The Summer of Superlatives
Preface of Markus Wolf, CEO of Weisse Arena Gruppe
The 2020/21 business year already began in lockdown due to the measures taken by the federal government in the first wave of the pandemic. Then, in June, when the operation of the mountain railways was possible again under certain restrictions and something like normality returned to the everyday life of the Swiss, the summer season really got going. Due to the ongoing restrictions on travel abroad and the simultaneous urge of Switzerland’s population to plan a change of scenery after the lock-down, a tourist summer season developed that our destination had never seen before. With 172,153 first-time admissions (previous year 127,793) and 64,954 overnight stays (previous year 39,579), the Weisse Arena Gruppe once again recorded a marked increase in summer figures compared to the record previous year.
In addition to the pure figures, it should be noted that many new guests, especially of a younger age, were welcomed to the destination. It is to be hoped that as many of them as possible could be sustainably inspired for summer holidays in the mountains. Another feature of the past summer was the significantly increased demand for holiday flats, a trend that was certainly reinforced by Corona. The rocksresort, for example, recorded 46 001 overnight stays, double the number of the previous year.
Uncertainties before winter
In the course of the autumn, dark clouds began to gather for winter tourism in the Alps. In all neighbouring countries, it was decided to close the mountain railways completely for the winter or, in the case of Austria, to practically stop winter tourism. The pressure on Switzerland to keep the cableways closed and to severely restrict winter tourism increased immeasurably. Fortunately, the government of Graubünden was always aware of the economic importance of tourism for the canton and looked for ways and means to keep mountain railways open and to make winter tourism possible under restrictions. So in the end it was probably thanks in particular to government councillor Marcus Caduff, with the support of Martin Hug as president of Bergbahnen Graubünden and the management of the Weisse Arena Group, that the pressure from all over Europe was withstood and that solutions could be found in Graubünden for the responsible operation of ski areas.
The Weisse Arena Gruppe as a driver of innovation
During the first lockdown in spring 2020, the Weisse Arena Group already began to prepare concepts that would enable a safe winter tourist season even in the event of a second pandemic wave. In addition to the usual operational measures, three groundbreaking innovations were also prepared:
1. under the working title “Fresh&Easy”, all self-service gastronomies were completely reconfigured and rebuilt. Guests will be able to order and pay for drinks and food from their seat via the INSIDE LAAX app. The food is then brought to their table. In addition to this improvement in guest convenience, the supply chains and provisioning processes have also been completely redesigned in order to be able to react much better to the highly fluctuating guest volumes in the future.
2. The second innovation of the summer was the development of a completely new Covid testing system for staff and guests. Both the completely independent test acceptance by means of a spit test and the pooling procedure in the laboratory as well as the system for company testing were used for the first time in Switzerland at the time of introduction in mid-December. In the meantime, the procedures developed in and for Laax have become the standard throughout Switzerland.
3. The third innovation concerns ticket sales. In the autumn it was decided and communicated that day ski passes would only be sold online from winter onwards. This created the possibility of making quotas in sales and thus limiting the number of guests in the area. Thanks to these innovations and all the usual measures, the Weisse Arena Group was able to state at the beginning of winter that it was well prepared for the winter with its protection concept.
The start of the winter was not only politically difficult. The poor snow situation at higher altitudes and the constantly changing official conditions for operations, especially in the catering sector, also put a strain on the organisation. The result was an extremely weak Christmas season. The great uncertainty among guests in the wake of the political discussions, the thin snow cover with numerous closed lifts and the Covid-related quota restrictions on the sale of day passes led to a loss in turnover of around CHF 7 million over the festive season alone.
With the guests’ growing sense of security in the course of January, the successful staging of the LAAX OPEN thanks to the test system and the massive snowfalls, the first-time admissions steadily approached the “normal” figures by the end of January. With the terraces open and the fine weather in February, combined with very valuable media presence due to the test system, the further course of the season developed more and more positively. Even the renewed closure of the terraces at the end of February could no longer affect the further course of the season, and even incomprehensible political decisions could not stop the upward trend. All in all, a very respectable winter was recorded with 981,041 first-time admissions (previous year with lockdown 874,386).
Despite the most difficult circumstances, the Weisse Arena Gruppe can also speak of a good financial year. At CHF 89.5 million, net sales are CHF 1.4 million above the 2019/20 financial year, but at CHF 7.5 million still significantly behind the strong 2018/19 financial year. Thanks to the successful breathing space on the cost side and the consistent use of the short-time working instrument, the EBITDA of CHF 23.6 million was brought back to the margin level of the 2018/19 and 2017/18 financial years despite the massively more difficult general conditions. The consolidated group result after the operationally necessary depreciations is CHF 2.6 million and corresponds to the performance of the pandemic insurance.
The performance of the employees of the Weisse Arena Gruppe in the past financial year deserves the highest respect. Conditions were changed, conversions had to be carried out and processes adapted, sometimes several times a week. The amount of passion for the Weisse Arena Gruppe, the level of competence and the proactive and proactive way in which all of this was managed was simply outstanding. Thus, the first and most important thanks go to all employees of the Weisse Arena Gruppe. Further thanks are due to cantonal councillor Marcus Caduff, who resisted the enormous pressure from home and abroad with the utmost commitment and vehemence and, together with his colleagues in the Graubünden government, took groundbreaking decisions for the implementation of the winter season.
We would also like to express our sincere thanks to the industry associations Bergbahnen Graubünden with Martin Hug and Marcus Gschwend and Seilbahnen Schweiz with Hans Wicki and Berno Stoffel, who also put a great deal of energy and expertise into the project on behalf of the industry. The test concept is thanks to a group consisting of Prof. Joachim Fischer and Dr. Michaela Weber from the University of Heidelberg, the Risch and SwissAnalysis laboratories, the Hamilton company and the support of the management staff of the Canton of Graubünden under the leadership of Martin Bühler. Last but not least, we would like to thank our valued guests. Without their loyalty and trust and without the numerous encouraging feedbacks, a successful business year 2020/21 would not have been possible.
Thank you very much and see you soon again in a hopefully normalised world without Corona!
Markus Wolf, CEO Weisse Arena Gruppe