MOSCOW, January 11 (Itar-Tass) — The situation at Austrian ski resorts remains difficult but not critical as Russian travel agencies gradually return their tourist to their homeland, an official the Russian union of travel agencies /RST/ said on Wednesday.
Travel agencies noted that the powerful snowfall in the Austrian Alps had ceased on Tuesday afternoon. It began on January 7. "The situation is gradually normalizing, although snow cleaning on roads takes time; the traffic situation is difficult and jams are ubiquitous," the RST underlined.
"Austria has not had such blizzards for four decades; in many places, the thickness of snow exceeds one meter, warnings of a high risk of avalanche were announced at many resorts, railway and motor traffic halted and mountain villages found themselves isolated.
The RST assured that travel agencies were keeping in touch with their tourists and that the situation was under control. However, RST representatives said the exact number of Russians remaining in Austria was unknown. "Many have been evacuated or are on the way to Moscow," they said.
They believe some 1,000 Russians may be staying in Austria at present. A large number of Russian tourists were unable to leave the popular resorts of Ischgl, Lech, St Anton and Zell am See in the period from January 7 through January 9.
The roads from the resorts to the airport once open once close, and the journey to airports which normally takes about three hours, has now extended to six. However, the resorts continue to operate cableways and pistes as usual.
RST officials assured there had been no complaints from tourists staying at Austrian ski resorts so far. "The lovers of mountain skiing realize that such recreation implies certain risks or force majeure," deputy director general of Ascent Travel Yevgeny Sudbin reminded.
As for tourists who are just going to Austrian ski resorts, there should be no problems in this area. "Just a handful go to ski resorts at this time, so it is not difficult to resolve problems with them. The bulk of the tourists will arrive on January 14 and January 21, but by that time, the situation should have normalized," deputy director general of the Jet Travel company Maxim Pristavko said.
An official from the PAC Group company, which has already brought home all its tourists from Austria, said the Russians who had arrived in Austria on January 8 and were not accommodated in hotels because of the snowfall, have been living at Innsbruck hotels at the company’s expense.
"As soon as the Austrian roads are safe for traffic, the guests will be immediately taken to the places of recreation," the company promised.
Travel agencies complain that many hotels seek to exploit this difficult situation to make more money, taking a tough stance on payments from stranded tourists. Many Austrian transport companies act in the same way, offering travel agencies to pay again for transportation expenses, as transfers were unable during bad weather.
Under the law, hoteliers are not obliged to offer free accommodation to stranded guests, while airlines do not have to compensate the tickets of the passengers who were late for their flights.
According to travel agencies, it is airlines that seem to be most understanding in this situation. They do not resort to any penalties for passengers who missed their flights and are ready to put them on other flights.
The Rostourism Federal Tourism Agency said more than 135,000 Russians visited Austria last year, compared with 96,000 in 2009.
Austria is very popular during New Year holidays, with Russian tourists making up 20 to 30 percent of all tourists holidaying in that country at that time.