In a social context marked by the Covid pandemic and a total lack of visibility for the mountain world, I Love Ski met Michaël RUYSSCHAERT, General Manager of the Savoie Mont Blanc Agency. He talked with us about the current economic situation in mountain resorts, and presents us his roadmap for the months to come.
Occupancy rates between 20 and 50% for these Christmas holidays
The departments of Savoie and Haute Savoie record large disparities mainly due to the differences between the resorts. “According to the latest study by the Savoie Mont Blanc agency observatory, charming resorts also known as’ ‘village resorts’ have occupancy rates of around 50%.
Above all, visitors are refocusing on the essentials. 70% of them are looking for experiences, for fresh air. They are aspiring to have a good time without any specific need for outdoor activities or skiing, just as one might have imagined a few years ago.
In the altitude resorts which usually attract more owners, regulars and enthusiasts, the occupancy rate is around 20% for these Christmas holidays.
We are therefore looking at between a 20% and 50% occupancy rate depending on the particularity, expectation and the promise of the resort, or the village experience that one may offer”, explains Michaël RUYSSCHAERT.
A potential loss of 30 to 35%
In Savoie and Haute-Savoie, the pre-season (December) counts for around 6% of the season’s occupancy: “Obviously, this Winter is lost“. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays represents around 15%.
Michaël RUYSSCHAERT goes back in detail on the current situation:
“depending on each station, we can observe more or less significant losses”.
The Tignes and Val Thorens resorts have closed their reservation centers until January 20th. There is a real strategy for these stations to focus on what’s next.
Regarding the month of January, we are being told about the possible date of January 7th as being when we can reopen our ski areas. If this were really the case, the renewal of activity would allow us to finally start the season. The month of January accounts for about 15% of the total. If we do the maths, we are on a potential loss of between 30% to 35% this season”.
Optimistic projections despite the context
The Savoir Mont Blanc agency is showing a certain level of optimism despite the current context. “From a factual point of view, we have very optimistic projections. The firm G2A has announced extremely important deferrals in February and March for customers that are needing snow sports.
From the Météo France, we are being told to expect a snowy winter. We can imagine that the tail end of the season, like the month of April, will be real source of income, while it won’t completely compensate for the situation, it will make up for a certain delay in the activity.
A support plan of 1 million euros to support this atypical winter
The Savoie Mont-Blanc agency has just obtained a support plan of 1 million euros in terms of communication to support this winter season 2020 – 2021.
“This is a significant sum in terms of communication, with a strategic, mass-media plan”
From January 17th , the “Savoie Mont Blanc” TV campaign will resume on the major national channels and TNT for two weeks (generating 14 million contacts). Over the same period, a strong digital TV campaign will be added on Youtube, 6play and infinite channels. The media plan will be reinforced with national, regional and local press and several digital devices with an inspirational film as a keystone. Michaël RUYSSCHAERT presents these “simple but essential” lines of communication:
The first measure is to make people want to come to Savoie Mont Blanc, especially during the month of February.
Our goal is to have a sanitary block that brings together all the health protocols of the destination in order to facilitate readability and understanding.
Manage traffic and tools of the station with a conversion tunnel
We have accelerated two important subjects in terms of communication:
First, the website lastationquimeva.com site which guides visitors according to their needs: family destination? High-altitude station? Do you want to practice a specific activity (paragliding, ice diving)? We worked on the algorithm to best direct visitors to the Savoie Mont Blanc destination.
Second, the Skimarrange concept, geared towards younger generations, which consists of offering flexible stays, short stays… The objective is to avoid the traditional Saturday-Saturday and reach out to the younger generations. This is a strong action which was launched 3 years ago and has now obtained the support of all the large operators and hosts.
Today, we must be quick and responsive in our communication: we have the biggest communication in the mountain world in terms of social networks. We have major sponsorship campaigns that will precisely target new activities and new trends.
We are going to encourage local customers to come for the day. The focus is towards getting the children of the valleys to come. We have a lot of regional and local customers who must be won back.
Sun lovers in winter
We also did a lot of work on people who want to go to the sun. Since the deconfinement, we can go to Saint Barth or the West Indies. The idea is to appeal to those who want to get to the sun, and who have strong opinions about the impact of their carbon footprint. We offer them fresh mountain air with a great price and flexibility for a short stay.
The decline in international tourism and the impact on Savoie Mont Blanc resorts
Pandemic, travel restrictions, Brexit … The French mountains are now suffering from a significant drop in international tourism. So how can we reduce this dependence on international customers? “Without any tongue in cheek, I don’t think we can do without an international clientele. Our mountain territories were built with a customer structure that works with multiple countries. Taking into account the international holiday calendar, these customers provide us with plenty of additional activity. Today, the English market is caught between 2 subjects: the health crisis and Brexit.
To say that today we can be less dependent is to ask ourselves the questions: how do we want to ski in France tomorrow? and how do we reorient ourselves for that?
Replacing the English, the Belgians or the Dutch seems utopian to me because we are not opposed to each other. We may need to rethink the model in the years to come, but at this stage we cannot cut ourselves off from an international clientele. We can clearly see that there are resorts in Savoie Mont Blanc Agency that rely much more on an international clientele model than others. To say that we can do without certain customers would be to say that we can do without certain ski resorts, which is absolutely not the point“, explains Michaël RUYSSCHAERT.
New Generations: “speak to young people in a way they can hear”
With a very mature ski market in France, the younger generations are finding it difficult to take an interest in winter sports. Michaël RUYSSCHAERT comes back to a figure which “impacted him enormously” when he became Managing Director of the Savoie Mont Blanc Agency. “In Chambéry, a study carried out a few years ago showed that 70% of children had not been to the mountain. Yes, they’ve been there once or twice, but overall, they don’t have any receptiveness towards the mountain. In Chambéry, we are in the heart of the Tarentaise, at the crossroads of one of our most beautiful resorts and nearly 70% of children do not have any connection with the mountain. So, we have a lot of educational work to do. We must also work on financial aid so that these children can learn and discover the mountain.
At the beginning of December, we launched a “Family getaways in Savoie Mont Blanc” campaign, a campaign to help families by the CAF de Savoie and the ANCV for the year 2021. More than 12,000 families will be able to save for their next outings in the form of of Holiday vouchers.
The hiker is the real deal
We have a big job to do now that we haven’t been doing for the past 30 years: it’s engaging while they’re young. The younger generations must be made aware of the practice of skiing (without necessarily talking about skiing). The fondest memory a 3-year-old might have will undoubtedly be his toboggan runs. For a 13-year-old it might be snowboarding… We have tended to think about “the use of poles, flexing, extending”. For me, while this is still the standard for skiing, these are not the generational demands of today. We must try to entice younger generations by focusing on speaking to them as they best understand”.