Alpine, as opposed to mountain tourism, concerns itself with the phenomenon which takes place within the perimeters of the European Alps. The development follows the classical pattern of destination lifecycles which add up to a general alpine tourism pattern.
During the first phase, the Alps were visited by pilgrims and adventurers pursuing exploratory activities. Its next phase took place in the core alpine regions of Austria, Italy, France, and Switzerland, drawing tourists from adjoining regions in tandem with skiing and hiking as popular sporting activities. At the same time, numerous alpine clubs and refuges have been initiated, followed by the construction of cable cars and ski lifts. Alpine healthcare carried out mainly in alpine sanatoria was added as a third product. Throughout the war and interwar periods, alpine tourism grew moderately. Starting in the 1960s, many destinations became exposed to internationalization, and mass tourism began in the third phase of the lifecycle with a high growth of arrivals, coming from new and emerging markets such as Russia, China, India, and Japan.
By the 1980s, mass tourism had taken a hold in many alpine destinations, signaling the first signs of ecological, social, and cultural decay. Economic degradations which followed were in part the result of traditional basic alpine products such as hiking, healthcare, and alpine skiing which become outdated in the face of shifting leisure preferences and demographic changes. Such transformation resulted from natural (ecological) and built (social and cultural) capacity constraints in the destination. Climate change and the retreat of glaciers are about to further aggravate the sustainable competitive advantage of many alpine destinations. While some destinations in the outlying alpine regions are still expanding, most of the inner alpine core finds itself in the rejuvenation phase of the lifecycle, aimed at correcting decay and extending the growth with new alpine tourism experiences (Peters and Weiermair 2000). The final years of the 1990s have involved changing origin markets as well as the whole distribution and information systems (Weiermair 2008).
To remain sustainable and competitive, it will be imperative that future research look into tourist satisfaction as well as stewardship of the destinations’ natural, social, and cultural resources. This will require negotiated compromises among tourism stakeholders through new forms of destination governance systems (Beritelli et al. 2007).
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