A winter like any other
The message is loud and clear: unlike many other ski stations, Zermatt is hoping for a 2020-2021 winter season that’s as open and as exciting as usual. The CEO of Zermatt Bergbahnen (Zermatt’s lift operating company), Markus Hasler, sat down with us to discuss the station’s proactive approach for the season.
Tell us: how was 2020 for Zermatt Bergbahnen?
Until the lockdown happened, Zermatt was on track to set a record-breaking season. The sudden and total closure of all of our lifts on March 14 forced us to reorganize and divide our teams into two alternating groups to respect anti-Covid measures. That’s how we were able to continue maintaining the installations and reopen safely on June 7, with a focus on our Swiss customers. At the same time, the unwavering support from our financial partners allowed us to safeguard our investments and continue to advance the new projects that were already underway.
Tell us about those new projects…
The Kumme gondola, which is set to be operational on December 20, will be the first fully automated installation of its kind in Switzerland. It will connect Tufternkehr to Unterrothorn in two sections, and it includes a snow system that goes all the way to the base of the slopes, which is a boost for the whole sector. Then there’s the Matterhorn Glacier Ride II, which, as of summer 2022, will connect the Klein Matterhorn (CH) to Testa Grigia (Italy). It’s part of the Alpine X Crossing, which will allow visitors to travel entirely above the Alps from Zermatt to Cervinia, with various stops along the way. This connection – the highest on the massif – will help encourage significant seasonal tourism, particularly from abroad. Today, 25% of our revenues are generated in the summer, but we expect that to rise to 30% in the next three to four years.
Have daily operations radically changed?
Not as much as you would think, even though we’ve had to adapt continuously day after day. In any confined space, both employees and visitors are wearing masks now. Protocol for cleaning and disinfecting has also been implemented for all the common areas, including the lifts.
Any thoughts on what’s to come?
This year has been very particular and full of uncertainty. However, we are still optimistic and remain convinced that tourism will recover in the future, and that this health crisis will pass. This winter, pending any new restrictions that are beyond our control, the Zermatt ski area will be completely open. And to reassure our visitors, we’re offering more flexible cancellation policies: any passes not used because of Covid, a required quarantine, or a closure of the station will be reimbursed as a voucher. This winter, we’re also prioritizing our Swiss customers. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even have the same kind of boom we had last summer.
Can you already estimate the economic effects of the pandemic?
Because we had anticipated ending operations in the spring, the 2019-2020 season closed with a financial loss of around 15 million Swiss francs, which, thankfully, our reserves allowed us to absorb. We decided on our own accord to fully compensate the 20% salary cut experienced by our employees who were moved to part time. This winter, all the uncertainty and the lack of international visitors will likely translate to a decrease in sales revenue of around 25%. But one thing hasn’t changed: as always, everything depends on the weather!