Ski resorts were at the centre of some of the earliest spikes of Covid-19 in Europe, including examples of super-spreaders in French and Austrian resorts.
But has the sector been tarnished as a result? Are people now less likely to invest in ski properties? And what is being done to encourage people back in a safe and secure manner?
We checked in with Mark Lightfoot, the chief executive and founder of SnowOnly - a property platform dedicated to buying and selling ski properties - for his thoughts. Last year he outlined everything an investor needs to know when considering a ski property investment.
First off, how has the coronavirus affected the ski property investment sector?
Inevitably there were fewer enquiries, buyers that were in the process of buying properties put everything on hold. However, we’re now seeing people proceeding with purchases that were started earlier in the year and there is some confidence in the market with more enquiries and people buying property again.
We have spoken to a lot of agents and there is still a lot of confidence and an upbeat mentality, which is encouraging.
A lot is based on the mentality of the particular buyer. Some people are still cautious for the short term, some people see it is a long-term investment and some people are now acting as ‘life is too short to wait’.
Ski resorts were at the heart of some of the early major spikes of Covid-19 in Europe - has this affected the reputation of these areas, which typically draw people from all over the world in quite confined areas?
In general, people everywhere have lost confidence in the entire travel industry, wondering: Will our holiday be cancelled? Will we get stuck with no way back home? So many questions.
I think we can only see what impact there has been in the 2020/21-winter season. If there is some clear guidance over travel, etc., then I think the season could be fruitful as it is still five months away. However, there are so many factors to determine whether confidence can truly return to the market for this season. We keep our fingers crossed.
Do you think ski resorts were unfairly tarnished, in much the same way as cruises, as hotbeds for Covid-19, when hotels, restaurants and Airbnbs didn’t receive the same level of scrutiny?
I think it is inevitable that anywhere that is relatively confined to a small area will be targeted and skiing brings interest from a press standpoint. But all industries will have to build confidence again and I think that skiing will be able to do that.
Skiing represents something I think most people would like right now: freedom, space, fresh mountain air, nature, exercise, memories with family and friends, escapism, all the things that lockdown did not provide. Going from the city into nature seems very appealing to most people right now.
Has demand bounced back since restrictions have started to ease? Did it ever go away?
There are certainly people looking at the moment and there have definitely been transactions happening, which is great news for everyone.
One particular buyer who was trying to buy a property in Megeve pre-Covid delayed the process but has now moved forward with his purchase at the end of July.
If this is a reflection of people’s mentality, then things are starting to look up. Though we are in August so it is typical that these are the quiet months before people switch their attention to skiing in December.
Are people now looking for different things from their ski property? Is more space and provision of outdoor space now key?
A local broker in Japan has reported that there has been a significant shift from apartments to chalets and I expect this to happen across most ski resorts for buyers. It also depends on affordability and what lengths developers will go to build confidence in their particular development.
I imagine that anyone that has been cooped up in an apartment during lockdown will certainly be looking for something with a garden now. But individual buyers will have a different mentality to a family with three children. I don’t think ‘outdoor space’ is key; ‘confidence’ in what you are buying is key.
What encouragement would you give to someone on the fence about investment in ski properties at this moment?
Everyone has different requirements for their ski property purchase: lifestyle, investment, location, etc., so it is hard to give a comment that will satisfy everyone that is looking.
What I would say is that it is clear that everyone can be affected by an ‘investment’ property if there is a pandemic. However, the fundamentals of purchasing a ski property are good. They tend to hold their price, there is greater investment in summer activities making it an all-year-round investment and skiing is appealing to a worldwide audience.
Most of all, life is too short to not do the things you love doing and if a ski property is on your bucket list then it might be time to start enjoying it now.
Will there be long-term legacies for ski resorts/ski properties as a result of Covid-19?
Hopefully in the long-term ski resorts will be considered as places that changed for the better, as long as they can survive in the short-term. If there are long-term changes as a result of Covid-19 like the continued need for social distancing, it will hopefully be more investment in infrastructure like speeding up lifts.
I do believe that ski resorts can be a great place to escape to for friends and family that offer a unique experience and there is an argument that this will make ski resorts more appealing as a result of Covid-19.
How are the partnerships with Juwai and Zoopla faring? Are these boosting interest from Chinese and British holidaymakers/investors?
SnowOnly drives a lot of traffic from UK buyers, as we are the largest dedicated ski property portal. Having Zoopla as a partner gives us added exposure to buyers that maybe SnowOnly are not reaching due to their vast reach, so it benefits SnowOnly and the sellers equally.
Juwai also gives us added exposure to a new audience. There is still work to be done with the Chinese audience for European ski property in particular, as the main focus for them is Japan, where we get a lot of enquiries.
The main idea behind the Juwai partnership was being ready to capitalise on the investment from the Chinese government leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where they want to turn 12 million Chinese skiers currently into 300 million skiers, which would redefine an industry that currently has 180 million skiers globally.