Austrian ski resort tainted by coronavirus wants less 'party tourism'

VIENNA (Reuters) - The Alpine ski resort of Ischgl, at the centre of Austria’s biggest cluster of coronavirus infections, said on Thursday it wants to move away from “party tourism” as it emerged from more than a month under quarantine.

Ischgl is near the point where Austria, Italy and Switzerland meet and has described itself as the “Ibiza of the Alps”. It is now clear that more than 800 cases spread across Austria can be traced back to the resort and the surrounding Paznaun Valley.

In February and early March the virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars. Hundreds of foreign tourists were infected in Ischgl and then unwittingly took the virus home with them.

“We will question developments of the past years and, where necessary, make corrections,” Ischgl Mayor Werner Kurz said in a statement issued by the tourism authority for his town and the Paznaun Valley, which on Thursday came out of a quarantine imposed on March 13.

Kurz said the town’s image as a party destination was unfair because that was just a small part of its offering, but he said he would work with local businesses to make changes.

“That means more quality and less party tourism, prioritising skiers and fewer day-trippers on buses who only come to party,” the tourism authority said. “We are also thinking with all businesses about what an upmarket apres-ski culture can look like.”

Iceland declared Ischgl a risk area on March 5 after tourists returning from the resort were found to have been infected, but the provincial government of Tyrol, which includes Ischgl, responded by saying they probably caught the virus on the plane home.

The first concrete measure was taken on March 9, when a bar was closed after one of its barmen became the first person in the town to test positive, on March 7. The resort remained open until March 13, however.

Tyrol’s Governor Guenther Platter has acknowledged that mistakes were made, and the national government has said there will be a review of what went wrong. Ischgl’s Mayor Kurz says his town followed the instructions of “the authorities”.

An Austrian consumer rights group preparing a potential class action lawsuit over one or more ski resorts in Tyrol says thousands of people across Europe have signed up, most of them in Germany and relating to Ischgl.

(This story refiles to remove extraneous word which in second paragraph and extraneous words from people in last paragraph)

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Frances Kerry