Alps and Tourism

The spa-resorts of Badgastein (in an old print), with its famous waterfall (Source: GUICHONNET 1980).
The Rigi Kulm Hotel in an old print. A classic destination for pioneer and Belle Époque tourism (Source: GUICHONNET 1980).

Stages of Development of Alpine Tourism

Before prospecting some scenarios for the future, nevertheless, a short summary of the development of Alpine tourism from its beginnings until today may be useful. On the basis of some recent works (BÄTZING 2003; BARTALETTI, 1994, 1998a and 2004), five or six stages can be identified:

The "Trinkhalle" (or Büvetta) of Bad Vulpera, near Scuol, Lower Engadin, built in 1876 in a luxurious Belle Époque style (Source: F. BARTALETTI).
1. The "Pioneer" Age, ideally from 1816 (opening of Rigi Kulm Hotel, on a breath-taking viewpoint) to 1882 (first Europe ice-skating championship in St.Moritz): the "discovery" of the Alps is fostered by the exploits of climbers and the descriptions of poets and novelists, since the end of the 18th century. Tourism is concentrated in some scenic sites, at the foots of magnificent mountains, or in a few spa-resorts (Leukerbad, Badgastein). Switzerland is by far the most important destination.

2. The Belle Époque stage, from 1882 (or 1884: opening of Kursaal Hotel at Malojapass, with a heating-system for the winter season) to 1914 (first World War). Construction of rack, cable and narrow-gauge railways (Montenvers, Gornergrat, Jungfraujoch, Bernina, etc.) and scenic Palace-Hotels; moderate spread of skiing, bob-sleighing and ice-skating in selected localities. Switzerland and Austria are the most important destinations.

Changes in tourism demand (and fashion): the former Grand Hotel at Toblach, South Tyrol, a Belle Époque structure where Gustav Mahler spent some of his summer holidays, has become a youth hostel (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

3. 1914 to 1955: the basic characteristics are the increasing role of the middle class and the take-off of skiing, fostered by the construction of the first ski-lifts. Sestrières, planned and built on purpose (1931-32) in the Piedmont Alps at 2035 m, is the prototype of the "ski-total" resorts, or stations intégrées. Summer tourism, however, is still far more important. The French and Italian Alps gain importance.

4. 1955 to 1980: the period is characterised by mass tourism, the spreading of downhill skiing, a rapid increase in the number of ski-lifts and a decline of summer tourism in the seventies. Several high-altitude ski-resorts planned on the drawing board with huge buildings are built in the French Alps, with some examples in Italy and Switzerland (western Valais) too. The image of many traditional resorts is seriously compromised by an over-development of buildings, mainly apartments and second homes. At the end of 1970s, the first snow-making machines appear.

Further Readings & Links

The protocol on the implementation of the alpine convention in the areas of tourism contains the legal articles of this convention

5. 1980 up to now: a radical process of rationalization and renewal of lifts, with an ever-increasing per-hour capacity, is undertaken, as well as the interconnection of many neighbouring skiing areas and a widespread development of snow-making machines. The great majority of the overnight stays in the main resorts is registered in the winter season, though in the whole Alpine territory, summer tourism still prevails. Tourists concentrate in a small number of resorts and are more and more demanding in terms of sporting facilities and infrastructures. New winter activities (e.g. snowshoe walking, freeriding) become more popular, whereas traditional skiing seems to go through a "maturity" stage. Some unfavourable winter seasons occur from the end of the eighties, but the dramatic combination of low snowfalls and high temperatures in 2006-07 winter raise serious questions about the future of winter tourism. Austria ranks officially first in what regards the overnight-stays, but it is largely overtaken by Italy if unofficial flows (rented apartments, second homes) are considered. Since the Nineties, the French Alps experience a stagnation or a slight decline in number of overnight-stays, and a more pronounced decrease concerns Switzerland and Tyrol (the latter owing to summer crisis), whereas South Tyrol alone registers its overnight-stays peak in 2005 and 2006.

Beispiel Beispiel
The examples of San Bernardino (in the background Pizzo Uccello, 2724 m), in the Mesolcina Valley, and Kurzras, at 2004m height at the head of the Schnals Valley, show that Switzerland (Grisons) and South Tyrol too experienced the model of skiing resorts in the French style, with negative and blameworthy results (other negative examples can be found at Aminona and Crans-Montana, Canton of Wallis) (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

Are planned tourist resorts a sustainable solution?

Many modern winter tourists lack conscience for the protection of the Alpine landscape and culture. Moreover, many seem to have a low interest for an intact Alpine landscape as a whole: Les Deux Alpes, Passo Tonale or Tignes for instance, are – from an aesthetical point of view – rather monotonous, if not ugly ski stations and miss any connection to the surrounding landscape. Nevertheless, many of these planned resorts usually do not have problems in terms of tourist flows. Macugnaga (Piedmont) on the other hand, for example, has a dramatic mountain landscape and many traditional walser houses, but registers a continuous tourist decline.

Beispiel Beispiel
Les Menuires (Savoy; left) and Aime-La Plagne (Savoy; right); are two examples of "integrated resorts", planned and built just for skiing. We can notice that the mammoth buildings of Les Menuires and Aime are in a striking contrast with the mountain context. In summer, these resorts are nearly empty (Source: F. BARTALETTI).
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