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Opportunities and Drawbacks for Alpine Tourism Under Climate Change  

Franz Prettenthaler and Christoph Neger

Alpine tourism both contributes to the generation of greenhouse gases and suffers the consequences of climate change. This has been apparent in many destinations since the late 20th century and will exacerbate further in the future. It will particularly affect the winter season, which relies heavily on snow-based activities. Since the early 21st century, these effects have largely been dealt with by the use of artificial snowmaking, which will remain an important tool for alpine tourism destinations, despite increasing efforts and costs. The effects of climate change will not be ubiquitous but, rather, will impact low-lying and less prepared resorts first, whereas those in higher elevations and with the necessary infrastructure might even benefit in the short term by shifts in tourist flows away from less attractive sites. Long term, however, climate change is a serious issue for all alpine winter sports destinations, particularly because customers might lose interest in winter activities. Regarding summer tourism, the future looks brighter, and many authors even expect an increase in tourism as other areas such as the Mediterranean become less attractive. Yet other researchers are skeptical of setting too high hopes in these projections because the situation is much more complex than assumed in many models and scenarios, considering for instance the distinct temperature preferences of visitors practicing different tourism activities. The uncertainties regarding the future of alpine tourism are even greater when climate policy, directed toward the mitigation of climate change, is taken into account as well. In this regard, to date there have been no significant impacts, but this might change under future, more extreme climatic conditions, which could lead to bolder policy actions. Moreover, consumers might change their travel preferences, favoring less carbon-intensive alternatives.