Snowsports sector 2022 - economic, social, and cultural impact: research

This report presents the findings of research into the economic, cultural and social value of the Scottish snowsports sector.

1. Introduction

This report presents the findings of research into the Economic, Cultural and Social Value of the Scottish Snowsports Sector. The research was commissioned by the Scottish Government and was undertaken by EKOS between January and August 2022.

The research was overseen by a small Steering Group comprising representatives from the Scottish Government and Snowsport Scotland.

1.1 Context

The research was commissioned in January 2022, and over the course of this year the funding, policy and operating environments have continued to evolve. The research findings and actions to strengthen the snowsports sector in Scotland should therefore be reviewed in the following context:

  • The cost of living crisis: This will affect us all, but the impact will be disproportionately felt by those who are already struggling to make ends meet. For many individuals and families, it will mean struggling to meet basic needs, such as rent, food, clothing, and heating. With less, or no, disposable income, tough decisions will need to be made and household budgets cut accordingly. Many will focus on necessities rather than luxuries. Sports and activities which are free or cheap to access are likely to be more appealing. Snowsports activities can be expensive, and participation is likely to be impacted negatively by the current crisis.
  • Climate change: Scotland is getting ever warmer and wetter and this trend looks set to continue. Decreasing predictability of weather patterns continues to threaten the sustainability and viability of the mountain centres. The levels of snowfall are declining and becoming less predictable which may result in declining demand, and this increases the snowsports sector's vulnerability.

The pressures placed on Scottish public finances have been significant for several years, and continue to be under significant pressure, not least because of external factors such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and cost of living crisis. The Scottish Government and enterprise agencies (and others) will face significant challenges when setting budgets in the short- and medium-term. This will mean difficult decisions will require to be made that will limit the scope and flexibility to fund interventions that are not considered a top or high priority.

1.2 Background

Scotland is currently host to five mountain centres and 14 artificial slopes. The mountain centres are located at Glencoe, The Lecht, Glenshee, Cairngorm, and the Nevis Range.

The 14 artificial slopes are located at:

  • Aberdeen Snowsports Centre;
  • Alford Ski Centre;
  • Bearsden Ski and Board Club;
  • Firpark Ski Centre;
  • Glasgow Ski & Snowboard Centre;
  • Glenmore Lodge;
  • Huntly Nordic and Outdoor Centre;
  • Lagganlia Outdoor Centre;
  • Loch Insh;
  • Midlothian Snowsports Centre – Hillend;
  • Newmilns Snow and Sports Complex;
  • Polmonthill Snowsports Centre;
  • RM-Condor, Arbroath;
  • and Snow Factor

The enterprise agencies Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise (SE), first commissioned an independent Scottish Snowsports Strategic Review in 2011. This was in recognition of the continued importance of the snowsports sector to Scotland's rural economy, and the significant contribution it makes in local job creation and visitor expenditure. This research found that snowsports generated an average £30 million a year and supported 634 jobs directly.

Additional findings were that:

  • The long-term sustainability of the sector was uncertain.
  • Scottish snowsports centres were not growing at the same rate as those in the rest of the UK.
  • There was a decline in the number of individual visits to Scottish snowsports centres – with visits falling by one-third in the decade preceding the report.
  • Snowsports centres have diversified into non-skiing activities, including sightseeing mountain biking, climbing and assault courses. Diversification measures had been successful in attracting more than 300,000 extra visitors every year.
  • While the rate of decline had begun to slow, the main challenges facing the sector, included: growing customer expectations, driven by overseas skiing experiences; higher UK tax levels (VAT) than overseas competitors; unreliable snow conditions; difficulties in attracting new investment; and ageing equipment.
  • Key recommendations included greater collaborative working among Scottish snowsports centres to develop the sector, along with further development of non-snowsports activities. There has been some further progress in these areas, in particular diversification. However, as outlined later in the report there is still more to be done.

Another review of the snowsports sector in Scotland was commissioned in 2016 by HIE.[1] This report estimated that the level of output totalled £44.4 million, 948 jobs and Gross Value Added (GVA) of £23.1 million. This equated to an increase of 15% across these indicators from the 2011 figures.

1.3 Study aims and objectives

This research, which seeks to provide an updated position, is wider and deeper than the previous sector reviews by exploring the wider impacts of the sector and considering the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The aims of the research were to:

  • Produce an analysis of the economic, cultural, and social value of the Scottish snowsports sector.
  • Understand the impact of COVID-19 on the snowsports sector.
  • Consider the long-term sustainability of the snowsports sector in Scotland.
  • Recommend how the snowsports sector may be strengthened.

The detailed research questions were as follows:

  • What do we already know about the economic, social, and cultural impact of the snowsports sector in Scotland?
  • What is the economic contribution of the snowsports sector to the Scottish economy, both directly and indirectly?
  • What broader social and cultural value does the snowsports sector and its supply chain contribute to Scotland as a nation?
  • What impact has COVID-19 had on the snowsports sector and its supply chain in Scotland and what support is needed to aid its recovery?
  • How sustainable is the future of the snowsports sector in Scotland? This should consider potential for diversification and resilience to climate change.
  • What interventions - if any - may be required to strengthen the snowsports sector in Scotland?

1.4 Study method and limitations

Study approach

The study method involved secondary and primary research as summarised below, across the five mountain centres and 14 artificial slopes providing snowsports options in Scotland.

Primary research:

  • 38 semi-structured interviews with stakeholders.
  • Mountain centres/artificial slopes visitor surveys (1,530 responses)[2]
  • Club online survey (10 responses).
  • Business online survey (12 responses).
  • Group discussion with businesses (10 participants).

Secondary research:

  • Policy, strategy, and existing research review.

Study limitations

The main limitations involved gathering sector/economic data and elements of the primary research:

  • Data request:
    • A data request was issued to mountain centres and artificial slope operators to help inform the sector review and economic impact assessment (EIA). However, few operators provided data, and where it was provided, this was often partially completed.
    • This issue made comprehensive analysis of aspects such as finance, employment, and demand more difficult. Gaps in data resulted in challenges in providing a robust sector level assessment, including limiting the breadth and depth of analysis that could be undertaken.
  • Visitor survey – mountain centres:
    • Scottish Government COVID-19 related guidance prevented research from being undertaken indoors where the number of interviews was more than 50. This meant that on-site interviews had to be undertaken outdoors.
    • The poor weather conditions (such as high winds, snow) presented challenges for both interviewers and interviewees. There were also times when the mountain centres were closed due to the weather conditions (for example, because of no sustainable snow). These issues resulted in fewer in-person interviews on-site than envisaged at the outset.
    • To supplement the number of on-site interviews completed (342), we adopted the following approaches:
      • Hard copy self-completion questionnaires were made available within cafes at the mountain centres (97 responses).
      • The mountain centres distributed an online survey (1,045 responses).
  • Visitor survey – artificial slopes:
    • Not all artificial slope operators responded to communications regarding the visitor survey (three of the 14 artificial facilities responded or 21%).
    • In-person interviews were undertaken at three of the facilities and two online survey responses related to another two artificial slopes. This resulted in 46 responses.
  • Business survey:
    • Due to an initial poor response to the business survey, we adopted a targeted approach and asked business-facing organisations to help coordinate small group discussions with local businesses. One such discussion took place.

The issues outlined above meant that responses to the visitor and business surveys were collected using a mix of approaches, and the timescales for the primary research were extended accordingly. The data collated provides a snapshot of views and may not be representative of all snowsports visitors and businesses in Scotland.

1.5 Report structure

The remainder of the report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 2 – Strategic and policy context
  • Chapter 3 – Overview of Scottish snowsports sector
  • Chapter 4 – Visitor trends
  • Chapter 5 – Economic impact
  • Chapter 6 – Social and cultural impact
  • Chapter 7 – Conclusions and recommendations
  • Chapter 8 – Appendix A

We have also created a dashboard that provides more detailed analysis of the Scottish snowsports sector, which can be found here: Scottish Snowsports Sector Data Analysis dashboard

A separate technical report will be published to provide more of the detail on the methodology, survey content, and data.



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