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Coping with decline in a Swiss mountain village

Watch Caroline Näther explain how a large-scale tourism resort changed the initial declining situation in Andermatt and influenced its population.
Andermatt is a small village in the heart of the Swiss Alps. It is located in the Urseren Valley. The place looks back on an eventful history that was shaped by both tourism and military. Localised in a peripheral region, tourism gained momentum in the 19th century. Until 1830, the surrounding mountain passes were made drivable. Andermatt became a tourist destination. In 1882, the Gotthard railway connection opened. As it did not serve Andermatt, tourism took a blow. Nevertheless, the tourism industry provided labour and the basis of existence. The Gotthard links Switzerland’s German-speaking part with its Italian-speaking part. The region was politically and geo-strategically important, thus of interest to the Swiss army. Benefiting from Gotthard tunnel connection, it established a training area at Andermatt.
Starting with the Second World War, the Swiss army became the main employer in the village. At the same time, the tourism industry decreased further, becoming very small. When the Cold War ended in 1991, the threat situation in Europe changed. The Swiss army began to withdraw from Gotthard region. Andermatt lost its principal employer. The situation of its workforce became uncertain. As an effect, the number of inhabitants decreased. Locals, as well as political authorities, began to discuss how to deal with the situation. How could the potential be used? What new development would be possible? Thanks to relations on the level of national government, the Egyptian investor Samih Sawiris was asked for advice.
Sawiris, owning several resorts in Egypt and Europe, proposed to construct a luxury vacation place on the land formerly used by the military. National and cantonal governments were very pleased with this new perspective. Samih Sawiris founded the company Andermatt Swiss Alps, short ASA, and drafted plans for a new resort. The plans divided Andermatt’s community. Some think the resort to be too large. Others see it as the only way for economic development. In a poll, the inhabitants then voted overwhelmingly for the project. The resort was constructed. Andermatt underwent changes necessary to become a professional tourism destination. The local population had to cope with this transformation, including the prospect of a new type of guest.
The impact of such a process on the locals is difficult to predict. What are the consequences associated with a number of fake challenges, opportunities, and risks? Tourism is often considered as a mostly economic phenomenon. To develop a tourist product then means to ensure economic success and to satisfy guests’ needs. This approach disregards easily that tourist projects impact the local community. It is advisable to recognise and manage this socio-cultural impact. Locals perceive their place not as a tourist product. It is a habitat in which people work and live. As residents, they play an important part in a tourist’s experience. Thus, the tourism industry benefits if it considers life quality of the local community.
This means that if we want to address change in the long term, we need to find solutions that respect local needs. Thus, the study ‘BESTandermatt’ focuses on the social dimension of the resort’s sustainable development. With a long-term structure, it allows inhabitants to assess the situation and their concern during each phase of the resort’s implementation. It aims at creating conditions that allow local actors to participate in reflection and learning processes. How can we best describe the social-cultural impact of the tourism resort on the inhabitants of Andermatt? We will address this question in the next episodes of this case study. You will explore the preliminary results of the study and how the population perceived the resort’s effects.
You will also investigate how the locals’ concerns and proposals were communicated by the research team to the cantonal and municipal authorities, as well as to the company Andermatt Swiss Alps.

Andermatt is a Swiss mountain village. When one of the main opportunities for income disappeared, its economy declined. This case study addresses how the people coped with the solution for this challenge: a large-scale tourism resort.

Andermatt is located in the Gotthard area, in the heart of the Swiss Alps. In the 19th century, it evolved into a tourist destination. Then, the Swiss army became an important actor. The region was geo-strategically important. From the 1940s onwards, the army evolved into the main employer in the village, while tourism decreased.

In the wake of the ending cold war, the army decided to dissolve the military training area and to withdraw from Andermatt. The economy of the peripheral mountain village declined, having just a small tourism industry left. The impact on the population was considerable. A solution was needed that would stop the decline.

It came with the Egyptian investor Samih Sawiris. He suggested a large-scale tourism resort. Planning started in 2006 and the resort was built from 2009 onwards.

The new opportunity to develop Andermatt pleased government on the national as well as on the cantonal levels. For residents, on the other hand, the resort is associated with a complex set of hopes, challenges, opportunities, and risks. How will the tourist resort affect locals? What will be its short and long-term impacts?

This is difficult to predict. Over a total area of 1.4 million square metres, the resort consists of six hotels, around 490 apartments in 42 blocks, 25 private villas, an indoor swimming pool, conference facilities, and an 18-hole golf course for the planned ‘Andermatt Reuss Holiday Village’. Various buildings and facilities have been completed and opened since the start of the resort construction. The 5-star hotel ‘The Chedi Andermatt’ is open since the end of 2013, the 4-star ‘Radisson Blu’ and the ‘Gotthard Residences’ with an indoor swimming pool since December 2018. Eight apartment blocks with a total of around 150 apartments, a villa, the golf course, and a covered parking lot were completed since 2014. Two apartment blocks are currently still under construction. Whereas the concert hall is open since June 2019.

Moreover, the adjoining skiing area was modernised and extended. The consolidated Andermatt-Sedrun ski resort is operated by the company Andermatt Swiss Alps (ASA) subsidiary Andermatt-Sedrun Sport AG (ASS) under the name ‘SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun’. Overall, since the start of the project, 900 million Swiss francs have been invested.

‘BESTandermatt’ is a study investigating the socio-cultural and socio-economic changes triggered by the implementation of this tourist resort over a period of ten years. It investigates how the inhabitants of Andermatt perceive the new resort’s impact at different points in time. It examines what the resort means to the locals, how their attitudes towards the resort changes, and how they are dealing with the transformation of Andermatt into a large-scale tourist destination. The video introduces the case.

As you watch the video – think of what you consider the biggest challenge for the project. We look forward to reading your comments!

Educator: Caroline Näther

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