Angela McMillan would love to have guests in her chalet in the mountain resort of Leysin. Her bed and breakfast is open for business, yet bookings have dried up due to the coronavirus lockdown.This content was published on April 2, 2020 - 17:00
“We are really worried. For a lot of owners of holiday flats and B&Bs, this will be the end,” McMillan says, during a video call with swissinfo.ch.
McMillan, an expat from the United Kingdom who has lived in Switzerland on and off for the past four decades, opened her B&B three years ago. She lives from the income generated from renting out three roomsExternal link in her rustic chalet.
She contacted swissinfo.ch earlier this week to raise awareness of her plight, and – she thinks – that of thousands of others like her, who are not eligible for loans or credit promised by the Swiss government to soften the blow from the health crisis: “In a very short time, I will not be able to pay my bills or cover my expenses,” she wrote.
McMillan is self-employed and says she declares and pays taxes on her small business’s income, yet she is not officially registered as an independent. According to the Swiss Social Insurance OfficeExternal link, this disqualifies her for financial assistance.
It is difficult to know how many people like her contribute to the shadow tourist economy. The Federal Statistical OfficeExternal link counts 31,000 holiday apartments across the country, while Airbnb lists more than 35,000 houses, flats and rooms for Switzerland. Because the owners of vacation rentals often advertise their properties across multiple booking platforms, it is impossible to know the exact number. Nor is it known how many are registered businesses or – if they’re not listed – whether the owners are officially self-employed.
Vacation rentals, whether entire houses, flats, or rooms, have become a popular alternative to traditional hotels thanks to the ease of booking or renting out rooms through Airbnb, booking.com and their competitors. McMillan says visitors often prefer chalets like hers to large hotels because they offer a more homely setting.
Her claim is supported by official statistics. For every five nights tourists or business travellers spend in Switzerland, one is in non-hotel accommodation. The figure is likely much higher, since the statistical office data only includes registered properties.
At the moment however, McMillan is at a disadvantage, since she cannot apply for assistance to help her pay her bills or for regular maintenance and repairs, unlike hotels that are eligible for bridging loans to cover shortfalls in liquidity.
“I have to keep smiling, but it’s difficult,” she says. “The government doesn’t talk about us, but there are a lot of us.”
Can I still travel within Switzerland?
When the government announced on March 17 that many businesses must close, hotels and other forms of accommodation were not included. However, the recommendation to residents to stay home, as well as sweeping restrictions including a ban on gatherings of more than five people, the closure of all bars and restaurants as well as leisure and cultural activities, combined with the massive reduction of travel worldwide, has left hotels and vacation rentals largely empty.
In advance of the long Easter weekend, there could be an additional advisory asking people to refrain from travelling to their holiday homes in the Alps. The tourist officeExternal link of the southern canton of Ticino has even launched a campaign asking second home owners to postpone their visits until later in the year.
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