International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism
Insight into 2016 issue
The 2016 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, by Laurent Vanat, reports about the 66 countries in the world offering equipped outdoor ski areas covered with snow.
Hereafter is some general insight into the evolution of the ski market that can be perceived based on the latest available data.
For a long time, in many countries, the ski industry used to measure the evolution of the business on the basis of the revenues. When revenues were up, one concluded that the season was good, and when they were down, one usually pointed out bad weather and snow conditions, or some time the global economy. However, what really happened was not exactly traced. On the long range, as prices where regularly increased, the revenue showed anyway a growing trend.
Since the beginning of the 2000’s, yearly measurement of the skier visits (already used for a long time in North America) was introduced in most of the major destinations (even if unfortunately, it is still not general practice in all markets). After a few years, it became obvious that it was not only a matter of good or bad weather and snow conditions or good or bad economy.
The problem was more important. It was that the population was growing, but not the number of skiers / skier visits. This fact became progressively obvious in many of the major markets, when the observation of the long term evolution of skier visits showed attendance was declining. And in one major destination market after the others, the growth suddenly ceased. Skier visits became stagnant, when not declining. The season 2012/13 showed a general inflection point in all the major markets. Even those that had benefited up to then of client transfers from other destinations (such as European clients switching from Switzerland to Austria or France) were inflecting.
In fact, the problem is not limited only to the destination countries. The problem is generalised to the European outbound countries that are also feeding these destinations. It is the global Western skiers’ market that is flattening, although this is not reflected in the worldwide number of skiers, which is growing thanks to developing markets such as China. However, in these developing markets, the ski consumption per skier is still much lower than it used to be on traditional markets, resulting into a global stagnant attendance figure.
Ski market is moved by numerous drivers. It is a multi-factor equation and we still do not monitor clearly all parameters and variables. Beside the long-dated weather and snow conditions factors, there are a number of others. The western demographic evolution is a major issue. Such are also the increased worldwide competition in holiday and leisure activities and the retention and learning issues.
The latest may be the most widely spread problem that the industry will have to face in the decade. It does not only affect mature markets that struggle to renew their customer base, but also developing markets such as China that risk to vaccinate candidates against skiing if the industry fails to develop teaching methods that are better aligned with today’s consumption patterns. With the increasing development of short stays at ski resorts (the traditional ski week is reduced to a few days, the daily trip to the slopes is reduced to an evening) it is becoming necessary to adapt the pedagogy. It has been widely acknowledged by the industry that the first experience of beginners is very often unpleasant and that most of them will not come again. Without proper teaching methods that will allow novice skiers to have fun on their first visit after 30 minutes on their skis, the conversion of beginners to loyal skiers will become more and more difficult. And not only is the market urging for teaching methods adapted to connected and zapping customers, lacking of sports culture. It is also calling for an army of ski instructors to meet with the growth perspectives in China.
According to the analyses of the consultant Laurent Vanat, who prepares each year a report on the international market of ski resorts, there is since many years a general trend towards stagnation in attendance in most European countries. The season 2013/14 confirms more than ever this trend. It indeed marks an inflection point in the long term growth on the 6 largest Western markets. If the five-year average was already previously downward on the North American markets, Italian and Switzerland, winter 2013/14 sees last markets that still had a certain force run out. Thus, both Austria as France now also show a decline in their five-year average.
A strong majority of ski resorts first live from local customers and are struggling to attract new skiers. The problem of the succession of the generation of baby boomers, generation of skiers, remains a challenge. Europe's demographic growth is not for the benefit of populations with a culture of skiing, and this problem relates as much to European Alpine countries as to their outbound markets.
Andorra, Austria and Switzerland rely for an important part on foreign customers. France and Italy also do, but foreign customer base coming to ski in the Alpine countries is not easily expendable. The Alps mainly benefit from the visits of the Germans, British, Dutch and Belgians, but in these countries too, the number of skiers is not substantially increasing. Skiers from emerging countries will for a long time remain insufficient to generate growth in attendance at ski resorts or take over their traditional clientèle in defection.
In recent years, France and Austria took advantage of the high cost of the Swiss currency, at the expense of Switzerland. Some traditional customers of the later went skiing in France and Austria. It is essentially thanks to this transfer of clientele that France and Austria still showed growth on the previous seasons, their national client base being also flat.
The Iberian Peninsula accused repeated downs in attendance. Spain has experienced a strong economic crisis and its ski resorts were affected. After experiencing a nice progression, Spain thus experienced a sharp downward trend in the season 2010-11. Andorra suffers already since 2006-2007 a decline in attendance and must fight against destinations like the Bulgaria. However, it has recently experienced a slight recovery.
Germany benefits from a large reservoir of domestic customers, but the country is more sensitive to weather conditions due to the low altitude of its ski areas. Northern Europe, seeking to attract foreign customers, had in recent years a slight increase, but the season 2013/14 also sees a decline in the trend.
The fairy tale of the inexhaustible foreign customer reservoir is to an end. This reservoir is stagnating and is even spread on new markets. The generalized challenge is in learning skiing to new generations. And if alpine countries already experience trouble to teach skiing on their domestic market, how will they success on foreign markets? If Internet enabled to reach them easily, Internet is a total failure to teach people to ski! It would take a major European initiative to revitalize learning skiing and make it accessible to new generations. Europe must learn to his children to ski, and this regardless of their cultural background!
Abstract from the 2014 issue
Over the years, the scope of the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism has always been expanding, in order to reach soon all the ski destination countries of the world. However, it will never pretend to become any ski guide. The only goal of this document is to supply a worldwide perspective of the stage of development and the economic weight of the ski industry in each concerned country.
One considers that there are about 80 countries in the world where skiing is an activity. Among these, roughly 70 countries, offer open air ski areas, the balance having only indoor facilities. Even if snow fields are much more numerous, about 2’000 ski resorts have been identified worldwide. The major ones worldwide are ranked in the report on the basis of their average annual skier visits during the last few winter seasons.
Most of the industry is concentrated around the resorts that generate more than 100’000 skier visits per year. Even if they only account for 20% of the resorts, they account for 80% of all skier visits.
Although data collection within the industry is not always well organized and yearly number of visits may vary due to weather conditions, for several years the estimate has been an overall draw of approximately 400 million skier visits worldwide, including visitors to indoor ski centers. The assumption is that figures have been stable over the last 10 years, as major mature markets experienced reduced growth (when not experiencing a dramatic decline as with Japan), while other markets were emerging.
The chart below appears to confirm this assumed trend, and reflects the evolution of skier visits in those countries considered to be a large sample of the most significant industry players over the last decade.
Clearly, the Alps are the biggest ski destination in the world, capturing 45% of skier visits. The second biggest destination is America (mostly North America), accounting for 21% of skier visits worldwide. Asia & Pacific used to have the same market share as America. However, the continuous decline of the industry in Japan has still not been replaced by the growing ski markets in South Korea and China. In the long term, countries such as India and Pakistan may join them and contribute to increasing the weight of Asia in the international spread of skier visits. Northern, Southern and Western European non alpine countries (grouped under the label of Western Europe) also attract 11% of the market, even if skier visits are spread primarily over a large number of small resorts.
The total number of skiers worldwide is currently estimated to be at 115 million and seems to be growing over the long term. Although some countries have no ski areas (in some instances only ski domes), they have skiers who ski abroad.
The Alps is the most internationally visited ski destination, attracting most of the inbound skiers travel. Even though it hosts 45% of skier visits, it only produces 17% of the skiers. The regions of Eastern Europe and Asia & Pacific provide for 36% of the skiers worldwide, but only produce, at this stage, 23% of skier visits. These regions clearly represent the future growth potential of the market. Besides, a look at new deliveries of lifts confirms that Eastern European and Asian countries are building up at a higher rate than the more traditional ski regions, if the figures are analyzed in relative terms. In addition, with the exception of one resort in Canada, no new resorts have been created in the traditional markets.
Although consumption patterns of skiing in countries like China still need to be confirmed on a broader scale, it is likely that the Eastern European and Asian markets will grow their skier visit figures over the new decade. They may end up reaching a weight equivalent to the other major regions in terms of skiers by the year 2020. If this growth occurs without affecting skier visits at western resorts, and provided they find adequate ways to address the generational issue, worldwide skier visits may then increase to over 420 million by this date.