A Tale of Two Alpine Towns: Study highlights how different tourism strategies affect resilience
The towns of Went and Obergurgl are nestled in the Otz valley in the Tyrol region of Austria, italian border. They sit at either end of a mountain valley, dotted with jagged peaks and lush green meadows. They appear in fairly similar, quintessentially picturesque mountain villages with chalets and steep roof peaks, but Vent and Obergergel are in different economic and social conditions. Although they were born from the same land and history, a new study Turns out that one of these cities is more likely to survive the changing times than the other.
Until the 19th century, the population of most alpine mountain villages sustained themselves through subsistence farming. But with the Industrial Revolution and global modernization, this traditional way of life became untenable for many communities and was largely replaced by tourism. Went and Obergergl employed different strategies as they transitioned tourism based economy, and now have opposite levels of community resilience.
The concept of community resilience borrows metrics from ecology, and measures how well a system can maintain its function after a disturbance. This study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria assessed resilience in Vent and Obergergel in a unique, longitudinal study that combined economic and social data with detailed interviews with city dwellers.
with him Alpine Research CenterThe University of Innsbruck has been actively researching this area for a long time,” said lead author Rike Stoughton in an interview with GlacierHub. “The upper Otz Valley was thoroughly investigated in the 1970s in a project in which ecological aspects were focused, but also included aspects of social change, and we got the idea to build on these experiences.”
The researchers found that in the vent, where residents were reluctant to alter the natural landscape and engage in heavy development, a more resilient society flourished. Rather than focusing solely on being a winter tourist destination like Obergurgl, Vent positioned itself as a year-round hiking destination.
Vent has seen continued collaboration between farmers and the tourism industry. While farmers do not produce enough food to fully supply hotels, some hoteliers in Went offer local produce and meat products on their menus. Many farmers have invested in hotels and vent chair lift companies, and the tourism sector sees maintaining the town’s farmlands as an important part of its appeal to tourists. A farm in Vent has begun hosting tourists at farm-stays, where visitors can take carriage rides and experience other farming activities. The research team also noted that many regional cultural traditions persist in the vent, and that the Tyrolean dialect is still spoken by many peoples.
Obergurgl continues to focus on being a destination for winter tourism, and is home to five chairlifts serving its ski slopes. The village has made little effort to encourage summer tourism, and food production is not of economic importance. Most of the population no longer lives in the Obergergl year-round, forcing many businesses to close and few services available in the summer months. The researchers noted that the police station in Obergurgl was also closed during the summer. As a result of the city’s focus on the economic success of the winter season, social and cultural resilience has been affected. The local dialect is spoken with less frequency, and church attendance, of great social importance in both Vent and Obergergl, has diminished.
Vent’s residents have made strides toward conservation and sustainability, but the people of Obergergl are less inclined to prioritize the environment. In the vent, residents have been hesitant to extend tourist bike paths that could negatively affect local fauna. In Obergergel, the influx of single-family vehicles during the ski season has caused congestion on local roads and necessitated the construction of multi-level parking garages. Hoteliers in Obergurgl have opposed making the city center a car-free zone. The researchers note that while both cities are facing the consequences of climate change, there is virtually no public discussion about global warming in Obergurgl.
“The elevation of both villages guarantees low temperatures to allow for the least amount of snow cover possible with artificial snow for years to come,” Stoughton explained. “Big problems will arise after the glaciers are gone after the glacier melts, as it will lead to water loss in the summer.”
Life is sure to change in both of these small mountain towns in the years to come, and Vent shows how the diversity of industry and the priority of preserving the natural world can allow a community to more effectively withstand coming storms.
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