The Austrian government announced its winter tourism plan on Monday, stating that people will only be allowed to ski on the country’s slopes if they can present a coronavirus pass.
Cable cars to the mountains will only be accessible to people who can prove they have either been fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from the virus or have tested negative, and those wearing FFP2 face masks, meaning there will be no rules on social distancing or a maximum capacity in the lifts.
“This means that anyone who wants to enjoy a safe and carefree winter holiday should get vaccinated,” Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger said at a press conference on Monday.
The announcement comes as the country’s conservative-led government is looking to revive winter sports tourism, which although it focuses on an outdoor activity on the slopes, also includes people going to restaurants, après-skis and Christmas markets, in a safe manner.
However, according to the Austrian news broadcasting service ORF, from an economic point of view, the number of bookings that will be made is expected to be far below levels recorded before the coronavirus crisis.
Tourism consultancy Prodinger told ORF reporters that a “simple vaccination out” will certainly not be enough to secure the economic viability of winter tourism businesses, and that bookings are likely to remain significantly behind those of 2019 for some time to come.
‘Focus on après-corona, not après-ski’
Meanwhile, medical experts in the country are arguing that the government is handling the crisis too lightly and that it should not be focusing on reopening tourism as the number of patients in intensive care units is increasing and school classes are being sent into quarantine.
“Winter tourism is desperate to have a strong season. However, it is not the politicians who decide whether this is possible, but the virus. It doesn’t go on holiday, it doesn’t go skiing, it looks for the easiest possible ways to spread,” Prof. Dr Thomas Szekeres, PhD, President of the Austrian Medical Association, said in a blog post on Monday.
He argued that it seems too many people had forgotten about the Ischgl case, referring to one of the country’s most popular ski resorts, where Austria’s biggest virus outbreaks happened last year at the start of the pandemic.
“The government should be talking about après-corona instead of après-ski,” Szekeres wrote.
However, the government stressed that measures relating to winter tourism would be tightened if the number of cases and hospitalisations increased, resulting in the capacity of intensive care units being reduced.
During the previous winter season, the ski resorts and slopes were open, but the hotels themselves were closed, which in effect prevented tourists from abroad from coming to Austria to ski.