Interview: Zeno van Essel
Photographs: David Birri
Mr Hasler, what are the major innovations in Zermatt cableways in the winter season 2016/2017?
The most significant innovation is definitely the new six-seater chairlift “Hublot Express” from Gant to Blauherd. It replaces the 45-year-old cableway and its reconstruction costs 8.2 million Swiss francs. As with every year, we have taken care of lots of smaller jobs that people often don’t even think about, for example, an investment of a few hundred thousand Swiss francs in new artificial snow systems.
How is the new 3S cableway, your major project on Trockener Steg, going?
It’s making great progress. We will have spent between 52 and 55 million Swiss francs on building there by September 2018, to make access from Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn and Matterhorn glacier paradise more convenient, modern and efficient. The work includes construction of a new valley and top station and three pillars.
What are the major challenges of this work?
Logistical development in the high mountains. One construction site is 4,000 metres above sea level and we have a maximum of 100 days’ building there. Thousands of tonnes of materials have to be transported there during this time. We have constructed a transportation cableway from the Italian side to Klein Matterhorn especially for this purpose.
What is the purpose of this giant project?
We do not have sufficient capacity on the Trockener Steg-Klein Matterhorn stretch, which means people have to wait. We don’t want our guests to have to put up with this anymore, especially those from Asia, who are becoming increasingly important for us and who are only in the area for a short time. This made expansion essential. The second reason for the extension is the increasing appeal of ski areas in Italian Cervinia. During the winter, more than 3,000 guests travel every day to Cervinia from Zermatt and the same number travel to Zermatt. We will also be able to offer them greater convenience and efficiency in future, with the new cableway. The project also lays the foundations for the planned highest Alpine crossing, which will be very important for Zermatt Bergbahnen in the future.
How are you planning the investments?
Zermatt Bergbahnen have a clear corporate strategy. For us, it isn’t about expanding the area, but maintaining, optimising and continually renewing the current perimeter.
Is there still enough money in the pot?
Our company is financially very sound. Nevertheless, it is clear that we need a lot of investment. Consumers often forget how much goes on behind the scenes: it’s not just building and operating the cableways, but all the piste maintenance and artificial snow systems, as well as the necessary staff and machinery. We once worked out that a working day at Zermatt Bergbahnen costs around 260,000 francs.
Will all of the investments result in ticket prices going up?
Our ticket prices have stayed the same for four years. This winter season also has no price increases, even though we have invested 420 million francs in the past twelve years. This constant innovation makes us the most lucrative cableway enterprise in Switzerland. With a turnover of 68 million francs in 2015, our pre-tax profit was at almost 50 percent and cash flow was at 42 percent.
More and more people are coming to the mountains - is that good for Zermatt?
We have to differentiate between summer and winter tourism. Taking into consideration stagnating demand, we are very busy in the winter as there is no scope for significant growth. However, we can do more in summer. There is great potential for growth in excursion tourism, with guests who stay for two to three nights. On the first day, they watch the sunrise on Rothorn, because it gives them the best view of the Matterhorn. On the second day, the excursion continues to Gornergrat with its stunning view of the glacial landscape. Klein Matterhorn is the order of the third day. Next summer, we will be offering a ticket that visitors can use to visit two summits on one day.
Which visitors are more important for you: visitors from Switzerland or visitors from abroad?
Regular visitors from Switzerland are very important for us since they make up the largest portion of our visitors in terms of percentage. However, Zermatt is an international destination, which is why market development in Asia is a major priority for us.
How many passengers do Zermatt Bergbahnen transport every day?
The record is 19,600 people. On a normal day during high season there will be between around 16,000 and 17,000 passengers. However, we have to add that the transportation capacity of the Zermatt ski area, not including Italy, amounts to 56,000 persons per hour. This means that waiting times are normally not long.
Do the competition put pressure on prices?
Of course, but we aren’t giving into it. The motto of Zermatt Bergbahnen is: leading price, leading quality. Once you get into a discount war, there is no way out.
Have you got any inside tips for skiers who are visiting Zermatt for the first time?
Mornings on Sunnegga. Then go to Rothorn and, from there, straight through the ski area over Gornergrat and Klein Matterhorn to Cervinia in Italy. It’s a huge distance on piste, but it can easily be done in two and a half to three hours, without ever skiing or boarding the same stretch twice. And it’s all possible with a ticket costing 92 francs. A multi-day ticket costs between 60 and 70 francs.
Markus Hasler, CEO of Zermatt Bergbahnen AG
Cableway professional Markus Hasler, born in Lucerne, studied maths and physics in Bern. He managed the Brigels-Waltensburg-Andiast cableways in the Canton of Grisons for twelve years and was politically active. He has been CEO of Zermatt Bergbahnen AG (ZBAG) since 2011.
© Schweizer Illustrierte
Text and photographs were published in collaboration with Zermatt Tourism in the enclosure of the Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte on November 04th 2016.