CR 20:253-257 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/cr020253

Climate change as a threat to tourism in the Alps

Hans Elsasser*, Rolf Bürki

Economic Geography Division, Department of Geography, University of Zurich-Irchel, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

ABSTRACT: Switzerland┬╣s economy depends heavily on tourism. For many alpine areas in the country, winter tourism is the most important source of income, and snow-reliability is one of the key elements of the offers made by tourism in the Alps. The financial viability of winter tourism, however, depends on sufficient snow conditions. The lack of snow at the end of the 1980s left a lasting imprint on the tourism industry. If the assumptions of the impacts of climate change hold true, snow cover in the Swiss Alps will diminish, and this will, in turn, jeopardise the tourism industry. 85% of Switzerland┬╣s current ski resorts can be designated as snow-reliable. If climate change occurs, the level of snow-reliability will rise from 1200 m up to 1800 m over the next few decades. Only 44% of the ski resorts would then still be snow-reliable. While some regions may be able to maintain their winter tourism with suitable adaptation strategies, others would lose all winter tourism due to a diminishing snow pack. Despite global warming, it is impossible to exclude the possibility of winters with heavy snowfall in the future (e.g. the winter of 1998/99, particularly February 1999). Climate change must be viewed as a catalyst that is reinforcing and accelerating the pace of structural changes in tourism. Today, adaptation strategies are predominant in tourism (e.g. artificial snow production). As an industry that will be severely affected by climate change, however, tourism will increasingly have to focus on mitigation strategies (e.g. less greenhouse gas emissions by tourism traffic).

KEY WORDS: Climate change · Tourism · Skiing · Snow · Alps · Switzerland

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