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TOURISM

Season saved for Swiss ski resorts as quarantine is lifted

Switzerland's ski resorts breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday, as the government lifted quarantine restrictions imposed due to the Omicron variant, which had triggered an avalanche of booking cancellations.

Season saved for Swiss ski resorts as quarantine is lifted
Skiers on the slopes near the Matterhorn near Zermatt. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The wealthy Alpine nation had slapped 10-days’ quarantine on anyone flying in from countries where the new Covid-19 variant of concern had been detected, in a bid to stop its spread. That included Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands — the three main sources of tourists heading to the Swiss slopes.

The crackdown had threatened to wreck the vital Christmas period for a seasonal sector struggling to recover from the pandemic’s impact last winter.

“It is a huge relief that the quarantine requirement, which was a de facto travel ban, has been dropped,” the Swiss tourism agency said.

READ ALL: Switzerland to scrap quarantine requirement for all arrivals

Instead, travellers must do a PCR test before arrival in Switzerland, plus a second test four to seven days later.

The tourist agency welcomed the testing-only system, saying people were already familiar with tests and “they give guests a feeling of security and remove uncertainties when planning visits”.

The quarantine requirement was first imposed on November 26, but Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset announced Friday that it was being removed from Saturday onwards.

“It no longer makes sense to maintain quarantine for people coming from countries where this variant is circulating because it’s also circulating here,” he said.

The impact of the quarantine requirement had been immediate. Planning had become “impossible”, said Sabrina Marcolin, spokeswoman for the tourist office in Zermatt, Switzerland’s busiest ski resort, in the shadow of the country’s iconic Matterhorn mountain.

“Bookings for the winter season were really great… almost back to normal” before the quarantine rule came in, she said.

It instantly affected “everybody: the ski schools, the restaurants, the ski lifts. We are a destination that pretty much lives from tourism,” she said.

50% drop in 48 hours

Ski schools saw their reservations plummet. “We lost 50 percent of our bookings in 48 hours,” said Maxime Riviera, director of the Alpine Ski School, which employs 35 instructors. “It is mainly the British who have cancelled. They are a major customer base in Zermatt.”

Others, who saw the situation becoming more complicated, also pulled out, he added.

Riviera lost 60 percent of his annual turnover last year, when in late December, quarantine was retroactively imposed on British tourists who had already arrived in Switzerland, due to the emergence of the Alpha variant.

The festive period accounts for a third of the winter season turnover, and Riviera hopes at least to break even this time around.

Three days before the government lifted the quarantine requirement, the HotellerieSuisse hotel industry body sounded the alarm about the surge in cancellations it had caused.

It too voiced its relief Friday, calling it an “important signal” for the British, Dutch and Belgian markets.

“HotellerieSuisse calls on the government not to impose any more unexpected and unnecessary travel restrictions in the coming months in order to guarantee planning security for guests and establishments in an already fragile situation,” it said.

Many British tour operators specialising in ski holidays pulled back from Swiss breaks.

Quarantine forced Inghams, a subsidiary of Hotelplan, to suspended all December departures to Switzerland. It offered customers the option to postpone their booking or cancel with a full refund.

Beforehand, bookings to Switzerland this winter had been strong and accounted for around six percent of holidays in their winter programme, the company said in a statement.

British, Belgian and Dutch tourists are “very loyal” customers to the Wallis and Bernese Oberland regions, and major resorts like Davos and Saint Moritz, “especially during the Christmas holidays”, said Andreas Zullig, HotellerieSuisse president.

They stay an average of seven to 14 nights, he added. Many hotels hope to achieve up to a quarter of their turnover during the
busy holiday season, thanks to Christmas and New Year bookings and peak rates.

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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

READ MORE: Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

READ MORE: These are the 20 prettiest villages across Italy

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.

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