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Old 21.03.2011, 10:12
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Chalet business

Hi everyone. My wife and I are totally new to this forum so hoping it can help us answer a few questions!

We have been thinking about a move to the Alps for some time now and Switzerland has always been high on the list for all the obvious reasons. We are looking to purchase and run a ski/summer chalet and wondered if anyone had done so and made a success of it?

We have done a lot of research into what we need to do to reside and the tax implications etc. but it does not give us the insider info we need to work out if, in reality, we can live and run a hospitality business, with a young family, with the Swiss cost of living.

Any help, stories, hints or tips would be most appreciated! Apologies if you've seen it all before here!

Thanks very much!

Putting aside the buying of a property (which we know is a huge cost!) has anyone (or is anyone) living in, and running a chalet business full time and what might the implications of having a young family in the mountains bring up? Is the schooling still good away from the larger cities? We are not coming out to property speculate and would want to settle into a more relaxed life than here in the UK but I guess we are lacking the insider info as to whether it is a viable business given the high cost of living.

Any help or thoughts would be great. Thank you all!

Last edited by Uncle Max; 21.03.2011 at 11:43. Reason: intro thread and business thread posts near identical; rather than having two duplicate threads, posts and threads merged.
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Old 21.03.2011, 10:37
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Re: Running a chalet business in Switzerland...

I can only offer general advice and that is learn the language before you come, if only to a basic level. Running any sort of business is difficult and you need to deal with locals - in their language.

Regarding schools, I would say the standard is good everywhere, as is the lifestyle. It can also be stressful so if you have never lived abroad think it through before you come.

It is harder than you imagine, you will need more money than you think and it will take longer to get off the ground. Apart from that, it's a doddle.
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Old 21.03.2011, 10:43
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Re: Running a chalet business in Switzerland...

Thanks very much Nigelr! Having run my own business you are right in that they do take a while to get off the ground so would only do so if it we were financially stable for a few years. The language barrier was something we had been thinking about and would be moving to French Swiss mainly as my wife speaks French and my in laws are fluent. I am conversational but we are guessing most of the schools are in the local native language too which we would love for our children...another benefit of the move!

Thankfully we have some friends who live in Basel and so can help out with some aspects of Swiss life, but it's no match for getting advice from many others who have done it so thank you for the feedback!
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Old 21.03.2011, 13:30
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Re: Chalet business

Just a quick note about regional differences: be aware that the federal veneer of government in Switzerland has nowhere near the level of influence of its equivalent in the UK, and the cantons are all-powerful. Rules and regulations on operating businesses will most likely vary substantially between cantons. Your Basler friends will be able to give you some usful information, but how things work in suisse romande may be very different from the Basel way of life, so local enquiries in the area in which you want to settle are essential.

Have you considered or examined buying a chalet on the French side of Portes du Soleil (which spans the border region between France and Switzerland)? I understand the French prices are much more reasonable than the Swiss, and tens of thousands of Swiss holiday every year on the French side of the resorts. Of course, you wouldn't have access to Swiss schools, though.

I stayed in a chalet in the region that was owned and operated by an English couple. Apparently it is possible ...
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Old 21.03.2011, 13:32
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Re: Chalet business

this could be out of date now, but last I heard banks here where not lending for ski related hotel type business.
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Old 21.03.2011, 14:43
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Re: Chalet business

22 yards, thanks for that. I had noted some of the other french resorts too but hadn't looked into them as closely. We are certainly not ruling out any of the Alps but just initially looked towards Switzerland for lifestyle purposes really. Ultimately we just want a viable business, but I am a little nervous with the structure of the EU financially, but will certainly take a look.

We are a way off doing it so it's mainly a research base for now. Looks like I'll have to look into the bank lending criteria for those types of businesses though! Having said that, I'd heard that the Swiss were starting to encourage this sort of cross border business establishment now.

Thanks very much guys...
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Old 21.03.2011, 17:01
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Re: Chalet business

Hi - how well do you know ski resorts in the area? You must be aware that this year was a total disaster for lower altitude resorts- there might well be some bargains going, and for good reason. As said above, the Portes du Soleil span both Switzerland and France- some of the resort are higher latitude than others, some are ski in, ski out always, some are from time to time. Problem is bargains are likely to be at lower altitude - chalets which have excellent snow records over a long period keep their prices much better- but are also likely to be better business propositions. I'd say your biggest problem is the artificially hugely inflated Swiss Franc- which will make not only buying, but running a business paid in CHF by customers with a very low £, extremely difficult. In the past 2 years the exchange rate £ to CHF has dropped 40% - so to make a business work, you'd have to charge that to customers (food, ski passes, rentals, etc, etc). The French sector is by far your best option.
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Old 21.03.2011, 17:25
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Re: Chalet business

Hi Odile. Thanks for the spot on reply. Thankfully we are not looking to move straight away so have some time to try to overcome the rediculous strength of CHF at the moment. I don't think it will be long before UK rates start to go up, hopefully weakening the Franc in the process and I know the Swiss are not happy with the strength at the moment either from a business point of view. You are spot on with the high altitude thing thought. Ideally we'd be looking at a higher resort and although prices will be higher, the longevity of the business will also be better. This is also part of the allure of some of the hugely high resorts as I know the snow has been terrible this year. This was one of the reasons initially for overlooking Portes du Soleil as it doesn't go quite so high but I guess everything is a trade of of price and snow!

Given we would be living there, we would also be looking to build a strong summer business as, being a biker, I think there could be a good market for guided summer rides with catered accomodation, and this is without the golf, mountain biking and walking options so we would hope it would be just as popular. Thinking about how up and down the skiing in the Alps may become over the next decade/20 years, an active summer business is very much part of the plan. I guess the problem with living ski-in, ski-out is that everyday life is somewhat more difficult in the winter for children's schooling etc. but we would love to live up the mountain! Maybe they can ski into school!

I guess, like anything, we need to take into account the economic climate once we decide to move and see if the trade off between France and Switzerland is worth it in the long run. Strangely, we know Austria better but neither of us is particularly great at German and we would both much prefer to speak French. It really is just a preference thing!

Is France considered a much bigger ski industry than Switzerland or are they similar? I assume the Swiss ski area may take a battering this year given the strength of the Franc...
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Old 21.03.2011, 17:40
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Re: Chalet business

I have friends who run chalets and school ski-trips, and this season was very hard due to both rising costs, poor snow and the £/CHF. Problem is, one never knows how the £/CHF is going to go - it is a huge gamble. We bought here 3 years ago when the £ was CHF 2.60 - there is absolutely no way we could buy the same now. But it does make operating a business very difficult- as you have to advertise prices at least 6 months in advance!
All ski resorts are trying to develop activities to lenghten the holiday season- but it is also very difficult. July-August are usually OK, but you still have about 50% of the year when business is very slow to non-existent. Last thing I want is to quash your dreams - but it is a very hard time to think about running a business based on the £/CHF exchange rate. It's hard enough even without running a business at the mo. France is a much better option I'm sure- unless you go for the 4/5***** service. Haute Nendaz might be a good bet- as it has direct access to the 4 Valleys Verbier area and the Mont Fort Glacier, but much cheaper than Verbier.
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Old 21.03.2011, 18:23
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Re: Chalet business

To be honest Odile, I'd rather people were honest with me about the whole thing as ultimately we want to have a surviving business so if Swiss tourism is more difficult as a rule anyway, then it could be that France is a more realistic option. But that's what this whole thread is about!! We've had a look at Haute Nendaz and it looks good so if it's still an option when we are ready then great but we'll have to see I guess. In a strange way, the one thing that makes things a bit more financially difficult being in the EU (and having many countries involved in the Euro), can work in you favour when it comes to tourism as, although the rates fluctuate, clearly they are not as volatile as the CHF in bad times. Certainly food for thought! Thank you...
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Old 21.03.2011, 18:45
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Re: Chalet business

Have you thought about renting for one or 2 years? As rental properties are the norm in Swizerland it may help your business plan in the short term whilst the swiss franc is so strong.
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Old 21.03.2011, 18:58
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Re: Chalet business

Buy somewhere, in Europe, as close to Switzerland as you can, where the weather is warm, there are bathing facilities ..... and you will have a non-stop supply of holidaymakers! All I hear here is how booked up all the warm places are, and prices are sky-rocketing. A villa with a pool .....?

Unless of course, you are hooked on living in snow and enjoy being frozen?
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Old 21.03.2011, 21:19
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Re: Chalet business

I saw this TV reality show on Channel 5 called "the hotel inspector". One of the episodes was on a British couple trying to run a hotel in Switzerland. I thought it was a really fair assessment of running a business in Switzerland in the hospitality industry. Try to watch that episode.


http://www.channel5.com/shows/the-ho...hotel-du-repos
Quote:
Alex Polizzi checks in to Liz and Michael's guesthouse in the Swiss Alps. The British couple emigrated a year ago - but their hopes of a restful retirement have been destroyed by an avalanche of work. Can the hotel inspector help keep their dream alive?
Liz and Michael Callis bought the 14-bedroom Hotel du Repos in the beautiful Swiss Alps a year ago. But despite running a successful bed and breakfast in London for ten years, the couple have an occupancy rate of just 35 per cent in high season. "I woke up this morning and thought 'What are we really doing here?'," Liz admits. Faced with disgruntled staff, the couple hired a new front-of-house team, but they are still snowed under by the amount of work required to keep the hotel going.
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Old 21.03.2011, 22:24
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Re: Chalet business

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I saw this TV reality show on Channel 5 called "the hotel inspector". One of the episodes was on a British couple trying to run a hotel in Switzerland. I thought it was a really fair assessment of running a business in Switzerland in the hospitality industry. Try to watch that episode.


http://www.channel5.com/shows/the-ho...hotel-du-repos
Sounds like an interesting episode. Shame you can't watch it online. From the descriptions I've found on the web, I have very strong feeling we stayed at this hotel just before Christmas. It's in the Portes de Soleil region (Swiss side) but a long way from the nearest ski lift and right on the main road that leads up the mountain and onto a much more popular and widely known ski station. Knowing that in advance though, and having seen their website, I was expecting really good service and facilities to make up for lack of location, but sadly it didn't prove to be the case.
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Old 21.03.2011, 23:19
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Re: Chalet business

Curious, so Googled them - it looks really nice and opposite my favourite mountains in the World, Les Dents du Midi. I shall be in the area next week, so will pop in to have a look for myself- and hopefully lunch one day. Wonder if the owners are Efers?
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Old 23.03.2011, 17:37
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Re: Chalet business

I know it's a cliché but the most important thing is still Location Location Location. I'm not familiar with the hotel in that show but I know where it is and as mentioned (waves to Lausannebrit) it's a long way from the nearest lift. If you're looking to run your business in summer then that could be a major issue. Walkers or cyclists who arrive without a hire car are unlikely to want to bus it or cycle to the gondola before their day starts.

On the topic of cycling, most chalet companies in ski resorts aimed at mountain biking offer the use of a guide so that people visiting don't have to worry about route finding all week. I assume this isn't your target market. I don't know how popular chalet holidays are for road cyclists, I would assume you would need to be close to some "classic" hill climbs for that to be attractive but at least a guide would not be expected. Lots of afternoon cake might be..
If it's hikers you're targeting then again, proximity to some classic walking routes is a must, it's probably not enough to be "in the alps" and expect (activity holiday) customers.

I'm not trying to be negative, just realistic. Maybe you could look at Ovronnaz? The skiing there is great on a powder day, I don't know about cycling but there IS a thermal baths there which could be a big draw for tired walkers or people looking for a chill out time in the Alps...

Hope this helps!
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Old 23.03.2011, 18:14
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Re: Chalet business

Mmmm cake.....

Thanks very much everyone. We are going to be having a lot of thought about it and to us, location is definitely top of the list. We are thinking of running a motorcycling touring company for the summer so to be in the mountains is also pretty important for that...or at least being right on the borders of it! Beanum, I'll check out Ovronnaz so thanks very much for the tip.

And thanks everyone for all the help! What a friendly bunch you are! Any more ideas keep them coming as it really is invaluable advice.
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Old 23.03.2011, 23:47
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Re: Chalet business

Obviously it is a TV show and the genre dictates a happy ending where the owners become suddenly enlightened. Nevertheless, there was a good review of pitfalls and fallacies that mostly had to do with the insubordinated staff. I still have it on my DVR. Please PM me if you are interested.
I have been to Ovronnaz. While the location is great, it appeared to me that the resort was not that attractive and suffered from poor planning.
I am partial to the authenticity of the Anniviers valley but I have no idea if the area makes sense business wise. If you wanted to run a motorcycle business, the proximity to one of the great passes (Furka etc...) would be key. I'll be your customer!
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Old 24.03.2011, 09:34
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Re: Chalet business

I agree, now we know the summer target is motorbikes then it makes a lot more sense to be near Martigny for the Col du Forclaz (great road!) or a bit further along for the Grand St. Bernard or Furka passes... As already mentioned, Nendaz or Veysonnaz look like good bets as the skiing area is bigger and the terrain is more varied than Ovronnaz.
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Old 24.03.2011, 09:51
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Re: Chalet business

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Mmmm cake.....

Thanks very much everyone. We are going to be having a lot of thought about it and to us, location is definitely top of the list. We are thinking of running a motorcycling touring company for the summer so to be in the mountains is also pretty important for that...or at least being right on the borders of it! Beanum, I'll check out Ovronnaz so thanks very much for the tip.

And thanks everyone for all the help! What a friendly bunch you are! Any more ideas keep them coming as it really is invaluable advice.
Consider the paraglider market as well for late spring, summer and early autumn.
This depends on location but it can be a good market with return visitors if you get to know the weather really well and so can offer advice on the best flying sites for the day.
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