A sharp drop in Russian visitors is sending an icy chill through Alpine ski resorts that have previously profited from free-spending eastern tourists. As Sonia Legg reports the weakening rouble is partly to blame.
It's not the snow that's causing a chill in the Austrian resort of Solden. It's the prospect of a winter without as many Russians. Carmen Fender works for Tour company Oetztal (SOUNDBITE) (German) HEAD OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS AT TOURISM COMPANY OETZTAL TOURISMUS, CARMEN FENDER, SAYING: "We are expecting a drop-off of about 20 percent. We are already noticing that a few key tour operators have disappeared from the market. And we are also seeing fewer enquiries and fewer bookings from Russia and Ukraine." Moscow's standoff with the west over Ukraine and a weakening economy have made many Russians think twice about travelling to Austria and Switzerland. The rouble has dropped by more than a fifth against the euro and Swiss franc this year. (SOUNDBITE) (German) HEAD OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS AT TOURISM COMPANY OETZTAL TOURISMUS, CARMEN FENDER, SAYING: "We hope that other countries can make up for what we have lost in Russian and Ukrainian custom. We will be really affected during the Russian Orthodox Christmas in January, when there are normally a lot of Russians here." Tourism during the summer was down between seven and 10%. Hoteliers fear the winter drop could be even bigger. Maya Lomidze represents tour operators in Russia. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ASSOCIATION OF TOUR OPERATORS OF RUSSIA, MAYA LOMIDZE, SAYING: "Budget holiday-makers have virtually stopped travelling. They've fallen out of the consumer base of tourist services, both in Russia and abroad. Those in the middle price range have shifted to the budget sector while the high end remains comparative stable, as it often does in this kind of economic situation." Austria is trying to counter the trend with discounts and an advertising campaign. And Russia's domestic holiday market is benefitting from the stay at home trend. But there are other victims too - it's feared Russian airlines may need state aid next year due to a drop in passenger numbers.