Summer 2020 saw many mountain resorts enjoy their busiest ever season – not a situation that was expected given the impact of the pandemic was still very much being felt.

Although many nations and areas have now sadly experienced a resurgence of the virus, there are still many reasons to be optimistic about the long term future for the summer mountain sports industry. Lockdown saw an explosion in the interest and participation in many outdoor sports including running, hiking and cycling. Combined with an increased interest and national focus on health and well-being, many believe this marks the start of a surge in outdoor sports participation.

Is it too soon to draw such positive projections, and what challenges remain for this sector even if demand does prove to increase? These were the questions we were looking to answer at SASTEX 2020.

Building a Sustainable Model for Summer Alpine Tourism

Kicking things off, tour operator, speaker, consultant and adventure tourism expert Peter Syme joined us for a wide ranging conversation on the future of our industry, and ensuring the renewed interest in outdoor sports could be sustained from both a commercial and environmental perspective.

Peter suggested demand is not the issue for the future, but that like many industries we were unprepared and vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic, and with travel still severely restricted there was a challenge in the short term – especially for many of the small companies that characterise the outdoor sector. Longer term though the shift to more experiential travel and the desire for open space and more connection to the natural world made us perfectly placed to capitalise on these shifts. The surge in visitors many mountain destinations experienced this summer provided an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a summer mountain holiday to an entirely new sector of customers, and initial feedback was hugely positive.

We now as an industry need to consider these new customers in our communications. One challenge is the fragmented nature of our industry, and if these new customers require a more packaged or at least more accessible product, we would need to adapt quickly to service that and potentially work with third party distributors including OTA’s.

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How can Alpine resorts compete effectively in the crowded summer holidays market?

Although demand for summer mountain holidays does look set to increase in the near future, this will bring our industry into direct competition with many other sectors of the summer holiday market which in many senses we haven’t had to compete with before. These highly organised sectors selling beach, city and other summer destinations will surely not sit back and watch their market share eroded by summer alpine tourism?

So how do we compete, what are the key assets we have to stand apart from other summer destinations and in what ways do we need to change to compete? We were joined by Elisabeth Ernst from inbound operator Melur DMC, and property expert Andrew Maude of Alpine Specialist to discuss.

Both agreed that one of the key assets of the mountains in summer is personal space. Crowded cities and beaches are of course a big barrier to the attractions of those destinations right now, but the feeling is post pandemic the notion of personal space will continue to be something of a significant attraction for travellers in the summer. Val Gardena has calculated every summer visitor has 7000 square metres of space to enjoy!

Andrew talked about the idea of ‘white and green’ to distinguish the summer/winter product, and the fact that most summer visitors become converts to the alpine experience in summer – the product is fantastic (tripadvisor data supports this). The sense of relaxation and escapism is unique to the summer.

Both talked about the importance of variety in the summer mountain offering, especially with the potential for a whole new segment of visitors coming to enjoy the mountains in the near future.

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What is the growth potential for summer mountain tourism, and is right now the perfect time to act?

We closed SASTEX by speaking with Tristan Kennedy, editor of Active Traveller magazine.

Active Traveller conducted a survey in partnership with outdoor clothing brand Maier back in May 2o20, which found that:

30% of respondents have taken up a new outdoor activity during lockdown

48% have purchased outdoor gear since lockdown started

55% have been inspired to go on more walking holidays in the future, and 23% cycling holidays

Tristan suggested these findings represent an incredible opportunity for the outdoors industry, especially as it showed the acceleration of a trend that started pre-pandemic especially in cycling. He also noted that the gap between interest and participation was smaller than first thought, and the incentive to move from local activities to a holiday based around walking or cycling increased the more people increased their particpation.

Perhaps we are even reaching a tipping point where mass participation in outdoor sports can fuel the active holiday industry? Tristan thought that was very possible, but we had to showcase as an industry the incredible opportunities for mountain based adventure travel. We also need to become more inclusive, reflecting the view of some of our earlier speakers. the importance of appreciating how our market is widening and how we should communicate with these new and emerging consumers will be critical in taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

Watch a short excerpt from the debate below:

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