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Switzerland tries to combat ill-effects of climate change on Alpine tourism

Climate change affects tourism in many ways - less snow for skiiing in the Alps, to foggy days, retreat of glaciers, and longer dry spells spell trouble for Switzerland tourism.




February 14, 2007

Realising the seriousness of the situation, a number of Swiss tourist regions, for the first time, have joined forces to develop a strategy to minimise the negative effects of climate change.

The nine destinations in the Bernese Alps commissioned a study by Bern University, which will release its findings in March 2007 along with a number of recommendations.

The study titled Climate change and tourism: An analysis of scenarios for the Bernese Oberland up to the year 2030 points out that the effects are manifold and complex.

They cannot, it says, be reduced to a simple formula equating rising temperatures with the disappearance of snow and therefore the death of skiing.

Based on both best-case and worst-case scenario, rising temperatures of between 0.4 and 2.6 degrees Celsius will cause an increase in precipitation in winter – fall in snow level and longer dry and sunny periods in summer.

It will also lead to the retreat or complete disappearance of Alpine glaciers and the lesser-known thawing of permafrost and a possible rise in the number of foggy days.

“Until now, the presence or lack of snow for skiing has been the main issue but the effect on permafrost and glaciers is becoming more important,” Hansruedi Müller, head of Bern University’s Research Institute for Leisure and Tourism, said. “Permafrost decreases the stability of mountain slopes, and there are more extreme weather events which means increased precipitation, and there will be longer heat waves. Tourism is affected in each case.”

Müller's working paper says that, even though only one of 38 ski areas in the Bernese Alps is threatened with extinction in the best-case scenario (a temperature rise of 0.4 degrees C in winter), the maximum increase (+1.8 degrees C) could put 13 out of business.

Among the hardest hit would be the upmarket but relatively low-lying resort of Gstaad, which would be in danger of losing half of its lifts.

The report states that all mountain resorts will have to make major investments in order to adapt.

As water becomes scarcer following dry summers, ski lift operators may have no choice but to import water to feed their growing arsenal of snow cannon.

Gstaad and many other mountain resorts saw a large jump in hotel bookings during the record heat wave of 2003, and again during the hot period in July 2006.

Alpine resorts continue to generate between two-thirds and 80% of their turnover in the short winter season.

The document advises resorts to diversify – increasing efforts to promote summer holidays in the Alps while acknowledging that one of the main summer attractions, its world of glaciers, is disappearing.

As the ice sheets bid a hasty retreat, the mountain regions will become more prone to natural disasters such as flooding and landslides.

The local authorities, according to the strategy paper, must become more pro-active in dealing with these hazards.

Crisis management and risk analysis will take on even greater significance than they have today in order to ensure the safety of tourists and to keep roads and rail lines open to facilitate travel.



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