The winter season is starting and the corona numbers are increasing. Will it be difficult months for the ski resorts again? Follow the talk with Jungfrau Railway boss Urs Kessler at noon in the live stream and ticker.
Jungfrau Railways has been around for a year now exclusive Platinum Club for CHF 12,000. This included an annual subscription, access to the VIP lounge, rides in the VIP gondola and special parking. Reader Rolf wants to know: How many Platinum Club memberships have already been concluded?
Kessler: We already have numerous memberships, including from international guests who have an apartment in Grindelwald. But now is definitely not the time to talk about platinum membership. We want to offer a niche for something very special, but we don't do a Fast Line, the same rules apply to everyone in the ski area. But there is still space for the VIP package.
Artificial snow is important for the winter season
Most of the ski slopes are now artificially snowed. Would it not be possible to operate such a ski area without artificial snow?
Urs Kessler: The snow reliability limit has shifted upwards in recent years. This is already possible from 2000 meters, but the guest wants guaranteed snow. We are happy that we now have so much natural snow: It is a different kind of skiing pleasure than on artificial snow. We are happy that we have the Jungfraujoch with 70 percent of sales and, on the other hand, 30 percent for excursions, 15 percent of which is for winter sports. We are therefore less risky than other areas that do up to 90 percent with winter sports.
No dynamic prices
Various Swiss ski areas already have dynamic prices that adapt to demand. That means: On a sunny day at the weekend, skiing costs more than during the week when it is snowing. When will something like this happen at Jungfrau Railways?
Urs Kessler: We considered this many years ago, but we want prices that are easy to understand for our guests. You don't always have to be innovative at any cost. The markets are dynamic, something can always change, but we will stick to the fixed prices for the next few years.
Winter sports are luxury goods
Winter sports are an expensive pleasure in Switzerland: one Day tickets in the Jungfrau region cost 69 francs for adults. Basically asked: Where do you think the price-pain threshold for ski day tickets in Switzerland is?
Urs Kessler: We certainly have a fair market price, in America $ 200 for a day ticket is common. We have a uniform price, which our guests understand very well. But winter sports have become a luxury for families. Winter sports are not cheap. However, the share for the ticket only costs 10 to 15 percent.
Rules in Austria
Austria has introduced the 2G rules for ski areas. In addition, an FFP2 mask is mandatory. Could it be that Switzerland, as a winter sports destination, benefits from the somewhat looser rules and attracts guests who would otherwise have gone to Austria?
Urs Kessler: It's difficult to judge at the moment, we can't look ahead at the moment because the general conditions are changing so quickly. The market will show it.
Rules like in public transport
Reader Charlotte wants to know: Why are the ski areas having such difficulties with the 3G rule? In order for the guests to feel reasonably safe while skiing, there would be at least a mask requirement for children from 6 years of age and a ban on consumption in the means of transport: What do you think of that?
Urs Kessler: You cannot get food in our cabins , we keep telling people that too. It is important that you have the same rules as in public transport. Because many guests cannot distinguish whether they are in public transport or a mountain railway. It has to be consistent and clear. I understand the concerns, but the only game changer to get through the crisis is full vaccination coverage of the population. I am very proud that 90 percent of our employees vaccinated, even though we never applied pressure. I had many personal conversations.
3G controls are very time-consuming
Currently, the mask requirement applies in Swiss ski areas, but mostly no 2G or 3G rule. What would it mean for the Jungfrau Railways if the authorities were to enforce the 3G rules after all?
Urs Kessler: Last winter, the mountain railways proved that you can do good and safe winter sports. So there is no reason to change the proven concept. 2G or 3G would be very difficult to control, which would mean that we would need 30 more people for the random checks. Full controls would not be feasible.
Switzerland on risk list
Germany recently put Switzerland on the risk list and warns against “unnecessary tourist trips” to our country. Are you concerned about these restrictions?
Urs Kessler: Every market is important, be it Germany, Benelux or Great Britain. And in a week it might look different again with the classification.
90 jobs cut
Of course, as CEO, you can't help but lose. But two consecutive years of loss: does that also affect your morale? You were used to visitor records for years …
Urs Kessler: I was still in Asia at the end of February 2020; when the pandemic broke out, I went back to the office, had started the biggest savings program, it was completely new for the employees. We have to wait two years for new machines. The biggest challenge for me at Jungfrau Railways was not to make any layoffs and to relocate the employees. The whole team is needed for the upswing. We had to cut 90 jobs during the crisis, but had found good solutions for most of them.
Profit of 23 million francs
In 2020 there was a loss for the Jungfrau Railway for the first time in history – of almost 10 million francs. How bad will it be this year?
Urs Kessler: We had a profit before taxes of 23 million francs last year. We are still solidly positioned. If we can achieve a profit before tax again, that will be very good to be able to repay debt capital, I am very confident. The “Top of Europe” brand is very strong.
2022 will be a year of transition.
When will the guests from Asia that are so important to Jungfrau Railways come back in large droves?
Urs Kessler: 2022 will be a year of transition, as the forecasts predict. I expect around 80 percent of long-distance markets in 2023. With the new V-Bahn we will surely gain additional shares and expect a million guests. We're glad that so many Swiss guests discovered the Jungfraujoch this year and last, but that's not enough. That's around 91 percent, but we have many guests from all over the world.
Are you still convinced that the V-Bahn project is the right size? Critics have accused you of megalomania.
Urs Kessler: We are happy, we had a good winter season 2020 thanks to the new V-Bahn project. We want to build on the record year 2019 again in 2023.
Bahn brings quality for the future
Exactly one year ago the V-Bahn project of the century was opened. The train should have brought up to 2200 people to the Jungfraujoch every hour. But the guests from Asia and the USA stay away due to the corona. How bad is that for you?
Urs Kessler: It is of course a challenging situation from the absolute record year 2019 to the biggest tourism crisis in 2020. It is a project for the next generation that brings quality for the future.
«I am confident »
The winter season is starting. Unfortunately, there could be difficult months again: The number of corona cases has risen sharply and a new virus mutation has occurred with Omikron. What kind of winter business do you expect?
Urs Kessler: The Omikron variant was a blow, but we are confident, the snow variants are good and we have a top offer with the Eiger Express. We are ready for the winter season and for the international tourists, I am confident. We were able to send positive signals to Asia and present our new concept. The booking behavior has of course changed, because of the uncertainties, decisions are made faster than before Corona.
Now we start
The interview with Jungfrau Railway CEO Urs Kessler begins in the Eiger Express gondola lift in Grindelwald. You are nice to be there.
We're about to start
The 20-minute team is on site in Grindelwald and is transforming the gondola into a TV studio. The interview with Jungfrau Railway CEO Urs Kessler takes place during the journey to the Jungfraujoch and back.
It starts at noon
Germany sees Switzerland as a Corona stronghold. Now the winter season is on the brink for the local hotels and ski areas. In the middle of the crisis, the Jungfrau Railway was tackling a major project that will allow tourists to get to the Jungfraujoch much faster in the future. 20 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, Jungfraubahn CEO Urs Kessler will meet for a talk in the new gondola and take him to the Jungfraujoch. Do you have any questions about the project or the corona measures in the ski area? Then submit it now via this link.
From operations dispatcher to CEO
Urs Kessler began his career as a rail operations dispatcher. He has been the head of Jungfrau Railways since 2007. Kessler visits the 3466 meter high Jungfraujoch 30 to 40 times a year, mostly to look after guests. On the train return to Interlaken, when the guests are tired from the difference in altitude, Kessler does part of his office work. (sas)