An online press conference was held on Tuesday 4 April 2023 to mark the publication of the International Snow and Mountain Tourism Report 2023. Organised by Swiss expert Laurent Vanat and the organisers of the International Mountain Development Show, they unveiled a preview of the figures and trends in the global snow and mountain tourism market.
This report, awaited by all players in the sector, presents the 2021/22 ski season worldwide. After two difficult years affected by the covid-19 pandemic, the ski business has recovered quite well. On a global scale, the number of ski resorts in 2021/22 is in line with the average of the last 20 years.
Some countries even recorded unprecedented attendance records.
2021-2022, a season of hope and challenges
Although the environment for ski resorts remains more difficult than before the pandemic, the winter of 2021/22 can be seen as a season of hope. However, it is clear that this season also opens with more intense global challenges for the sector.
On the one hand, the world has become more hostile. Be it the environment, geo-strategy, politics, the media, public opinion. All seem to be united against the ski industry. On the other hand, transparency, common sense, objectivity and the ability to assess a situation without passion or prejudice seem to have become increasingly rare, if not extinct. False information, repeated often enough, ends up being accepted as truth, even at the governmental level. This can suit political agendas or simply stem from a lack of accurate information and can lead to damaging decisions.
The 2021/2022 ski season presented in the International Mountain and Snow Tourism Report 2023 highlights the positive elements after two dark seasons caused by Covid-19. Resorts face increasing challenges. They need to have a sharp analysis in a world that is losing its way a bit.
After two years of closures and/or restrictions, the offer has changed little. Skiing is present in 68 different countries, represented by 5,827 resorts with more than 24,680 lifts.
There are 5,827 resorts worldwide, divided into various categories:
- 4,000 small resorts with 4 lifts or less.
- 1082 medium-sized resorts with 5 lifts
- 693 large resorts with at least 100,000 skier-days
- and finally the very large resorts (52 in total) with more than one million skier-days.
Economic, climatic and political challenges for the stations
From an economic point of view, the biggest challenge is to ensure the viability of the seasons. The climate challenge is to manage the transition from one season to the next. Finally, the political challenge will be to navigate “a world of incoherence and hostility“.
Snow tourism: back to a normal level of attendance
To begin with, it is very important to mention that the 5,000 small resorts (87% of the total number) account for only 26% of global attendance; large resorts are the most represented with 53% of global attendance, while very large resorts continue to attract 21% of attendance.
Although global attendance is returning to normal levels, the 2021/22 winter season will have winners and losers. Attendance at ski resorts was more affected by pandemic-related restrictions in some countries than in others, as was the case in the previous season. While the US reached an all-time high in attendance, China resumed its growth trajectory and some western countries experienced a resurgence in attendance, Austria missed the start of the season and Japan, Italy and Germany continued to suffer significantly. France fared quite well, with attendance 2% above the five-year average of recent pre-cool seasons.
Although ski resort operating conditions are not back to normal everywhere, the 2021/22 winter season recorded a very respectable total of more than 370 million skiers per day worldwide.
In the world ranking, France ranks second with more than 50 million ski days. Just behind the United States, which exceeded 60 million skier-days. Overall, the 2021/2022 season has been a success for the resorts, which did not necessarily expect to have so many customers.
Risks for snow tourism
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the resorts hard, forcing them to close or open with many restrictions. Beyond the health crisis, the economy of ski resorts depends on many factors, such as climatic risks, rising energy prices, the geopolitical and war context and even attacks on skiers.
In this respect, some resorts have been (and are) victims of sabotage to their snowmaking systems.
Factors for a successful winter season 2021-2022
Worldwide, the number of visitors to resorts in 2021/22 is in line with the average of the last 20 years. Some countries have even set new visitor records. This is mainly due to the following factors
- Favourable weather conditions in many places. Although snowfall was sometimes limited, sufficiently cold temperatures and sunny days made for good skiing conditions;
- A renewed desire for outdoor activities and the attractiveness of domestic destinations, which benefited ski resorts (whose largest markets are domestic);
- The relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions in many countries;
- The development of skiing in some Eastern European countries, with an unprecedented number of skier days in recent years;
- China’s return to growth, driven by the excitement of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, and despite still widespread covid-19 restrictions;
- The resumption of lift renovation after a year in which ongoing work was suspended for several weeks or months in 2020.
In this difficult context, the International Snow and Mountain Tourism Report aims to be faithful to its role of providing facts and figures, rather than ideologies, to feed strategic thinking and a genuine public debate.