Recently, in the hangar on the Crap Sogn Gion at 2,252 m above sea level. M. the 63rd Annual General Meeting of Weisse Arena AG took place. 531 shareholders were present when Chairman of the Board Reto Gurtner, CEO Markus Wolf and CFO Romano De Giorgi looked back on the 2021/22 financial year - the most successful year in the history of the group to date.
A summer for the history books
Foreword by Markus Wolf, CEO of the Weisse Arena Group
"In last year's report I was able to report on a summer of superlatives. The summer of 2021 then got even stronger. The much-cited ramp-up during the 2020/21 winter continued seamlessly into the 2021 summer season. The urge of the Swiss to go outside again after the difficult start of winter due to the corona, to do sports and to spend holidays in the mountains, became stronger and stronger. In connection with the still severely restricted possibility of spending holidays abroad, alpine tourism destinations such as Flims Laax Falera enjoyed great popularity. The number of guests in summer 2021 broke all records. With 181,038 first-time admissions (previous year: 172,153) and 78,466 overnight stays (previous year: 63,928), the Weisse Arena Gruppe once again increased compared to the "summer of superlatives" and set new records. In line with the general development, sales of the Topcard were also extremely pleasing: compared to the record values of the previous year, 21.3% more subscriptions were sold.
"The treetop path, which opened in July 2021, has had excellent visitor numbers from the start. With a total of 106,682 entries in the 2021/22 financial year, even the wildest expectations were exceeded. Worthy of special mention is the continuing strong demand in the rocksresort during the summer months. Although the opening of houses K, J and I has seen a marked increase in the number of beds in recent years, occupancy rose to 35.9% last summer (previous year 30.6%). It can be assumed that the level of summer 2021 will not be maintained after the travel restrictions have been lifted. Nonetheless, the trend towards all-year rounds and thus towards long-lasting, strong summer seasons seems unbroken.
Great nervousness before winter
"In the fall, the pandemic came back into focus. As temperatures dropped, nervousness mounted for winter 2021/22. The same existential questions did not arise as in the previous year when it came to the question of whether ski areas would remain open at all or not. Nevertheless, the uncertainty before the start of winter was enormous. Is a certificate mandatory? For restaurants and / or the entire ski area? 3G, 2G or 2G plus? As simple as the questions sounded, the preparation for all possible scenarios was complex and challenging. Thanks to the excellent work of our Swiss Cableways Industry Association under the leadership of Berno Stoffel and the great cooperation within the industry, it was possible to ensure that Swiss ski areas, in contrast to those abroad, with the exception of the restaurants without a certificate requirement, could get through the winter. We were rewarded for our efforts with very good numbers of first-time visitors and guests who adhered to the protective measures in a disciplined manner.
"In addition to these political issues, the Weisse Arena Gruppe was confronted with other challenges related to the pandemic: the omicron wave between mid-December and mid-January affected so many employees that the continuation of operations was temporarily at risk. Thanks to outstanding teamwork, incredible commitment and the enormous willingness to help of the healthy employees, major closures could be prevented. When the quarantine period for symptom-free people who tested positive was halved shortly before the LAAX OPEN, nothing stood in the way of a more or less normal continuation of the winter season. The own test center in the rocksresort, operated by the company MiSanto, which offered employees and guests a walk-in test option at any time, was valuable - especially during this time. Even apart from the challenges of the pandemic situation, the start of the winter season was not easy. In particular, the heavy rain up to 3,000 m above sea level over the Christmas days hit the slopes badly. Until the end of January, a very thin snow cover and hard slopes had to be dealt with. Only the snowfall in February brought some relief to a generally snowless winter. On the other hand, it was very pleasing that the weather was excellent on numerous weekends during the winter and that the number of guests remained consistently high. Very good figures resulted from the past winter season: With 957,569 first-time visitors (previous year: 808,888), the fourth-highest number of visitors since the survey was recorded.
"The introduction of dynamic pricing for lift tickets was very successful. The objectives of advancing the booking time, increasing the average duration per ticket and setting prices based on demand and thus increasing them on peak days were all met or even exceeded. The corresponding effects can also be seen in the development of first-time entries and in the development of sales. It is to be hoped that the effect of flattening visitor curves seen this winter (more guests on weaker days, fewer guests on peak days) will be sustainable.
The best fiscal year in the company's history
"The developments described resulted in a result that sets new standards in almost all areas. The net turnover of the Weisse Arena Group broke the 100 million mark for the first time and amounted to CHF 129.6 million. The EBITDA also moved into new spheres. A new record was set at CHF 45.1 million. Even if the profit is corrected for the one-time effect of real estate gains from the third construction phase of the rocksresort in the amount of CHF 14.9, the adjusted EBITDA of CHF 30.2 million is still at a record level. The outstanding result has to be put into perspective in that the market conditions were very favorable for our destination due to the pandemic. It is important to observe which of the positive effects of the past financial year can be achieved in the long term and which were probably unique due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the Weisse Arena Group can look to the future with great optimism and continue to pursue its pioneering investment policy.
Ambitious future projects
"When looking back at the past financial year, a look at the progress of the major development projects should not be missing. Due to the difficult market situation in the raw materials sector, the plans for all projects had to be reviewed and partially revised.
"In the Flem Xpress project, the focus in the year under review was on the successful completion of the planning approval process and the preparation of the first construction stages. Due to the procurement of raw materials and in particular because of a pending objection, a new construction program had to be drawn up in spring 2022. The dismantling of the Flims-Foppa-Naraus chairlift was postponed by a year. With the start of construction in June 2022, nothing stands in the way of the commissioning of the first two sections up to Startgels in December 2023 and the opening of the entire facility in December 2024. The second major project, the optimization of the water supply at the Crap Sogn Gion to improve snow-making capacity, was also kept on course despite the difficult general conditions.
"In the third major project, the construction of two new rocksresort houses with an underground Freestyle Academy, the main focus in the 2021/22 reporting year was the creation of an interim solution for the Freestyle Academy. With the circus tent at the Prau la Selva sports center in Flims, an attractive interim solution was created for the freestyle community. The construction project in the rocksresort could be started on time. The completion of the houses is planned for 2024.
Together to success
"In order to have such a successful business year in a difficult, uncertain environment and to implement various large projects at the same time, you need a well-functioning team. So the first and most important thanks go to the employees of the Weisse Arena Gruppe. In this financial year, you have all proven time and time again what is possible with competence, passion and a great deal of commitment. Especially in times like these, it is extremely important to be able to count on a strong team with great people. As in the previous year, a big thank you also goes to our industry associations, Swiss Cable Cars with Hans Wicki, Berno Stoffel and Benedicta Aregger, and Bergbahnen Graubünden with Martin Hug and Marcus Gschwend. Your excellent political work in Bern and Chur is ultimately what makes operations during the pandemic possible in the first place. Another thank you goes to the entire management team. This will to constantly move forward and improve is deeply anchored in the DNA of both the Board of Directors and the operational management committees, the Performance Board and the Performance Team. This is the only way forward strategies like those practiced in the Weisse Arena Gruppe are possible at all."