending their holidays and hard-earned cash in its ski resorts.
For one skier from Britain, combining a business trip with some sport with an old friend was one way to see how feasible a family holiday would be in Switzerland, which is this week hosting the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos.
“It is lovely here, but it is just too expensive. The strong Swiss franc does take the shine off things,” said London-based tax advisor Bernard Finity after skiing down to the Swiss village of Engelberg, at the foot of the Engelberg-Titlis ski resort, one the largest skiing areas in central Switzerland.
“The currency is just a deal breaker,” said Finity, wrapped up in a black ski outfit, goggles and hat to protect himself from the freezing conditions.
The franc has surged to record levels against the euro, dollar and British pound, making holidays in the Swiss Alps some 10 percent more expensive than a year ago.
A large beer in Engelberg will set you back 6.20 Swiss francs ($6.56), around 4.80 euros compared with 4.50 euros ($6.17) in the Austrian skiing town of St. Anton.
The Swiss government is now looking into ways of easing the pain for Switzerland’s tourism industry as fewer people travel to the Alpine country, while some ski resorts are coming up with their own promotions.
At Engelberg, tourists can take advantage of an offer for a return ticket for the Fueranalp-Engelberg cablecar for only 5 francs on Fridays, instead of the usual 16 francs, while many hotels are offering top deals for guests paying in euros.
The number of guests coming from key European countries such as Germany fell more than 2 percent in the first 11 months of 2010 compared to a year earlier, Veronique Kanel, spokeswoman for tourism body MySwitzerland said.
“We are definitely seeing a negative impact of the strong Swiss franc versus the weak euro,” she said.
“It is difficult to say how things will develop should the euro stay at its current level all year long. What we can probably expect is to see hotel overnight stays overall fall by between 2 and 3 percent for the whole of 2011 compared to 2010 and for the euro countries this drop could be between 3 and 5 percent,” Kanel said.
“The mid-price segment is being hardest hit,” said Jeane Grundmann, who works as a receptionist at a three star hotel in Engelberg, which was eerily quiet on Saturday afternoon.
“Those going for the four or five star hotels are much less affected by the strong Swiss franc,” Grundmann said.
Switzerland, which prides itself on its reputation for producing quality goods, has long catered for high-end markets, helping it to partially offset the impact of the strong franc.
“Clients (in this segment) aren’t so sensitive. That’s true for tourism as well as the pharma sector and machinery-makers who are leaders in their respective areas. That could be one reason the blow’s being a bit softened,” said Jan Poser, Chief Economist at Sarasin in Zurich.
But even resorts which attract the wealthy, such as Zermatt where the car-free village streets are lined with exclusive jewellers and watch boutiques, have noticed a slowdown.
“We have noticed that we have fewer holidaymakers from both abroad and from within Switzerland as places like Austria are of course also cheaper for the Swiss now,” Christen Baumann, chief executive of Zermatt Bergbahnen said.