Alps and Tourism


Key Issues

The beautiful scenery of Pizzo Badile from the village of Soglio, Bregaglia Valley (Grisons). Today, summer mountain tourism has a negative image. Attributes include quietness, boredom, middle-aged or old people. More importance should be laid on the attractiveness and fun of the Alps for youth (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

a) Decline of traditional summer tourism

Summer tourism in the Alps has suffered from a steady decline over the past decades. The reasons for this are manifold: The price-decline for air travel, the higher standards for accessibility, and also a slightly obsolete image of the Alps as an expensive destination for quiet family- and "boring" nature-holidays for older people.

Obviously, the Alps cannot (and maybe must not) compete with the sea resorts in terms of "sea-sun-sex", but it is probably a losing strategy to focus merely on a fine landscape and an untouched nature. It is necessary to follow a strategy aiming to sponge out a certain "elderly image" of the Alps in the summer season and to replace it with a more "multi-faceted" one: landscape, culture, architecture, of course, but also some “fun and cool” activities (music, dance, activities where young people can meet), as well as modern sporting activities such as such as climbing, mountain-biking, rafting, canyoning, paragliding, etc., as long as it does not stand in conflict with the concept of sustainable tourism. The same applies to infrastructures like summer bob sledging runs or open-air swimming pools (which are lacking in the central-western Alps, above all in the Italian sector).

Scuol, in the Lower Engadin, offers an interesting mix of summer, winter and thermal-bath tourism (with Tarasp-Vulpera), but the trend of the overnight-stays trend is unsteady (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

The presentation of the Alp's diversity must be in the focus for the promotion of summer holidays. Further, it is very important that the image of the Alps is "rejuvenated". The only destinations in the Alps that can currently maintain a good performance in summer are those with a "homely", informal and "juvenile" image; destinations offering a lot of activities to young and middle-young people.

The presentation of the respective local uniqueness can be an important "unique selling proposition" for a destination. This can of course include the promotion of adventure sport activities as long as a focus is kept on sustainability. However, some destinations might find a niche with offering guided hiking tours, historical excursions, wellness holidays or focus on traditional features (genuine cooking, the mystery of mountain legends, etc.).

A more balanced tourist flow including summer tourism promoting high quality/price ratios could benefit the regional value added and make for a constant income generation in Alpine municipalities.

Further Readings & Links

"Future in the Alps Workshop"
Workshop on how tourism can contribute to the value added in mountainous areas (in German and Italian).

From ecotourism to sustainable tourism in the Alps

The ecological consistency of snow-making systems; “landscaping” ski-runs and lifts must be checked (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

b) Environmental impact of modern winter and summer sports activities

Modern downhill skiing or snowboarding needs well-prepared, large ski-runs and a functional network of high-capacity lifts and snow-making systems. It is clear that a way back to the "old-days" skiing or to cross-country (which doesn't produce, alone, considerable tourist flows) is not very realistic, but a policy in the direction of sustainable development must be pursued: by checking the ecological consistency of snow-making systems; "landscaping" ski-runs and lifts; stopping any further expansion of ski-arenas; restricting the use of snowmobiles to particular routes.

High impact summer activities such the use of Quads (or ATVs), cross-country motorcycles and off-road vehicles should be restricted in the same way, and lesser-impact activities should be promoted.

CIPRA INFO 59 (2000)
Tourism in the Alps: When politics and economics don't know what they are doing.

The Gröden/Gardena Valley (here a view of its chief town, St.Ulrich/Ortisei/Urtijëi) is a clear example of the way which many Alpine valley floors are nearly completely urbanised, both because of tourism activities and of demographic growth (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

c) Increasing urbanization and urban sprawl combined with air pollution in the valley-floors

The built-over area in Alpine valley floors has steadily increased, and in some areas compromises the overall appearance of the landscape, which is detrimental not only to tourism, but often also to the ecology of the region. In the future, stricter actions must be taken to delimitate the building areas, and a focus on the reutilization of existing structures should be given. Regional and municipal policies against urban sprawl and a limited construction of apartments and second homes are necessary.

Traffic pollution (Davos, Madonna di Campiglio, Claviere, Montgenèvre etc.) may be faced by tunnel-bypasses, the pedestrianisation of the whole built-up area (which is a possible solution mostly for resorts situated at the valley-head or on a slope: Zermatt, Saas Fee, Braunwald, Serfaus), or the (re)construction of narrow-gauge and rack railways (for instance Calalzo-Cortina, Klausen-Ortisei/St.Ulrich) and improvement of the public transport system.

NEUKOMM, A. (2008)
This short article gives an exellent overview on the ongoing second homes building boom in the Swiss Alps.

d) Imbalance between the large amount of second homes and the poor commercial accommodation in several districts of Italian and French Alps as well as in the Grisons and Wallis.

Incentives should be given to the owners of second homes or apartments to rent these more frequently to tourists (such as tax reductions etc.) so that the amount of rarely used second homes, which are usually a burden to the municipalities’ infrastructures, can be decreased and higher utilisations can be attained. A good example of an appropriate utilization can be found in the Berner Oberland and East Wallis, where even very short stays may be allowed.

Second homes and increasing suburbanisation in French Alpine resorts.

A view of Adelboden from the east. Though a considerable development of apartments and second homes (more than 9.000 beds, in comparison with just 1300 in hotels and about 2000 in group structures and other non-hotel accommodation) and a strong development of downhill skiing, Adelboden exhibits a nice landscape and approaches the model of sustainable tourism, thanks to a still important primary sector and to the consciousness of the native population of the specificity of its own territory and traditions (Source: F. BARTALETTI).

e) Delimitate the further spatial expansion of ski-tourism

The Alps in winter defy till now the competition of any exotic holiday destination and remain by far, in Europe, the most popular destination. The target, therefore, should be to maintain the acquired position. The development of high quality/price ratios should be encouraged, and also the opening to Eastern-European market. Furthermore, it may be necessary to promote less snow-dependent activities that focus on the uniqueness of the region (cultural travels, gourmet destinations, festivals, congress and business tourism, wellness holidays etc.). Also the promotion of weekly or shorter stays, at reasonable prices, in nice villages and small resorts, to escape from the winter smog of the cities could be an opportunity to show to this new kind of tourists the uniqueness of the intact Alpine landscape, legends and local traditions, and maybe to make them able to recognize tracks of animals in the snow, or better to see some animals directly. However, some low-impact leisure structures would be necessary for this purpose in these villages. In this regard, also a number of national and regional parks in the Alps would have the opportunity to attract more tourists in winter.

GÜTHLER, A. (2003)
This report describes the current winter sport trends in the Alps as well as their economic effects.

f) Uncertainty due to climatic changes

Municipalities with a strong focus on winter tourism, especially at lower altitudes, are under an increased pressure due to global warming. Yet, the shifting resorts and lifts to a higher altitude should be rejected in order to keep the remaining wilderness areas, and other strategies to maintain a certain flow of tourists (see above) should be encouraged, though it is clear that those need a much more active involvement and creativity of the local population.

A view of what remained of the Zugspitze Glacier ever since the end of the eighties (two out of order summer skiing lifts can also be seen) (Source: F. BARTALETTI).
Climate warming caused increasing problems to Alpine winter tourism in last 15 years, and artificially snowed runs are getting increasingly frequent as on the Clotés run at Sauze d’Oulx, March 2007 (Source: F. BARTALETTI).
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CIPRA-Info 81 (2006)
This issue of CIPRA Info deals with transformation of winter tourism in the Alps.