- Wealthy Russians appear to be deserting luxury Alpine ski resorts after the Ukraine war broke out.
- A chalet operator told Insider of a “noticeable absence” of Russian bookings for next season.
- High-end chalets in the exclusive enclave of Courchevel 1850 can cost $60,000 to $250,000 a week.
The most luxurious Alpine ski chalets come with dance floors, bowling alleys, and even private casinos. They’re popular among oligarchs and other wealthy Russians who can afford weekly rental costs that might run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Tim Latimer, founder and director of Firefly Collection, a luxury chalet rental operator in several upmarket Alpine resorts, said many of his Russian clients would snap up the highest-quality chalets year after year – but things have changed since Russia invaded Ukraine.
“We would have normally expected to see some Russian bookings for next season at this stage and there is a noticeable absence in those requests,” Latimer told Insider. “Clearly, even those Russians not directly affected by sanctions are being cautious and holding off from booking at this stage.”
He said that earlier this year, a Russian family staying in one of Firefly’s chalets got up and left mid-stay.
Business owners across the board have reported depressed levels of Russian tourism since the Ukraine war began. A five-star hotel in Vietnam’s ‘Little Russia’ said it spent nearly $44,000 upgrading facilities for its Russian visitors, who never showed up.
Latimer said that because many of his Russian clients tended to book the more expensive properties, even a small reduction in their bookings had a “significant” financial impact on his business.
Firefly rents high-end chalets in Courchevel and Meribel, in France, and Verbier and Zermatt, in Switzerland, among other resorts.
Latimer said the most opulent head to Courchevel 1850, “the Russian’s favorite ski resort,” which has several “super-chalets” featuring indoor swimming pools, saunas, cinemas, and massage rooms.
Renting a top-end chalet in Courchevel 1850 costs $60,000 to $250,000 a week depending on the time of the season, Latimer said. He said food and drink weren’t normally included, meaning most clients incurred additional costs running into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Russian clients “tend to be high spenders,” Latimer said, “so we will certainly feel the difference on our balance sheet.”
Latimer said that after two “disastrous” years for the travel industry during the pandemic, “we really do need some stability to return to the industry. The outlook for Russians traveling to Europe this ski season is looking pretty bleak so the timing is terrible.”
As an added disadvantage, Latimer said prices for Firefly’s ski chalets had “increased substantially for next season” across the French Alps because of rising operational costs – “higher labor costs, higher energy costs, and general inflation.” The higher pricing was “reducing the potential audience” for Firefly chalets, Latimer said.
The apparent disappearance of wealthy Russian customers has left operators of lavish ski chalets concerned, Latimer said. “Our main concern is that the war in Ukraine escalates to cause travel disruption right across Europe. That would be disastrous for the whole industry.”
He suggested, however, that wealthy individuals from other parts of the world would be eager to take the place of rich Russians.
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