France’s winter resorts are taking the government to court to keep ski lifts operating over the year-end holidays, with the country’s highest administrative legal authority hearing arguments on Wednesday.
The government has said mountain resorts can open over the holidays but that ski lifts are to remain closed, with President Emmanuel Macron favoring a reopening in January to reduce the risk of a new coronavirus resurgence. Ski resorts and mountain regions have decried the measure, which they say is unfair and threatens to wipe out billions in revenue.
Domaines Skiables de France, which is challenging the decision, could face an uphill battle after the Council of State on Tuesdayrejected an appeal against the nationwide closing of bars and restaurants. The pace of Covid-19 infections in France is rising again, putting at risk a government plan to lift a lockdown next week. While stay-at-home measures helped bring down cases in November, they’ve risen after some restrictions were eased at the end of the month.
“We want to save the height of the season, which is notably around the holidays from February to March,” Junior Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said in response to parliamentary questions on Tuesday. “Therefore, it’s necessary to postpone the start of the season.”
France’s winter resorts typically have annual sales of around 11 billion euros ($13.3 billion), with the year-end holidays representing 20% to 25% of revenue, according to industry data.
Industry groups and members of parliament for mountain regions have called the government decision incoherent and arbitrary, citing packed metros and trains that are allowed to run, and have proposed a range of health measures to allow the down-hill skiing season to start. Lemoyne said ski lifts create “a lot of mingling, which is what we want to avoid.”
Germany and Italy have similarly closed their ski resorts, while slopes remain open in Switzerland and Austria.
The Austrian village of Ischgl became famous during the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, with cases in 45 countries linked to partying skiers there.
In France, meanwhile, the industry continues to plead its case.
“Lifts are essential,” said Joel Aviragnet, a parliamentary member for the Haute-Garonne department bordering the Pyrenees. “The economy of our valleys is fully dependent on the opening of the mountain resorts and the operation of lifts.” In just the Occitanie region, resorts will lose 200 million euros of economic benefits in December and January if ski lifts are closed, he said.
The government will announce additional measures to help ski resorts on Friday, including access to partial unemployment measures for seasonal workers and aid for small shops such as bakeries that depend on winter tourists, Lemoyne said. The Council of State decision is expected by the end of the week.
France’s hotels, restaurants and bars, whose appeal was rejected on Tuesday, fear they may lose about 200,000 jobs unless they are given better and faster financial help as well as a reopening date, the head of the country’s hotelier-industry union said in a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.
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