14 March 2020 from Miranda in Latest news

The coronavirus has hit the ski industry hard, with first one and then another country announcing they would end ski season early in hopes of preventing further outbreaks. Ski season is officially over in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France and Andorra as of this weekend. Naturally, skiers and snowboarders are gutted, but for the thousands of people who work in tourism and hospitality in the Alps, this represents an even bigger blow. Empty hotels, shut-down restaurants and bars and no hope for more reservations in the recent future: it's a tense time. To get a sense of the atmosphere in the Alps right now, I phoned an old friend of mine who owns a luxury bed and breakfast in Vinschgau, South Tyrol. Raphaela and her family are reeling from the effects of the coronavirus. 

Unterlutaschghof in Schlinig, Vinschgau

Two years ago I accidentally ended up on the farm of Raphaela and her family when I was looking last-minute for a nice place to stay in South Tyrol, near the Reschenpass and the ski resorts of Watles and Nauders. I love staying in a bed and breakfast, far away from mass tourism in a nice quiet mountain environment. Secretly, I also like a bit of luxury: a beautiful modern room with natural materials such as wood, glass and natural stone. The moment arrived, I immediately felt at home at Unterlutaschghof. It's a beautiful farm with wonderful rooms, a super hospitable family and a breakfast with only homemade products, from yogourt, cheese and milk to jam and cold cuts. Within 10 to 30 minutes we were in various ski areas, and ski touring could be done from the backyard. We liked it so much we went back the next winter. This ear I would have liked to go back to the farm for a few days, but suddenly it all turned out differently.

Unterlutaschghof in Schlinig
Unterlutaschghof in Schlinig

From 110% to 0% in a day

Rapheala picked up my call and immediately burst forth, "It's bizarre, Miranda. Everything is closed here: shops, restaurants, schools, hairdressers, bars, everything. There's nobody on the street. I have to bring a health certificate to visit my mum, I order groceries and these are delivered by the supermarket. Last Thursday our house emptied out overnight, all the guests are gone. We went from giving 110% from morning to night, to having everything suddenly come to a standstill. I no longer have to prepare breakfast or clean the house. I can spend all my time with my children." Raphaela and her husband Daniel have three children. The silver lining: "They are at home all day and Mum has plenty of time for them. The eldest two are being taught at home at the moment and they are getting more time from their mother than they are normally used to. For them it's just like a big holiday."

Bedroom Unterlutaschghof in Schlinig
Spacious rooms in Raphaela's bed & breakfast

No confirmed cases in Vinschgau

At the time of our call, there were no coronavirus cases at all in the region, which made the quarantine measures a little hard to bear. But Raphaela understands the need to be cautious and backs the measures taken by the government. If every country were this strict, maybe the virus could be eradicated sooner. Measures in the region are scheduled to last until April 3rd, but Raphaela worries about Easter. This holiday is usually her bread-and-butter. Her calendar is empty of bookings until June, and if things stay this way she doesn't know how she will be able to afford it. But, she reiterates, family and health come first, and money comes second. That may be true, but as I talk to her, I remember she has a mortgage and lots of bills to pay. Will she and her family make it through this?

Keep your reservations - cancel as late as possible

We're living in strange times indeed. Raphaela tells me that all her guests have cancelled their upcoming reservations, and she's scared for the summer too. People aren't thinking about holidays yet, understandably. But she's changed her cancellation policy to allow cancellations free of charge until the day before arrival - better a last-minute cancellation than a needless one, or no booking at all. As she says, the bed and breakfast needs to survive the next few weeks or months. Hopefully, she says she hopes the virus fears might be over that soon and her guests will return. In the meantime, she and other people in the tourism and hospitality industries will have to make the best of a bad situation.

Family Unterlutaschghof in Schlinig
Raphaela and her husband Daniel with two of their three children

Keep booking holidays

I'm saddened as I hang up the phone. I expected a story like this, but it's so heartbreaking. I remember the stories Raphaela's family used to tell around the kitchen table when I was staying at the bed and breakfast. This family has worked hard for their dream, this beautiful farmhouse. For years, Raphaela also worked in a restaurant in the evenings to make ends meet. And just as it looks like they might make it, this crisis hits. In my opinion there is only one solution: for people to keep booking holidays. We can be optimistic about the summer, about next winter, and there's no harm in booking and cancelling later if things go awry. This hope might be what pulls small businesses through these difficult times.