A family is angry about the higher prices in the Sörenberg ski area.
Martin SchmidtEditor Economics
The anticipation was great: the B.* family was looking forward to a day of skiing in the Sörenberg LU ski area on Sunday, but experienced a surprise at the cash desk in the morning. For two adults and two children between the ages of 6 and 15, the family had to deduct 184.80 francs for the day tickets. “From our point of view, that is an absolute cheek!” Reader Hans B. reports to Blick. Since he comes from the region, he wants to remain anonymous.
The Bergbahnen Sörenberg introduced dynamic prices last Saturday – in the middle of the season. They have thus followed a trend in the Swiss mountain railway industry that has been going on for years. More and more railways rely on varying prices, which they calculate based on several factors. In Sörenberg, data from the past, the demand for the day in question, the short-term weather forecast and the time of purchase are included. The earlier a guest books, the cheaper the ski pass is.
In the last season, the day pass cost CHF 54 per adult and CHF 27 for a child between the ages of 6 and 15. That’s CHF 162 for two adults and two children. With the dynamic prices, family B. now paid a whopping 14 percent more on Sunday.
For Hans B. a clear “rip-off strategy”. He is aware that mountain railways will have to pay higher electricity prices this winter and will otherwise suffer from inflation. But this price increase is “outrageous,” he says. “As we have noticed in many discussions in the ski area, this approach is unheard of.” After all, Sörenberg cannot offer any snow guarantee on the one hand, and on the other hand there are many old facilities.
Hans B. is disappointed with the mountain railways, which market themselves as a family destination. “How can a family afford that?” says Hans B. One thing is clear: “With the current price strategy and this arrogance, Sörenberg has annoyed many customers and has now lost them.”
“Lots of positive feedback”
René Koller (62), director of the Sörenberg mountain railways, has hardly noticed anything about this annoyance, as he says to Blick. “We have received a lot of positive feedback. Many book their stay in holiday apartments or hotels and also the ski tickets in advance and thus drive much better than before.» Buying a ticket at short notice was certainly a little more expensive last weekend, since there were between 5,000 and 6,000 skiers in the area.
The mountain railways had actually already announced the introduction of dynamic prices at the beginning of the season, but then postponed the start. Due to a lack of snow, too few facilities were open at the beginning of the season for the mountain railways to expect the new maximum price from their guests. Instead, the railways even lower the prices. Adults initially paid 40 and later 45 francs.
Bargain for early booking
Since Saturday, adult prices in Sörenberg have varied between 40 and 69 francs. If you buy a day ticket for the same day in the morning, you pay at least the price of the previous season. On the other hand, if you book in good time, you can land a bargain. Two adults and two children currently pay CHF 138.60 for February 22nd. Compared to last year’s prices, this corresponds to savings of 14 percent. As of today, there are even cheaper tickets for March: potential savings of 25 percent.
“We introduced the model because more and more people are working part-time and also skiing during the week. With the dynamic prices, we can better utilize the systems.» The system with the advance bookings also increases planning security for the catering trade and the mountain railways. “So we can see a little earlier how many people can be expected on a given day.”
criticism of consumer protection
Sara Stalder (56), Managing Director of the Consumer Protection Foundation, has been criticizing the dynamic pricing models for mountain railways for years. “Such models are very opaque. Families can no longer really budget how much a day’s skiing costs and sometimes have to pay one and a half to twice as much.”
A year ago, consumer protection examined the dynamic prices in ten ski areas. The result: “Total arbitrariness. It’s a total lottery for the guests,” says Stalder. There are no reliable denominators. So the price was suddenly at the upper limit despite bad weather. “In the end, it’s all about the providers being able to make more money.” The consumer advocate refers to Germany and Austria, where significantly more railways rely on rigid prices.
Dynamic pricing has been around for a long time
Christian Laesser (59) sees things differently. «Dynamic pricing models are the most normal thing in the world. Such price models have long been established in other sectors,” says the tourism economist at the University of St. Gallen. You pay lower or higher fares for an Uber taxi depending on demand and the day of the week. Airlines and hotels also adjust their prices based on demand and the time of booking.
“If you book earlier as a guest and are therefore willing to give up some flexibility and take risks, you pay a lower price,” says Laesser. “But of course the mountain railways want to increase the average income per day with the dynamic prices, which they succeed in many cases,” he explains. The December figures from Swiss cableways confirm this.
mountain railways benefit
Looking at the five-year average up to the end of December, the mountain railways in Valais were able to increase admissions by five percent and sales by nine percent. In Graubünden, five-year average admissions fell by seven percent, while sales rose by six percent at the same time. Due to the small amount of snow at the start of winter, guests often only bought their tickets at the last minute. Another reason: Many areas have increased their prices this winter due to high energy prices.
In addition to Sörenberg, many other mountain railways also rely on dynamic prices. In the Aletsch Arena VS, the range is from 50 to 72 francs. In Gstaad BE, prices range from 49 to 79 francs. In Zermatt VS you have to pay at least 83 francs for a day ticket. Zermatt does not communicate any upper price limit for day tickets.
* Name changed