At the press conference marking the start of the 2022 winter season, Intersport Austria looked to the future with cautious optimism. On the first weekend of the advent season, the retail group recorded a digital run on all winter sports articles: alpine skis, touring skis, snowshoes, bobsleds and sleds were ordered online and also picked up via click-and-collect. Despite all the difficult circumstances, this positive trend gives Intersport hope for the winter and Christmas business. However, the outlook for the snowsports season is riddled with unanswered questions, depending mainly on how the Covid-19 situation develops.
Austria is currently in a lockdown, which is scheduled to end on Dec. 13, with some regions planning for Dec. 17. Still, in the hope for a relatively normal season, the buying group is rising to the challenges of the times with an enhanced range of services. For example, the number of retailers offering click-and-collect services has risen sharply. In its 36 months of existence, 50 retailers have joined the Intersport platform, generating their own online shops via the system. Likewise, Intersport Rent offers a flexible booking system with free cancellation option at www.intersportrent.at. Customers can book online in advance and are served quickly and securely on site. In addition, following a successful test phase with selected retailers, Intersport Rent now also offers the rental equipment directly at accommodation establishments.
Overall, Intersport Austria paints a differentiated picture of the economic situation of its retailers. While the more urban stores in the east of Austria were able to compensate for at least part of the lack of winter sports sales with fitness and bike products, the Intersport Rent stores in tourist destinations find themselves with their backs to the wall. In the 20/21 winter season, 95 percent of the rental business was missing. Even the boom in the touring ski segment (with an estimated 700.000 active touring skiers in Austria) could not fill the gap.
According to Intersport Austria CEO Thorsten Schmitz, the cancellation of the 2021/22 winter season would represent the worst-case scenario for the sporting goods industry. “The entire infrastructure and diversity in our tourism regions are in danger for the next few years,” he said. “With regard to tourism, European regulations are urgently needed, and Austrian government support must also take these conditions into account! Whether it will be possible to open the ski resorts on Dec. 13 is one question, but whether tourists will really spend their winter vacation in Austria is quite another.” In this context, he mentioned the issue of short-time work regulations, especially for seasonal workers in the rental business. Schmitz estimates that the number of employees in the retail sector working short-time is very low, as the season has to be prepared – without any certainty that it will take place. A working group of Intersport Austria and retailers is currently drawing up a draft for talks with the new government in Austria to provide the best possible support for affiliated retailers.