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.
4. Visitor trends
The latest survey data available from the Ski Club of Great Britain (2020) shows that the most popular destinations for skiing holidays are France (55%) followed by Austria (26%) and Italy (18%). Scotland was not identified by any respondents as a destination for a skiing holiday. Future sector growth is predicted to take place outside of western markets, such as in Eastern Europe and China.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a significant impact on the international snowsports market with reduced attendances and fewer international visitors.
The Scottish snowsports sector is small relative to its competitors in Europe and in other growing markets. Between 1989 and 2015 there has been a clear decline in snowsports visitor numbers at the mountain centres. Demand has, however, been more stable for the artificial slopes.
The Scottish ski market is heavily dependent on domestic visitors. Almost all visitors come from the UK (99%) with only 1% from overseas. This is likely because Scotland has a network of snowsports facilities that make physical access to centres possible for the vast majority of its population.
There are opportunities for the market, both in Scotland and internationally, to further diversify and capitalise on the growth of the adventure tourism sector. For example, the Scottish adventure tourism industry was estimated to have grown to £848 million in 2015.
This chapter provides an overview from secondary data sources of the key trends in the worldwide snowsports market. It also examines the UK snowsports market, the Scottish tourism market, and uses primary data collected by demand and visitors to Scottish mountain centres.
4.2 Worldwide snowsports market trends
The global ski market continues to be dominated by the Alpine region, which accounts for 79% of major ski centres, 37% of all ski centres, 38% of all lifts, and 43% of worldwide skier visits, according to the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism (2021).
However, future growth in the industry is predicted to take place outside of western markets. The main factors for this are:
- the high level of competition from other leisure activities,
- demographic issues due to most current skiers being older and retiring from the sport, and younger generations being less engaged with snowsports, and
- recent economic trends, which have led to a stagnation in western middle-class incomes, the primary market for snowsports.
Growth is therefore more likely to be concentrated in Eastern Europe and in Asia, particularly China. The International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism (2021) also shows that growth in ski visitor numbers in China in recent years has been very strong, with more than 20 million visitors in 2018/19. This is an increase of around 300% since 2010/11. The rapidly developing middle-class in China, the strong support of the Chinese government and the recent 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing indicate that this growth will likely continue in future.
Eastern Europe has also seen significant investment in ski facilities throughout the 2010s, and although growth in recent years has been lower than expected and some planned developments have not materialised, future growth is still forecast.
4.3 UK ski market trends
The latest Ski Club of Great Britain Consumer Survey Report (2020) found that:
- The bulk of respondents are experienced skiers who regularly have skiing holidays, with 42% having had 30 or more weeks experience in skiing.
- The age profile of respondents is predominantly older, with over three-quarters aged 40 or older. This may be due to older people being more able to afford the costs of skiing.
- Whilst most respondents (64%) expected the number of skiing holidays they will take over the next three years will stay the same, many more people reported that the number of skiing holidays they will take will increase (26%) than decrease (9%).
- Of those respondents who skied in the 2020 season, the vast majority (97%) planned to ski in the following season. Of those whose holiday was affected by the pandemic, 98% planned to ski in the following season.
It should be noted that this survey took place against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. The full impact of the pandemic was felt from late March 2020 onwards, and 24% of survey respondents reported that their skiing holiday had been affected by the pandemic.
The Ski Club of Great Britain produced a more recent, but smaller scale, survey in May 2022 entitled State of the Snowsports Market. This survey found that:
- The most important factors to respondents when choosing where to book a ski holiday were the size of the ski area, the resort altitude, price, and the quality of accommodation.
- 52% of respondents reported that snowsports holidays had become more important to them since the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The most popular destinations for skiing holidays were France (55%), followed by Austria (26%) and Italy (18%). Scotland was not identified by any respondents as a destination for a skiing holiday.
4.4 Tourism in Scotland
Scotland's tourism sector includes a range of sub-sectors, including recreational activities. Sustainable Tourism sector was identified in Scotland's Economic Strategy (2015) as one of the growth sectors in which Scotland can build on existing comparative advantage and increase productivity and growth. Gross Value Added for the Sustainable Tourism growth sector was estimated at £2,541.1 million in 2020, and employment in the Sustainable Tourism growth sector stood at 189,000 in 2020, accounting for 7.4% of employment in Scotland (Growth Sector Briefing – Sustainable Tourism, 2022).
The number of tourists visiting Scotland and their expenditure is provided in Table 4-1.
Source: VisitScotland International and Domestic insights
The number of visitors to Scotland in 2019 increased substantially from the 2016 level (+20%), with expenditure up 19%.
Adventure tourism consists of a variety of activities including snowsports, as well as walking, climbing, cycling/mountain biking, river/marine activities, and wildlife/nature watching. Scotland's natural environment provides an excellent setting for all types of adventure tourism with its large amount of mountainous, coastal and wilderness areas.
Adventure tourism in Scotland is also identified as a key contributor to visitors to Scotland, with the industry estimated to have grown by £89 million to £848 million over the period from 2008 to 2015 (Tourism Scotland 2020 strategy).
Many of the snowsports centres offer, or plan to offer, mountain biking facilities. The strategy for Scottish Mountain Biking 2019-2025 indicates that the mountain biking industry was worth £105 million in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2015.
The strategy has set a vision for Scotland to be recognised as a leader in European mountain biking. To achieve this, the industry aims to: increase the number of annual visits on mountain bikes to Scotland's countryside by 33% to two million; have a Scottish world champion or world series winner in every mountain bike discipline; and, as noted above, increase the GVA of the industry by 51% to £158 million by 2025.
4.5 Snowsports demand in Scotland
For snowsports, the analysis of demand uses numbers of visitors to the mountain centres taking part in both snowsports and non-snowsports activities. Again, the analysis of demand for the artificial slopes has been constrained by the lack of data.
The number of visitors to all five of the mountain centres in 2021/22 was 89,473.
In comparison to previous economic assessment, this is 66% lower than in 2015/16, which recorded 203,625 visitors, and 70% lower than in 2010/11, which recorded 298,373 visitors.
|2010/ 11||2011/ 12||2012/ 13||2013/ 14||2014/ 15||2015/ 16||2016/ 17||2017/ 18||2018/ 19||2019/ 20|
Source: Data provided by mountain centres.
There are three years where the level of snow was particularly low, and this impacted considerably on visitor numbers (i.e. 2010/11, 2016/17 and 2018/19).
Appendix A also shows a marked decline in visitor numbers at Cairngorm, Glenshee and the Nevis Range. The scale of decline is also significant at The Lecht but less so for Glencoe.
For the three centres that provided non-snowsports visitor data, numbers are steadier than snowsports visitor numbers (see Figure 4-2). Only partial data was provided for 2016/17 onwards and has therefore not been included. The most recent full year with data available, 2015/16, shows mountain centres attracted just over 270,000 visitors.
Source: Data provided by mountain centres
Non-snowsports activities tend to be more resilient and not subject to the same level of variation. This also highlights some of the benefits of diversifying the range of activities on offer within the mountain centres.
All mountain centres and artificial slopes are reliant on the domestic market for customers, albeit to varying degrees. For example, it is our understanding that the Nevis Range has undertaken a targeted marketing campaign to focus on Chinese tourists.
Our visitor survey (1,530 responses) found that:
- 99% of visitors came from the UK, with the vast majority from Scotland.
- 1% came from countries outside the UK.
The survey also indicated that 81% of visitors from Scotland were within a three-hour drive to the mountain centre. A more detailed breakdown of the visitor numbers and drive-times is provided in Appendix A.
Given the high degree of focus on the domestic market, understanding catchment areas and how accessible these facilities/venues are, is critical to the sector's future sustainability.
Analysis of census data shows that:
- Within a 60-minute (one-hour) drive of all mountain centres there is a combined population of around 92,000 people.
- Within a 120-minute (two-hour) drive, this increases to over 3.5 million people.
- Within a 180-minute (three-hour) drive, there is a combined population of over 5 million people.
|Venue||60-minute drive||120-minute drive||180-minute drive|
Note: Drive Time Calculations are derived from Census populations, analysed through Alteryx Data Platform and Travel Time App.
The main gaps in population with access to a mountain centre within a two-hour or three-hour drive exist in the far North of Scotland and in the South East and South West of Scotland.
In the case of artificial slopes, census data shows that:
- There is a population of almost 2.8 million within a 30-minute drive of at least one facility.
- This rises to almost 4.5 million within a 60-minute drive.
Appendix A shows the 30-minute and 60-minute drive time populations for all artificial slope facilities including the indoor slope at Snow Factor in Glasgow.
Although access to artificial slopes is reasonably good, there are gaps in population with access to an artificial slope within a 30-minute drive. These are in:
- The North East of Scotland around Fife, Perth and Kinross, Dundee, and Angus.
- The South West and South East of Scotland.
- The far North of Scotland.
This data suggests that there may be opportunities to grow and enhance access to artificial slope provision by developing facilities in the North of Scotland around Inverness, and the North East around Dundee to maximise accessibility.
4.7 Effect of COVID-19 on demand
Like most sectors of the economy, the worldwide snowsports market has been profoundly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with most countries facing significant restraints on skiing activity. This has led to shutdowns of most ski centres for periods of time and, when allowed to open, reduced attendances due to restrictions such as social distancing and travel restrictions.
The 2021 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism describes the 2019/20 ski season as the worst of the current millennium with the 2020/21 season predicted to be worse still in many countries. Despite this, the pre-pandemic trend was positive with the 2018/19 ski season reported as the best season of the current millennium. In addition, there was year-on-year growth in skier numbers from 2015/16 to 2018/19, indicating the underlying strength of the industry prior to COVID-19.
Whilst statistics are not currently available for 2020, it is also likely that Scotland experienced a decrease in tourists due to the pandemic-related restrictions and associated reductions in domestic and international travel. It remains to be seen how well the Scottish tourist industry recovers post-pandemic.
The worldwide snowsports market has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which caused the closure of most of the world centres. Despite this, the overall trend is positive with strong year on year growth in skiing numbers from 2015/16 up to the pre-pandemic position. Future growth in the market is predicted to come from outwith western centres, with Eastern Europe and Asia, particularly China the likely future growth markets.
A survey of UK skiers indicates that whilst most skiers are committed and enthusiastic, they are getting older, with three-quarters of skiers over the age of 40. This may be due to older people being more able to afford the costs of skiing.
The Scottish ski market is heavily dependent on domestic visitors, and wider research also shows that Scotland is not viewed as a skiing destination. Demand is not likely to increase in Scotland to any great extent, and combined with a limited international visitor appeal, the Scottish snowsports sector may become increasingly vulnerable and unsustainable.
The Nevis Range has, however, undertaken targeted marketing in China. This is particularly pertinent as there has been a clear decline in snowsports visitor numbers at the mountain centres. Demand has, however, been more stable for the artificial slopes.
The snowsports facilities are accessible to much of the Scottish population when different drive-time measures are examined. The main gaps in population with access to a mountain centre within a two-hour or three-hour drive exist in the far north of Scotland and in the South East and South West of Scotland. There may also be opportunities to encourage access to artificial slope provision in the North of Scotland around Inverness, and the North East around Dundee.
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