A favourite amongst Monaco residents, Courchevel welcomes the likes of Charles Leclerc and other famous Monaco residents. But now that the French government has ordered that ski lifts remain closed over the holidays, things are not looking up for the largest ski area in the world and its habitués.
The upscale ski station opened on 5 December, geared with a testing center and a lab “able to process up to 500 people a day,” says Jean-Yves Pachod, Mayor of Courchevel. Unfortunately, all the screening equipment wasn’t enough to change the French government’s mind: ski lifts will officially have to stay shut over the holidays. “A heartbreak” for Pascal de Thiersant, head of the Société des 3 Vallées, which manages the Courchevel ski domain. However, despite his disappointment, Pascal de Thiersant recognises the risk posed by skiing. “You can’t predict what will happen on the slopes. We could easily have peaks of accidents that could be difficult to manage on top of everything else.”
Brexit and Covid-19: a lethal cocktail
“At the beginning of December, we estimated that if we opened in mid-January, visitors would be down by 55% compared to 2019,” says Jean-Yves Pachod. Courchevel has therefore a difficult season ahead, and Covid-19 is not the only culprit. The uncertainty over Brexit is turning an already sour year into an unpalatable cocktail. The resort, which is home to 2,400 residents but can see the number multiply by 15 in high-season, relies heavily on international tourism. About 60% of Courchevel’s clientele is international. Of the international visitors, 40% are British and 8% Russian, two nationalities that in Winter 2021 will be nowhere to be seen..
I can’t picture our clients eating sandwiches on the slopes and then going back to their rooms at 5 pm.
Few hotels will open before 2021
The Grand Hôtel de Courchevel is one of the many hotels that have chosen not to open before January 2021. Jean-Claude Lavorel, who is at the head of the Grand Hôtel, the Chabichou, and the Suites de la Potinière, says opening would be madness. “Without catering, without a bar, it’s unthinkable to open. I can’t picture our clients eating sandwiches on the slopes and then going back to their rooms at 5 pm.”
To catch up with the season, our aim is to stay open as late as possible, until the end of April if possible
Cost also comes into the equation. Opening the hotels would have also meant hiring a significant amount of seasonal workers – “over 200 staff members” – who would have required accommodation and who would have eventually have to be put under partial unemployment. However, Jean-Claude Lavorel says he’s not giving up anytime soon. “We are ready for 20 January. If restaurants have to stay close, we may have to revise our plans. To catch up with the season, our aim is to stay open as late as possible, until the end of April if possible.”
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Moving away from seasonal tourism?
Aware that mountain resorts rely mainly on skiing, Courchevel is coming to terms with the necessity of attracting tourists all year round, as Pascal de Thiersant explains: “This summer, in Courchevel, visitors who came discovered that the virtues of mountains do not stop with the start of spring. Furthermore, the new road to the Col de la Loze (2304 m), a highlight of the Tour de France 2020, will also be a considerable attractor. However, Courchevel still suffers from hotel and restaurant summer closures. That needs to change if we want everyone to find what they are looking for.” The conclusion is the same as for many other industries: to survive the pandemic, Courchevel too will have to rethink old habits and adapt them to a changing world.