It all started in St Moritz, when Johannes Badrutt, a successful businessman, was entertaining some English tourists at his guesthouse in the autumn of 1864.
When some English tourists complained about returning to cold, grim months in England, local businessman Johannes Badrutt suggested they spend the winter in St Moritz and promised them days of sunshine in the snowy Engadin. They were at first sceptical, so he pledged to pay the costs of their stay himself if they were disappointed. They had a wonderful time, returned home glowing with health, told all their friends, and winter tourism was born.
Back then, the popular winter sports included curling, skating and tobogganing as well as, of course, skiing. Much of this took place in the Kulm Park, next to Badrutt’s guesthouse, now the Kulm Hotel.
From February 6 to February 19, 2017, the Alpine World Ski Championships will return to the home of winter tourism in St Moritz. The Ice Pavilion in Kulm Park, a 111-year-old art nouveau construction, has been expanded and restored by the British architect Sir Norman Foster in time to host the medal award ceremonies in the six disciplines: downhill, giant slalom, super-g, slalom, super-combined and the nations team event.
Large media impact
It will be the fifth time that the Alpine World Ski Championships are held in St. Moritz, which has also hosted the Winter Olympics twice. Hugo Wetzel, Executive President of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in St Moritz, is hoping the event will help draw more winter tourists to the region. Over 15 television channels will be attending the championships, many of them broadcasting live.
“The media impact is enormous,” Wetzel says. “With an event like this, we try to position St Moritz more strongly in the world’s collective memory, and that of course helps to attract other ski tourists. This is a very beautiful ski region with a lot of history and a long tradition of competitive skiing.”
This jog to the world’s memory comes at an important time. Swiss winter tourism has suffered in the past four years from the strength of the Swiss franc. According to the Federal Statistics Office, the number of overnight stays in the first half of 2016 dropped by 1.2 percent from the same period in the previous year. The decline was led by guests from other European countries and mountain regions were the worst affected.
Catering to all budgets
Yet Wetzel is optimistic for the World Ski Championships. VIP tickets have already almost sold out, he says. One of St. Moritz’s advantages, in his view, is that it is big enough to cater for all budgets from youth hostels to five-star hotels, and offers a chance to experience pristine nature in combination with all the cultural benefits of an urban lifestyle.
“The strength of the franc, or rather the weakness of the euro, always presents a big challenge,” Wetzel says. Germans are particularly price sensitive, so we are trying to show them that Switzerland does not have to be as expensive as its reputation suggests.”
One way to do this, Wetzel says, is to offer package tours. The website for the World Ski Championships gives some examples: a stay of three nights in a double room in a three-star hotel including breakfast, a three-day ski pass, three grandstand tickets and free use of public transport in the Upper Engadine costs 654 CHF per person.
Such packages have been enthusiastically received by tour operators in China, says Wetzel, illustrating that new fans of the Alps from different parts of the world are helping to counter the losses from the weakness of the euro. “The Chinese always like the original,” Wetzel says. “And St Moritz is the original in winter tourism.”