Struggling Swiss ski resorts feel hit after British flight ban
Switzerland's ski resorts were set to boom with snow-seeking British winter tourists -- but the flight ban because of the new Covid-19 variant raging in England has put those Christmas plans on ice.
In plush Verbier, 1,500 metres up in the Alps, hoteliers were left struggling to deal with Monday's ruling by the Swiss government -- which also included a 10-day retroactive quarantine for anyone who arrived from Britain since December 14.
Meanwhile, Britons working in the luxury mountain resort who had been preparing to welcome friends and family to the chalets and ski slopes were facing a festive season filled with video calls instead.
Busloads of skiers arrived in the town -- but the few Britons among them, queueing for the cable cars to the snow-capped mountain tops, were ski instructors and seasonal workers.
"I've been coming here 15 years working as a ski instructor; I have never seen the Christmas week as quiet as this," said Briton Trevor Dean, 68, of Performance Ski School.
"Bookings are way, way down. There's very few British people coming for lessons this year. My hours are about a fifth of what they would normally be.
"It's an expensive place to go into quarantine," he said, adding that the mountain air and spectacular views would be little consolation.
Voted Switzerland's best ski resort for the past two years, Verbier markets itself as offering "adrenaline-packed thrills, simple pleasures and a chic lifestyle".
Glistening fresh snow melted from the chalet rooftops in the bright sunshine on Tuesday. At the Hotel La Rotonde, a group of British tourists decided to leave immediately rather than go into quarantine from Tuesday -- though one decided to tough it out in his room.
"He cannot come out, we cannot go in," said Vincent Theo, director of the 27-room hotel.
"We bring him his breakfast, lunch and dinner and try to provide a certain level of comfort, and try to keep things convivial during his quarantine so he doesn't feel quite so isolated."
Theo said the pandemic and its oft-changing restrictions were having an impact.
"We're trying to keep our bookings up with Swiss tourists," he said. "We hope February and March can save the season."
British tourists normally make up 21 percent of the Verbier clientele, and most start pouring in just after Christmas.
The Verbier Tourist Office is holding daily crisis cell meetings to try to deal with the ever-changing coronavirus picture.
"It's another tough blow," said Simon Wiget, the Verbier Tourism agency director.
He said they were trying to track around 500 Britons thought to be affected, and were hoping to find a solution with the authorities that would allow people to return home rather than being "forced to spend 10 days in their rooms" over Christmas.
Christmas in turmoil
David Furness, who works from home in infrastructure, was strolling through the town on a lunch break. His festive plans have been upended by the flights ban.
"My parents were supposed to fly out tomorrow. Obviously they can't now," the 34-year-old said.
"Then all my friends were supposed to come out for New Year, and they can't come. "I need to find some more friends and some adoptive parents, maybe!"
The tables were full outside the Big Ben pub -- but no Brits were sat beneath the landmark logo. By Verbier's central Christmas tree, adorned with giant coloured baubles, 66-year-old Odile said her daughter could no longer come from London for a fortnight over Christmas.
"We're retired, we'll be fine, but we think of all the people that will not be able to open their restaurants and bars, and the young ones that cannot go and party; it breaks my heart," she said.
For Jordan Gigg, 21, a ski-loving seasonal worker in Verbier, the ban on the possibility of flying home to Britain was welcome news.
"I'm really happy about that because I don't really want to go home at all," he said. "I'm not going to lie: I'm hoping that I don't have to go home, ever!"