In Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, ski resorts pinned for abusing state aid after Covid-19

Several ski lift companies in ski resorts in the Northern Alps have taken excessive advantage of the state aid system, put in place during the health crisis. Some companies have even succeeded in enriching themselves, by increasing their equity, when they had completely ceased their activity. This is the main grievance set out in two reports from the regional chamber of accounts (CRC) of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region (AURA), made public on Wednesday 26 October.

“The “fixed cost” aid has created a windfall effect for the delegates of the largest stations, who also have the best financial solidity and who have assumed no operating risk. For the smallest company in the sample, the aid played its part in preventing an excessive deterioration of its balance sheet, which could have put it at risk of bankruptcy “, is it written in the synthesis of the CRC.

French resorts welcome nearly 10 million visitors a year, which has generated a total turnover of 10 billion euros, and an investment of 356 million euros each year. Of the one hundred and fifty French ski lift companies, private or public, thirty-six of the most important are in the Northern Alps. This prompted AURA’s regional chamber of accounts to carry out a “flash audit”, a simplified and fast control format on a specific topic. The study focused on a sample of six companies located in Savoie and Haute-Savoie, with turnover ranging from 78 to 39 million euros: La Plagne, Tignes, Val Thorens, Avoriaz. And two with less than 10 million billings, in Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves and La Toussuire.

“Double compensation”

The confinement, announced on March 14, 2020, led to a 15% drop in attendance in the mountains, for the 2019-2020 season. On December 4, 2020, the closure of the ski lifts caused a white season for 2020-2021. Turnover collapsed, from 1% to 5% of previous results. But the fixed costs remained high: mandatory maintenance of equipment, insurance premiums, rental charges, etc.

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The State and professionals, represented by the professional association Domaines skiables de France, have developed, in four months, a specific system, intended to cope with the permanent loads of ski lift companies. The amount of this “fixed cost” subsidy was increased to 49% of the operator’s reference turnover, calculated over previous seasons. This makes it possible to offset 70% of the fixed costs. The aid was authorized by the European Commission on March 19, 2021.

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