The worst scenario that can happen next season – Grandvalira disappears and two different ski resorts will sell two different ski passes, says Andorra’s Minister of Tourism, Francesc Camp

In 2019 ‘Grandvalira’ as a ski brand could disappear. Andorra’s Minister of Tourism, Francesc Camp, tells all-andorra.com about the possible scenarios that could take place.

Interview by Irina Rybalchenko

If  Grandvalira disappears, obviously Andorra will lose its competitiveness with the neighboring French and Spanish ski resorts. In your opinion, how drastically could the number of ski tourists decrease in the next ski season?

I would say would disappear – this is not a final decision. It’s difficult to predict the number of skiers we could lose.  I sincerely hope that the brand ‘Grandvalira’ will not disappear. The Andorran government is working hard to try to convince Grandvalira’s stakeholders – SAETDE and ENSISA to try to find an arrangement and to continue collaborating under the same name.

There are 3 options. The first one – ‘Grandvalira’ as a brand will be maintained (it would be the best option for everybody – for our country, for Grandvalira’s stakeholders and for skiers). The second – the brand can disappear, but they maintain the common ski pass used for the two ski resorts. It’s not so good, but it’s better for international operators who will be able to keep selling ski passes for one big ski resort. The third, and worst option  – the brand will disappear and two different ski resorts will sell two different ski passes.

The Andorran government is encouraging meetings between the 2 shareholders in an effort to initiate an agreement, as I mentioned before.

We don’t have a lot of time because if the brand disappears it will happen at the end of this season. We have to be positive and hope that the brand will stay.

It is obvious that the tourists from Catalonia (Grandvalira’s main clients) will be more interested in cutting their traveling distance and using the services of nearby Spanish ski resorts, for example, La Molina or Masella…. The same for the French. In addition, tourists often complain about closed roads (from France) and traffic on the border with Spain. All this could also affect the number of tourists continuing to come to ski in Andorra. Is there any government program which will support ski tourism additionally? What budget have they been given if so, and what basic principles will they operate under?

What is the selling point of Grandvalira? The size of the resort: number of slopes, ski lifts etc. So we can lose one of the best advantages of Grandvalira. If the brand disappears, Andorra Tourism will have to work harder to save the image of the country as a big skiing destination.

Each year we help to reach different agreements with different tour operators and create co-branding campaigns with them. With two new brands it won’t be so easy. I do understand that. But we will keep investing money. Usually, we invest about 3 million euros in communication and marketing campaigns during the winter.  It’s been stable for the last 5 years. But it also depends on the year.

Additionally, we invest about 800,000 euros – 1.2 million for sports events. Next year, for example, we will host the Final World Alpine Ski Cup. For this event alone, we will spend about 1 million euros.

Also, we will have FWT in Arcalis, Ski Mountaineering World Cup, Total Fight Masters of Freestyle, “Kilometre lance”.

In the case of Grandvalira disappearing, we will have to invest more.

You have mentioned that you will keep working with tour operators – which countries are they mainly from?

Our strategy is to be present in big countries in terms of the number of skiers. Primarily, it’s France and Spain – our traditional markets. But the UK, Russia, Portugal, Benelux, Poland, Switzerland, Norway are also customers.

Generally, our market is Europe.

Would it be fair to say that to keep the same level of tourists Andorra needs to organize more different events?  And what kind of events do we need?

First of all, we have to improve nightlife activities in Andorra. Now we don’t have a lot. I proposed creating a multifunctional arena to organize some concerts, festivals etc. Unfortunately, at the moment we don’t have the budget for it, as it would cost about 20 million euros. And at the beginning, it will not be profitable.

I think this is the target for the next government – not only for winter but for all seasons. Without this kind of infrastructure, we cannot offer a good entertainment program.

Another good compliment for ski resorts is a casino. Could you please remind me where is it going to be built? Who won the tender in the end?

Jocs SA – was the winner of the tender. This is a pool of Andorran investors. One of the members of this pool is the former mayor of Ordino Sr. Ventura Espot.

It will be built next to a parking zone with a vertical car park in Andorra-la-Vella, where there is currently a piece of land and an skate park.

At the top of the building, there will be the square connected to a car park (Placa de Poble).

What will be the advantage of visiting the Andorran casino compared to the neighboring casino in Ax-Les-Terme or Font-Romeu ( France)?

It will be bigger. And it will be situated in a place where you can have a lot of activities, like shopping for example, cultural events etc.

9 companies presented 14 projects. There was a big interest shown by potential investors.

Shopping in Andorra – our readers are increasingly commenting on social networks that shopping in Andorra is becoming uncompetitive: prices are not cheaper here than in other European countries. Stores sell the same collections for several years. The only thing you can buy in Andorra for a cheaper price is perfume, alcohol and tobacco. What can you say about turnover in Andorra’s trading markets – clothes, alcohol, tobacco, perfumes?

We know all these problems. We implemented a strategic plan in our commercial sector and shopping tourism – we have seen that our commercial sector is not increasing like the other sectors of tourism (ski resorts, hotels etc). Big economic crises finished in 2014-2015, but people still don’t buy like they used to buy before. We ran a diagnostic of the commercial sector. And we are trying to change this situation. We organize shopping festivals and try to make the Andorran commercial sector more competitive.

The commercial sector had its worst situation 3 years ago, we decreased about 4-5% every year. Since 2015 we have been growing. During the first 7 months of this year, we grew at 2%.

So now it’s not so dramatic. But it’s not a reason to say that everything is ok. The variety of brands and products must be improved. We’re not at the same level as the other big ski destinations. We need to convince the other brands. Big French sports brand Decathlon Group for example is discussing a possibility to open a store in Andorra.

In Avinguda Meritxell (near to Pyrenees) a new building Diamond will open selling luxury products. Rosa Ponts is an owner, a successful businesswoman in Andorra regarding jewelry.

Moreover, a big Chinese brand – Xiaomy – has opened his electronic store at Av Meritxell (this is the fourth mobile company in the world). Here are some examples, but we need more.

As for the Internet, prices are more competitive here than in the other countries. So all Andorran stores have to have competitive web pages and to study their visitors.  They need to sell more online and to have competitive traffic. Digitalization of the customers is a big challenge for the Andorran commercial centers.

Logistics in Andorra. It is still not clear what is happening with the airport and heliport. Could you clarify the situation for us?

We need to improve the logistics to Andorra. As you know we have an airport in La Seu d’Urgell. We are still working together to finish the studies and reports being carried out to approve the installation of GPS equipment. Next spring I hope we will finish and have all the authorizations we need. Air companies will be interested in offering flights from Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, London, and Rome.

As for the heliport – we have done some studies to check a piece of land we have been offered to use. Is this land suitable? We are in the process of finding that out.

It’s going to be near Engolasters lake. This project will be finished in 2 years, I hope.

There are many direct bus routes from Andorra to different Spanish cities. But at the same time, there is only one bus route to France (Toulouse). Why is there still no direct bus communication with Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, or Foix?

There is not enough demand to warrant these services being set up. For the bus companies it’s not profitable I suppose.

It’s possible to find a direct bus trip from Barcelona to Paris (830 km) starting from 33 euros. Why are the tariffs of Andorran bus companies so uncompetitive? For example, Novatel and Directbus tariffs for Andorra-Barcelona (200 km) trip cost 34 euros.

It’s a question of the number of bus tourists. I think there is not the same number of people who need a bus connection from Andorra to Barcelona as from Barcelona to Paris. Less demand – cost is higher.

Are there any plans to build new hotels in Andorra, especially 4-5 star ones?

Currently, we have more than 33,000 beds to offer tourists, but only about 55% is ever occupied at one time. The market is already competitive. Some international brands are already involved in the management of local hotels, but my opinion is that we need more of them to improve the competitivness of the sector. They can improve the management of the companies, and as international brands they are already known  in the market. And to better sell the beds they can share with local hotels their database of customers.

One of the examples – Louvre hotel group. They manage the Golden Tulip hotel, for example. Another example is Hermitage in Soldeu – under the label of “Leading hotels of the world”. There, a high level of service is guaranteed.

Which project was the most successful for you as the minister of tourism?

Cirque du Soleil. It’s a very successful project for our country. And also all sports activities we have promoted (Tour de France, La Vuelta, etc).

What are your plans for the future after your term ends this year?

Next March-April we will have elections. It’s for sure I will finish my political career. After 8 years in the Andorran government, I think it is more than enough.  I have some plans but I have not decided yet what exactly I will do. We will see.