Luxury alpine resorts are optimistic as they look ahead to the 2021/22 winter season. After one of the toughest years ever seen by the ski and mountain resort industry, pent-up demand is strong, and there is hope of a strong bounceback in the coming winter season.
Martin Bromley, director general of Le Chalet Mont Blanc, says that as of September 2021, the 26-guest private luxury residence in Chamonix is 85% booked for the upcoming winter season.
“We have seen unprecedented confidence in the bookings, to be 85% confirmed by mid-September is a new record, especially in the light of the uncertainty from last year,” says Bromley.
In comparison, on a usual year they would expect to be around 70% booked by November or December. Despite concerns that the corporate retreat market might never return after the pandemic, Bromley has seen strong corporate demand with companies looking to reunite after a long period apart. In fact, Bromley says some guests are choosing to book long stays, spending part with company and clients, and part with family.
“The blending of work and family lifestyle is becoming the new normal,” Bromley says.
Of the 2021/22 booking at Chalet Mont Blanc, Bromley says the majority is repeat clients, but almost a third is new clients, an increase from their pre-pandemic levels. He attributes this to pent-up demand post-Covid-19, and guests looking for a unique luxury experience to celebrate being reunited with friends and family.
Looking ahead, Bromley doesn’t expect the increase to last forever but hopes that it will stretch and that some of the new guests will become regular clients.
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“I think its testimony to the team, the building and the service they provide that so many of our clients return,” he says.
It’s an optimism that is sorely needed after numerous national lockdowns and travel bans, and over 18 months of uncertainty in the tourism industry.
In Austria, one of the world’s biggest skiing economies with 15 resorts that see over a million visitors each per year, national lockdowns affected almost the entirety of the 2020/2021 ski season. From December 2020 to February 2021, the number of tourists arriving in Austria was less than 500,000, just 4% of the number seen in the same period the previous year.
Vail Resorts, which operates mountain resorts across the US, Canada and Australia, saw its annual earnings fall by two-thirds when the March 2020 lockdown caused huge damage to a profitable period.
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Although the fiscal year 2021 has also seen the impact of the pandemic, it fared slightly better with 30% year-on-year growth. And Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO, says he is positive about the results.
“Our results highlighted ... the resiliency of demand for the experiences we offer throughout our network of world-class resorts,” Katz says in the Vail Resorts 2021 annual report. “We are pleased with the strong demand across our North American summer operations during the fourth quarter, which exceeded our expectations and which we believe highlights our guests' continued affinity for outdoor experiences.”
This buoyancy is seen across the Alps too. Cimalpes, a luxury real estate agent that operates in multiple locations in the French Alps, has seen similar buoyancy. Rentals actually didn’t see the usual dip that would be expected over the summer, as lockdown delayed demand. Megeve particularly cemented its status as a summer destination.
During Spring 2020, sales were delayed by the initial lockdown, but Cimalpes say none of their sales were cancelled and by the summer luxury sales were outperforming 2019. Numbers were bolstered by people looking for a resilient investment and those attracted to the wellness and remoteness associated with the mountains.
In particular, Cimalpes say they have seen shifts in where their buyers are from. Demand from French buyers, who make up the majority of the market, has increased by 60%. But interest from Switzerland and the Netherlands has doubled.