The specialist conference “Forum Seilbahnen Schweiz” in Lucerne was reduced to one day due to the corona pandemic. The dominant topic was the corona virus and its consequences for the mountain railways. The lockdown and the lack of overseas guests since then have had a drastic impact on tourism. Nevertheless, the cable car industry is cautiously optimistic about the coming winter season.
The annual general assembly of the Swiss Cable Car Association (SBS) also took place as part of the specialist conference. The delegates elected Antoine Micheloud (Moléson / FR) and Mauro Pini (Airolo / TI) to the board. They replace the resigned Jean-Marc Udriot (Leysin / VD) and Renzo Pesciallo (Bellinzona / TI). Vice-President Philipp Holenstein (Arosa / GR), Sepp Odermatt (Oberdorf / NW) and Roger Walser (Walenstadt / SG) were confirmed for a further term of office.
Lockdown led to massive guest burglaries
The dominant topic of the conference was the corona crisis. In his speech, SBS President Hans Wicki addressed the effects of the lockdown: “Without the end of the season in mid-March, as ordered by the Federal Council, the Swiss cable cars would have had a very pleasant winter season, because at the end of February the number of guests was more than ten percent above the five-year Average." Due to the early end of the season, however, the number of guests has remained at 20.2 million first-time entries - this is the lowest guest volume in the last fifteen winter seasons. As a result of the lockdown, the industry lost more than CHF 300 million in transport and ancillary operating income by the end of April alone, according to a projection by SBS. The cushioning measures quickly adopted by the Federal Council were all the more important.
The cable cars were only allowed to start operating again on June 6, with appropriate protective measures. According to Hans Wicki, SBS played an important role in the development of the model basis for the individual company protection concepts. The same protective measures apply to the cable cars as to public transport: In addition to general hygiene measures, mouth and nose protection is currently mandatory in closed vehicles. There is no obligation to wear chairlifts and ski lifts. "The measures were widely accepted by the guests, as we discovered this summer," said Hans Wicki at the conference.
Summer: a two-part picture
The summer season, which has not yet ended, is also difficult for the Swiss cable car industry: at the end of August, the number of guests was 33.5 percent behind 2019. According to the SBS President, the current season has developed very differently depending on the company: railways that are heavily geared towards the long-distance markets recorded dramatic declines. Because their business has downright collapsed due to Corona. The fact that more Swiss guests are visiting the famous panoramic summit this year by no means compensates for the failure from abroad. Railway companies, which have always been strongly oriented towards the Swiss market, were a little better off. In some cases, they even reported peak occupancy because many people living in Switzerland spent their holidays in Switzerland because of Corona.
Coming winter season: ski areas are prepared
However, the winter season is economically decisive for the cable car industry in Switzerland. Across Switzerland, the cable cars generate around 75 percent of their annual turnover in winter. In various destinations it is even over 90 percent. Hans Wicki was cautiously optimistic at the General Assembly: “From today's perspective, the winter season will take place. We have to learn to live with the virus - and we can do it! " On the one hand, the protective regime with mouth and nose protection and hygiene measures have proven their worth. On the other hand, mountain railway guests are better protected in winter with gloves, glasses and helmets than in summer. In addition, there is now a comfortable, winter-proof mouth and nose protection variant on the market with the neck tubes. However, Seilbahnen Schweiz does not sell mouth-nose protection products; The guests themselves are responsible for the face protection, stressed Wicki. And further: "Nothing stands in the way of the winter sports experience in the coming winter."
SBS provides its members with a winter-specific supplemented template for the individual company protection concept. This is based strongly on the protective measures of public transport. "Limiting the transport capacity of the cable cars is therefore not an issue, especially since there is no space limit in public transport either," says Wicki. This was clearly explained to the Federal Council at the tourism summit at the end of August. It is clear to everyone that the tourist resorts should avoid uncontrollable crowds in their own interest. "We are currently not living in times of excessive après-ski," said the SBS president at the general assembly.
New director Berno Stoffel in office
The new SBS director Berno Stoffel made his first appearance at the general assembly. The Valais took up his position at the beginning of October. He succeeds Sepp Odermatt, who has headed the office on an interim basis since April 2019. The new director will be challenged equally. Not only because of the corona crisis, but also because SBS will move its office to a new location in Bern at the beginning of 2021. So far, SBS had worked closely with the Association of Public Transport in various areas. From next year, SBS will continue to conduct all business independently.