Austrian Tourism Minister Elizabeth Köstinger said on Thursday evening that Austria will again open ski slopes by Christmas if infection numbers continued to decline.
The tentative reopening date for ski resorts across the country is December 19th, provided infection numbers are low.
Köstinger told Spiegel that Austrians and tourists should not have to do without skiing this winter.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that the number of infections falls and that a winter holiday in Austria is possible,” she said.
Köstinger praised her country’s efforts to put in place safeguards to prevent the spread of the virus at ski-resorts, including a nationwide testing program and the banning of Apres Ski parties.
“The virus doesn’t spread on ski slopes,” Köstinger said.
“Austria is taking all measures to enable safe holidays.
“You don't get the virus on the slopes, but when you party afterwards. That's why there won't be any après-ski this year.
“I'm not at all afraid of getting infected there. Distance, mouth and nose protection and hygiene concepts ensure maximum safety.”
‘We don’t tell France when to reopen the Louvre’
The Tourism Minister hit back at a concerted European effort to close ski resorts, saying “we will make the decisions in Austria ourselves”.
“I can’t understand this (European) plan. This is not a European responsibility. I don't know on what legal basis the EU should order the closure of ski areas,” she said.
“We don't give France any advice as to when it can open the Louvre again. Nor do we prescribe in Italy or Germany when cafes, restaurants or schools can reopen.
“Each country should make its own decision based on its infection rate.”
Slopes will be half empty in winter – or half full?
Köstinger said that despite the ambitious reopening of Austria’s slopes – and the domestic and international demand for skiing – it appeared that the winter season would achieve around 50 percent of normal capacity this year.
“We now expect a slump of up to 50 percent compared to normal years. That's a problem,” she said.
Austria has however put in place a range of measures to help companies in the industry which have been affected – including Apres Ski.
“We provide guarantees for loans, hourly taxes, offer fixed cost subsidies, and short-time work for employees,” she said.
“We have reduced the sales tax for restaurants and hotels to five percent. And we offer the companies a reimbursement of 80 percent of the turnover compared to the same period in 2019.”