HOTELLERIESUISSE: 5 PERCENT OF SWISS HOTELS WON’T SURVIVE CORONAVIRUS

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Andreas Züllig, owner of the four-star Hotel Schweizerhof in the Alpine resort of Lenzerheide, was having one of his best winters in 20 years before the coronavirus stole into Switzerland. As many as 200 guests were arriving daily to enjoy the abundant snow, driving revenues to record highs in January and February.

But the season came to a premature end in mid-March when the government mandated a nationwide lockdown to help contain the virus. He closed the hotel temporarily, along with many of Switzerland’s 4,500 hotels. At the time, he only had six guests.

“The whole industry has never seen anything like what we have now,” said Züllig, who is also the president of the Swiss Hotel Association. He predicts that 5 percent of Swiss hotels—from 200 to 250—won’t survive the pandemic. Those located in the country with no more than a dozen or so rooms are the ones most threatened, he said.

On average, about 1 to 2 percent of Switzerland’s 4,500 hotels close down or go out of business every year.

“It’s going to be a tough ride,” said Louis Papadopoulos, owner of Maya Boutique Hotel in Valais. The eight-room wellness hotel, which normally has an occupancy rate of 60 percent throughout the year, hasn’t received a booking request since the end of February. “I think many hotels will be faced with the choice: die now or in a few years’ time.” Papadopoulos remains hopeful that business will pick up over the summer from Swiss tourists who choose to travel locally.

Sebastian Schmid, who runs Hotel Glocke in Valais, was also forced to close earlier than planned for the season. The 18-room hotel had received 20 booking cancellations in the last two weeks alone.

The Second Hit  

It’s not the first time the Swiss hotel industry has faced a crisis. In 2015, the decoupling of the Swiss franc and the euro left many establishments struggling for international visitors as the currency surged. When Züllig took on the role as president as the Swiss Hotel Association that year, he thought things couldn’t get any worse. Now he believes the franc shock is nothing compared with the coronavirus.

A survey carried out by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts for Western Switzerland expects losses for Swiss hotels to reach CHF 2 billion from March to May. April will be one of the hardest-hit months with revenues down roughly 90 percent, according to projections.

“I think the international market is dead for the whole year,” said Züllig, who estimates it will take at least a year before the industry can return to normal. Others see a brighter future.

“The Swiss hotel industry is facing a dark time indeed, but it has already proven that it is able to innovate and react quite quickly,” said Giuliano Bianchi, professor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. “Despite the huge hit, I believe that the high human capital and the flexibility of the Swiss hotel industry will overcome this dark time. There is hope.”

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