Science and society

From lift closures to the expected change of course

© Leïla Shahshahani

At a time when the debate surrounding the closure of ski lifts in French ski resorts at Christmas is in full swing, Emmanuelle George, a research engineer at Inrae, member of Labex ITTEM and specialist in mountain tourism issues, was the guest on France Bleu Isère this morning.

As a preamble, Emmanuelle George recalled that for ski area operators, “the Christmas period represents 15 to 20% of their total activity over the season “, explaining the ” astonishment ” not only of these operators, but also of local authorities, and more broadly of the entire resort ” ecosystem “, encompassing a multitude of players.

In the short term, the challenge is to find out whether resorts will be able to properly welcome incoming customers, offering them an attractive range of experiences and stays “, explains the researcher. She points out that a number of mountain resorts and regions have already invested, often with the support of public policies, in a diversified tourism offering, enabling them to broaden the range of activities and services on offer. But dependence on “skiing” remains variable from one resort to another.

Paradoxically, mid-mountain resorts, which are generally more vulnerable due to their unpredictable snow cover, could have a head start in this unprecedented situation. This was also noted by Philippe Bourdeau, co-coordinator of Labex ITTEM, interviewed by journalist François Carrel for Libération(Stations fermées. En montagne, le virage de l’après-ski, November 28 and 29, 2020). He describes it as ” the nose of history, a sudden reversal: the large resorts that have until now prided themselves on their international clientele and their solidity are likely to be the most weakened by this crisis. Medium-altitude resorts, on the other hand, which have already diversified their activities and rely on a regional clientele, have room to maneuver.

Will the health crisis now forcing the closure of ski lifts reshuffle the cards in mountain tourism? Over and above the economic and financial impact, Emmanuelle George notes that ” these resorts need to reflect on their transition model, each one defining and specifying its own development trajectory “, to complement the “ski” activity with a more varied tourism offering and highlight other economic activities, such as agriculture or crafts. This question is the subject of her research work as part of the Tandem project within Labex ITTEM.