Table of Contents
2.2 Implications and Guidelines for Tour Operators
3 Ski Touring
3.2 Ski Tourers: Characteristics and Motivation
4 Tour Operators’ Adaption of Ecotourism Principles
4.1 Research Design and Procedure
4.2 Analysis and Findings
4.2.1 Understanding and Usage of Ecotourism
4.2.2 Ecological Measures
4.2.3 Socio-Cultural and Economic Measures
4.2.4 Educational Measures
4.2.5 Tourists’ Motivation and Interest
4.2.6 Impact Evaluation
Appendix A: Questionnaire
Appendix B: Questionnaire Results
7 Reference List
List of Figures
Figure 1: Importance of Local Elements for Ski Touring (Q 8; n = 34)
Figure 2: Information Provided to Tourists during Tours (Q 15; n = 34)
Figure 3: Motivation of Tourists (Q 13; n = 34)
Figure 4: Renownedness of the Term ‘Ecotourism’ (Q 1; n = 34)
Figure 5: Affiliation of the Term ‘Ecotourism’ (Q 2; n = 34)
Figure 6: Usage of the Term ‘Ecotourism’ for Marketing Purposes (Q 3; n = 34)
Figure 7: Offered Destinations (Q 4; n = 34)
Figure 8: Restriction of Group Size (Q 5; n = 33)
Figure 9: Shunning of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (Q 6; n = 34)
Figure 10: Precautions to Limit Disturbance of Wildlife & Vegetation (Q 7; n = 34)
Figure 11: Waste Management (Q 9; n = 34)
Figure 12: Compensation of Emissions (Q 17; n = 33)
Figure 13: Recommendation of Local Enterprises (Q 16; n = 33)
Figure 14: Cooperation with other Stakeholders (Q 12; n = 34)
Figure 15: Inclusion of Natural Activities (Q 10; n = 33)
Figure 16: Training Programme for Guides (Q 11; n = 34)
Figure 17: Tourists' Interest in Ecological & Socio-Cultural Aspects (Q 14; n = 34)
Figure 18: Overall Impact of Ski Touring (Q 18; n = 34)
List of Abbreviations
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„Tourism is almost wholly dependent on the environment. Natural resources (beaches, seas, mountains, lakes, rivers etc) and man made resources (historic cities, heritage buildings and sites, monuments etc) constitute the primary source of tourism. Any degradation of the primary sources is likely to lead to a decline of tourism“ (Koncul 2007: 158).
The problem Koncul describes here is tourism’s predicament: tourism utilises natural and socio-cultural resources to design a tourism product or service, but at the same time it impairs the assets from which it derives its benefits. To conquer the growing negative impacts from mass tourism, several alternative tourism forms have called for a more sustainable usage of finite resources (Duffy 2002: 13 – 14). Ecotourism is one of them. Honey (1999: 20) even claims that “because the tourism industry, more than any other, depends on a clean environment, it has embraced ecotourism as a means of survival.” Ecotourism is one form of nature tourism and a division of sustainable tourism that uses a holistic approach to manage all involved stakeholders, monitor tourism’s impacts and, as an ultimate aim, to provide the local destination with positive benefits (Drumm and Moore 2005: 15; Ceballos-Lascuráin 1993: 12).
As the principles of ecotourism primarily highlight the need to conserve and protect natural habitats, it is not surprising that mountain tourism, and especially snow-related activities, demonstrate a major action field for this tourism concept. By incident or not, this relation is nicely illustrated by the fact that 2002 was not only proclaimed the International Year of Ecotourism, but also the International Year of Mountains by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (CIPRA 2002: 7). The importance of mountain tourism should not be underestimated as “mountain areas are second only to coasts and islands as popular tourism destinations” (UNEP 2007a: 11), contributing about 15 to 20% to global annual tourism and growing at an enormous rate (UNEP 2007a: 6, 11). This demonstrates the urging need to develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism concepts for mountain regions.
Especially in the current times of climate change, winter mountain tourism is under pressure to adapt to the changing conditions or embrace new tourism concepts that mitigate the expected outcomes since snow-based tourism in mountain regions is highly dependent upon sufficient snow cover, and appropriate weather and climate conditions (Kundzewicz et al. 2008: 119). In this light, ecotourism seems to be one vital option as “the potential mountain resources for promoting ecotourism are enormous in the form of natural and cultural heritage, such as biosphere reserves, flora and fauna, lakes and rivers, and traditional rural resources” (Singh and Mishra 2004: 58). Against this backdrop, guided ski touring could be a potential ecotourism activity as ski tourers want to be closer to nature than, for instance, alpine skiers who just use predefined ski slopes in modified natural surroundings that are intensively altered to cater to the needs of these sportsmen. They also inherit a greater appreciation for nature and are more environmentally aware than their conventional skiing counterparts – and the interest in ski touring is growing (Deutscher Sportbund 2002: 26; BfN 2013). Even though ski tourers often go on their trips individually, the number and importance of guided ski touring providers is rising (Pomfret 2011: 502) since ski tourers also want to travel to new destinations. Guides then represent a source of security on whose expertise and knowledge of the area the ski tourers rely (Pomfret 2011: 508).
The question now is if providers of guided ski tours have recognised this trend yet and embrace ecotourism’s principles or at least apply them unintendedly. Furthermore, it needs to be assessed whether ski touring can even fulfil all of the demanded ecotourism criteria. Hence, this paper strives to answer the question To what extent do ski touring operators apply ecotourism criteria to their tours?
In order to answer this question, the concepts of ecotourism and ski touring will have to be defined more precisely by analysing secondary literature. After outlining what tour operators should do to comply with ecotourism principles and describing the potential impacts of ski touring on an environmental, economic and socio-cultural level, empirical research will be presented that gives further insights into the business conduct of ski touring providers. Finally, the analysis of the study will provide insights into the current stance of ski touring tourism and its relatedness to ecotourism.
It has long been recognised that conventional mass tourism has negative environmental impacts (Wall 1997: 489). Due to the fact that natural resources are finite but tourist numbers are still growing, there is a definite need for more sustainable tourism practices. Ecotourism is often identified as a resolution for this dilemma. At a most basic level, ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conservers the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES 2013). However, scholars have developed much more detailed definitions, leaving the tourism industry with a confusing multitude of different facets of the same concept (Wall 1997: 483).
This chapter thus analyses the most important aspects representing the concept of ecotourism. As tour operators are identified as one pivotal figure to promote the development of ecotourism (Drumm and Moore 2005: 53 – 54), it will also be assessed in which way tour operators can design their products to cater to the needs of ecotourism.
The term ecotourism has been a buzzword in the tourism world for a long time now. Rooting back in the latter half of the 1980’s, ecotourism was a reaction to the tourism industry’s call for more sustainable practices (Diamantis and Ladkin 1999: 37). Over the years, much confusion has been caused by the plethora of existing definitions, the often misconceived perception of ecotourism and its confusion with other tourism forms such as adventure tourism, nature-based tourism or sustainable tourism (Franch et al. 2008: 6 – 7). So, how can ecotourism be defined and what are its characteristics?
To begin with, one has to acknowledge that a single definition of ecotourism is not feasible (Franch et al. 2008: 7). According to Diamantis and Ladkin (1999: 38) it is more advisable “to treat ecotourism as a spectrum with a variety of products rather than attempting to define ecotourism from a specific stance or product”. Yet, scientific literature agrees that there are common elements which distinguish ecotourism from other sustainable tourism forms, namely the destination (1), its conservationist aims (2), the included educational elements (3), ecotourism’s impacts (4) and the motivational background of ecotourists (5).
When it comes to the first criterion, all scholars agree on the fact that ecotourism is a form of nature-based travel, meaning that the involved tourists travel to natural, near-natural or protected areas to admire natural attractions (Drumm and Moore 2005: 15; Duffy 2002: 2; FSFTL 2002: 12; Niekisch 1997: 15; Strasdas 2001: 4; Weaver and Lawton 2007: 1170; Singh and Mishra 2004: 58). Most definitions stress that the ecotourism concept is exceptionally well suited for developing countries as they are mostly in the initial phase of their tourism development and can build on many of their untapped natural resources and local labour markets (Wester 1993: 8; Franch et al. 2008: 7). While protected areas were for a long time seen as the most significant ecotourism destinations, other natural and near-nature destinations are becoming more and more relevant as ecotourism venues (Weaver and Lawton 2007: 1170, 1175) which makes ski touring in backcountry areas of mountains also a potential ecotourism activity as will be discussed later (Chapter 3).
The emphasis put on the destination, though, does not imply that ecotourism is only nature tourism. What differentiates it is the weight given to nature conservation (Wester 1993: 8; Drumm and Moore 2005: 15; Duffy 2002: 15). Blangy and Wood (193: 32) even go as far as claiming that “this type of travel is dependent upon the conservation of wildland resources” as it constitutes one of the major reasons why ecotourists travel to a certain destination. Funding for conservation is often scarce and ecotourism can be a mean to provide nature protection projects with further income (Behrens, Bednar-Friedl & Getzner 2009: 234). In this context, it is necessary to emphasise the fact that tourism and nature conservation are seen as two allies who mutually reinforce each other (Spittler 2001: 3 – 4). “Attracting more visitors who are willing to pay for their recreation benefits, and for provision of information and education can be used … for conservation funding” (Behrens, Bednar-Friedl & Getzner 2009: 249).
Tourists who support the cooperation between tourism and nature conservation also have a strong desire to learn about the natural area they are visiting, as well as the connected ecosystem, its wildlife, flora and fauna (Duffy 2002: 2). If it is not one of the major motivators, it should be at least a component of the trip to build environmental awareness among tourists (Strasdas 2001: 10), but also locals should be instructed on environmental issues (Honey 1999: 22) as they are inevitably included in the creation of the tourism product. If local communities are opposed to nature conservation, it seems unlikely that the environment will be at the forefront of their concerns in the long run. The educational component therefore is of vital concernment in ecotourism, meaning that tourists should be sensitised not only for the natural, but also socio-economic impacts of their behaviour at the destination (Strasdas 2001: 5). In an optimal case it should lead the ecotourist to take “a more active position, involving behavioural / lifestyle changes by the participants together with actions that contribute to environmental conservation and local livelihoods” (Cater 2001: 4166).
The mentioned socio-economic work field of ecotourism leads to the concept’s next characteristic: impacts. Until now, positive ecological outcomes were highlighted, but socio-cultural effects should not be left unheeded. On the one hand, ecotourism must show respect for local cultures and traditions (Drumm and Moore 2005: 15) and give the tourist a “chance to learn about local culture, history and environment” (Duffy 2002: 18). On the other hand, it also means that local communities have to have a voice when it comes to tourism planning. Participation and inclusion of the local community play a vital role in ecotourism (Duffy 2002: 17 – 18; Dumm and Moore 2005: 15) as it longs to create socio-economic benefits for locals and indigenous populations. To sum it all up, ecotourism “provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people” (Honey 1999: 23) to support their local economy and give them a chance to sustainably use and promote their natural resources for tourism.
As can easily be inferred from the above mentioned characteristics, ecotourism wants to trigger positive impacts. While nature tourism only implies that the chosen destination is a natural one and “is merely a factual description of a certain market segment, regardless of its impacts” (Strasdas, Corcoran & Petermann 2002: 6), ecotourism wants to improve local conditions on an environmental, socio-cultural and economic level. Orams (1995: 5) here stresses that “ecotourists should attempt to do more than simply minimize impacts”. It is all about creating positive, or at least neutral, impacts that would not have been possible without the existence of ecotourism (Strasdas 2001: 8). Hence, ecotourism is a part of sustainable tourism development (Drumm and Moore 2005: 15; Duffy 2002: 3), but only caters to the needs and wants of a small tourism niche segment (Strasdas 2001: 7) as it is strongly nature-related and demands an intense educational and motivational willingness from the tourists’ side.
For the purpose of this paper and based on the above mentioned characteristics, ecotourism will be defined as “travel to fragile, pristine, and [naturally unmodified] areas that strives to be low impact and (usually) small scale. It helps educate the traveller; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and human rights” (Honey 1999: 25).
2.2 Implications and Guidelines for Tour Operators
So far, ecotourism has been defined from a rather theoretical perspective. In order to bring this concept to living, it has to be implemented within the tourism industry so that tourists can recognise it as a viable option for their holidays. In the end, “ecotourism also relies on the individual exercising power through choices about consumption” (Duffy 2002: 10). One of the options to bring tourists in touch with this concept are tour operators. Tour operators are one of the major touch points for tourists as they combine the services of various service providers to one package, e.g. an overnight stay at a hotel, transport and guided tours at the destination (Mundt 2013: 377; Freyer 2009: 209 – 213). Hence, they have the possibility to choose among tourism suppliers and select more sustainable ones. But according to which criteria should tour operators select tourism service providers? And how can tour operators implement ecotourism criteria to achieve the above mentioned positive impacts for local communities, the environment and economy?
Firstly, one should notice that tourists are increasingly demanding ‘greener’ products. They esteem the provision of sustainable products (Drumm et al. 2004: 75), and especially in the ecotourism segment a sound handling of natural resources is called for as the interaction with the destination’s ecosystem is one of the tourists’ major motivators to take part in ecotourism. In this respect, “adopting good practices can help operators develop a positive reputation and recognition as a responsible operator among tourists who are increasingly showing a preference for sustainable products and suppliers who demonstrate good social and environmental practices” (UNEP 2007a: 14). A positioning as a responsible ecotourism provider can constitute a major marketing advantage over other tour operators (Drumm et al. 2004: 75). However, only few tour operators actually use the term ecotourism for promotional purposes (WTO 2001: 5). This is also true for mountaineering operators that concentrate on peak experience and skill development in their marketing material (Pomfret 2011: 503).
Yet, ecotourism tours are becoming more and more relevant and so become criterions which indicate to tourists if their chosen tour operator adheres to ecotourism principles. For evaluative purposes tour operators should check the following criteria when designing their packages. Tourists can also use them as a means to investigate whether their chosen supplier adheres to ecotourism criteria. Because of the limited scope of this work, only general guidelines can be named at this point.
With regards to ecological criteria, tour operators should ensure that waste produced during their tours is carried back home and recycled properly. Furthermore, the use of renewable energy is demanded for offices and accommodation, and transportation should optimally be planned together with other operators conducting business in the same region as to avoid unnecessary routes and reduce emissions. Due to the nature-based activities it is also highly recommended to take care of wildlife and fauna needs, for instance by keeping noise levels at a minimum and avoid disturbances. Support of nature conservation projects, nature interpretation and education should also be elements of the offered tours to increase tourists’ awareness levels. Optimally, clients are given handy tools and knowledge they can also apply when they are back at home. Another plus would be to tender clients the offset of carbon emissions during the booking process (UNEP 2007b; Drumm et al. 2004: 70).
Concerning social factors, it is of major importance that local guides are employed and ongoing training possibilities are provided, especially to further deepen guides’ knowledge of the possible impacts of tourism activities. Guides should also be able to advise their clients on appropriate behaviour in the given context (e.g. customs, traditions, but also environmentally sound behaviour) to keep negative impacts at a minimum or avoid them completely. The interaction with local communities is also a relevant planning component for tour operators. To what extent are locals involved in tourism planning and development? Do they benefit economically? Does the tour provider order supplies from local businesses? All these factors should be considered to steer towards more ecotourism-friendly business conducts which avail local communities (UNEP 2007b; Drumm et al. 2004: 70).
When these criterions are kept in mind during the planning phase of the tourism product and are rechecked periodically, the tour operator has made an essential contribution to design an ecotourism product.
3 Ski Touring
As ecotourism involves travel to natural areas, ski touring might qualify as a potential ecotourism activity. After all, ski tourers travel into mountain regions to conduct their sport and are usually more prone to learn about nature. Still, other ecotourism principles need to be considered, i.e. environmental consequences and effects on local culture and economy.
In order to shine a light on these manifold effects, ski touring, the participating tourists and their characteristics have to be defined more precisely. An assessment of the possible impacts of ski touring will follow and leads to the illustration of the current stance of ecotourism in ski touring.
Even though alpine skiing and ski touring are related winter sports activities, research has focused much more heavily on the description and analysis of the former one. This can easily be exemplified by a simple online research. While the search term ‘ski touring’ only yields 56 hits, mostly dealing with avalanches or medical issues, ‘skiing’ produces 9,055 and ‘alpine skiing’ 504 hits (online search on 04/01/2013 on www.sciencedirect.com).
Nevertheless, ski touring is becoming more and more popular (ASTAT 2010: 1; ASTAT 2011: 1; Deutscher Sportbund 2002: 26), but data on the participating skiers is almost inexistent. Only vague and regionally valid estimates are available in terms of numbers. Frenzel (2004: 650) proposes that the number of ski tourers has decupled from 1984 to 1994. Between 200,000 and 250,000 Germans are considered to participate in ski touring, with each ski tourer undertaking an average of ten tours per year which adds up to more than two million tours every year (Reuther 2000: 49). Data from the USA assume that ski touring has grown by 22.5% from 1984/85 to 1993/94, which results in a total of 3.7 million North American ski tourers (BCMSRM 2003: 4). Next to these numbers, there is an evident distinction between alpine skiing and ski touring concerning the location, technical equipment and sportsmen’s motivation.
With regards to the needed outdoor resources, both skiing and ski touring require a mountain location and snow; that is to say they need to take place in winter (UNEP 2007a: 12). However, ski tourers spend most of their time in the backcountry of the mountains (BCMSRM 2003: 2), owing to the mostly unspoiled downhill skiing possibilities. To get into the backcountry, many ski tourers use chair lifts in existing ski areas, but then access the backcountry on their own on unmaintained slopes or by finding their own paths through the mountains (Spector et al. 2012: 423).
When it comes to the required gear to take part in ski touring, one cannot simply use standard skis. To climb a mountain on skis, unlocked ski fittings are needed to have more latitude; to prevent sliding away on the snow, climbing skins are attached to the skis; and finally special ski touring shoes are available which offer more comfort for the two main activities in ski touring: climbing and downhill skiing (BfN 2013).
3.2 Ski Tourers: Characteristics and Motivation
As remarked earlier, literature on ski touring is scarce and thus the motivation of ski tourers is not well researched, but as this sport is also considered a mountaineering activity (Pomfret 2006: 114; Pomfret 2011: 502) and an adventure sport (Jedzik 1997: 154) conclusions from research into the motivation of these two groups can be utilised to draw a further distinction between alpine skiing and ski touring.
When looking at mountain tourists in general, one of their primary motivations is to “view the area’s natural environment, to actively recreate in the outdoor environment, and to experience the area’s hospitality” (Kariel and Draper 1992: 99). Furthermore, UNEP (2007a: 15) states that tourists to mountain regions are showing more and more interest in educational elements within their holidays, concerning local culture, the mountain ecosystem and nature conservation.
Studies into the more concrete motivations of mountaineers and adventure tourists have shown that those tourists usually have a higher interest in culture, nature and environment and put more effort in preparing for their trip than traditional tourist segments. As they are also active sportsmen, mountaineers are looking for physical challenge and a degree of risk in their mountaineering activities (Jedzik 1997: 160 – 162). Pomfret (2006: 116 - 118; 2011: 507) also analysed that skill development in the undertaken sport, sensation seeking and a certain experience of risk, personal satisfaction through achieving a set aim, nature experience and “insight or enlightenment through interaction with nature” (Pomfret 2011: 507) are major motivators for mountaineers. Finally, mountaineers usually are attached to the regions they visit, meaning that they develop long-term relationships to the mountain area and their communities, are more aware of their social impacts and reflect on their impacts on the destination (Johnston and Edwards 1994: 470).
Narrowing this down to ski tourers, one comes to a further difference between alpine skiers and ski tourers. People who take their time to access the backcountry mainly without technical aids, such as gondolas and ski lifts, are looking for a much deeper experience of nature (BfN 2013) and search after wilderness (BCMSRM 2003: 2). There is much more focus on the natural setting itself as the mountain is looked at as a challenge one has to overmaster and not solely as a requisite for the sport. In addition, being the first one to place a ski track on an untouched hill and the peak experience when arriving at the top of the mountain are two more factors that distinguish ski tourers from alpine skiers (BfN 2013).
For the purpose of this paper, ski touring will thus be defined as a snow-dependent backcountry activity in a mountain setting which includes climbing a mountain top with special ski touring equipment and downhill skiing from that point on unmaintained slopes. Use of technical equipment, such as gondolas and ski lifts, is kept to a minimum. The prime motivation of this activity is to be close to nature and a sense of adventure besides the maintained slopes of existing ski areas.
As any other activity that is carried out in a natural environment, ski touring can have both positive and negative impacts. Especially mountain regions depict fragile ecosystems with a limited carrying capacity (UNEP 2007a: 46) which, vice versa, are also the main pull factors for ski touring. As ski touring can be performed in various regions of the world, from the European Alps to the Himalayas, this paper can only examine the most basic impacts which ski touring might have on an ecological, economic and a socio-cultural level. For instance, winter tourism in the Austrian and Swiss Alps mostly takes advantage of natural resources and is embedded in a well functioning local economy. As such, it already fulfils many necessities of ecotourism (CIPRA 2002: 5 – 9; FSFTL 2002: 12). However, in many other mountain destinations this is not the case (UNEP 2007a: 6). It should be noted that “judgements about ecotourism for a particular site must be done within the context of the area’s conservation objectives” (Drumm and Moore 2005: 19) and need to be further researched in advanced studies. But “as a general rule, impacts will increase with larger numbers of visitors, more direct forms of contact, and with repeated use of the same viewing and interaction areas” (UNEP 2007a: 26).
The most often discussed impacts from mountaineering activities refer to the ecosystem. If not controlled for, uncoordinated mountain tourism can seriously harm the local ecosystem (Singh and Mishra 2004: 58). In general, off-piste skiers enter local habitats that are mainly undisturbed by human activities and accordingly present a stress factor for wildlife, flora and fauna (BCMSRM 2003: 3). However, many ski areas do not consider this topic in their information policies due to the unknown numbers and members of off-piste and backcountry skiing (Spector et al. 2012: 423). Depending on the destination and the affected species, it has to be determined if ski touring and other snow-related activities are to be banned from certain regions as “some species are capable of adapting to disturbances … [while] others are much more stressed and therefore vulnerable to human impact” (Behrens, Bednar-Friedl & Getzner 2009: 250). A proof for this claim has been provided by a field study in Northern Sweden by Neumann, Ericsson and Dettki (2010: 513 – 518). They found that off-piste skiing disturbs moose which results in a temporary relocation of the animals. This is no problem if the animals are in good condition, but more flight behaviour negatively impinges on their energy needs and might be deathly for weaker individuals (BfN 2013). Overall the researchers concluded that “off-trail human activity such as backcountry skiing is less predictable for wildlife than on-trail skiing activity” (Neumann, Ericsson & Dettki 2010: 516 – 517). On a more general level, it can be said that winter sportsmen generally intrude habitats that serve as havens for wildlife (Alpine Ecological Network 2011) and as a result evoke unpredictable stress situations for the ecosystem.
There is also specific impact assessment of ski touring available which proclaims that ski touring is more ecologically sound than other snow-related winter activities as ski tourers do not use mechanical equipment to access the backcountry. Furthermore, the area affected by ski touring is relatively confined since ski tourers can only go short distances on one day (Frenzel 2004: 650). Furthermore, these sportsmen are generally willing to accept visitor management measures such as signposting as long as there are acceptable alternatives at hand (Reuther 2000: 50).
In this context, the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV, German Alpine Association) and the Bavarian Department of the Environment initiated the project Skibergsteigen Umweltfreundlich (Environmentally-Friendly Ski Touring) in 1995. It is a forum for stakeholders to discuss environmental impacts of ski touring on the local mountain ecosystem. The aim of the project is to minimise negative impacts, find suitable route alternatives for ski tourers where environmental harm is too vast and to improve general awareness levels for environmentally sound ski touring. It is one possible tool for individual ski tourers and ski touring providers to inform themselves about recommendable ski touring routes (Reuther 200: 48; Fraktion die Grünen im Bayerischen Landestag 2002: 76 – 80; DAV 2011: 1 – 2). Even though the project is not as widely known as wished for and only represents a solution for the German ski touring market (Reuther 2000: 50), it is a valuable impetus for other ski touring organisations to coordinate involved stakeholders for the better of the environment.
However, negative environmental impacts should not be underestimated. Some ski tourers take routes through protection forests which were installed as barriers against avalanches and erosion. Especially individual transport to and from the destination causes massive emissions (Deutscher Sportbund 2002: 26). Lastly, vegetation can be damaged by the sharp edges of skis if the snow cover is insufficient (BfN 2013).
Some studies also assessed how tourists perceive their personal influence on wildlife and the ecosystem. For instance, only one in every fifth backcountry skier is aware of the personal negative impacts on wildlife and vegetation (Wöss 19997 as cited in Sterl, Brandenburg & Arnberger 2008: 136). A survey of backcountry skiers also came to the conclusion that 95% of these winter sportsmen assess their sport as being environmentally-friendly while only 30% are aware of their potential impacts on wildlife. 60% of skiers think that their activities only marginally harm vegetation. Lastly, ski touring is not associated with wildlife disturbance in the opinion of 55% of ski tourers (Bertl 1998 as cited in Sterl, Brandenburg & Arnberger 2008: 136).
Although the data might be outdated by now and new research should be undertaken, it demonstrates that ski tourers lack awareness in terms of the ecological impacts of mountaineering activities in general and of ski touring specifically. As shown by the consulted scientific sources, ski touring does have negative environmental impacts which can be overcome by proper planning, education, information dispersal and including nature protection activities in the ski touring offers.
In contrast, economic and socio-cultural aspects have not received nearly as much attention as the ecological outcomes of ski touring. While some authorities aver that there is revenue potential for winter ecotourism businesses, they also underline the fact that it is a rather limited niche market. The main problem is that most ski tourers go on their tours without any guides and use small huts and cabins which do not create large amounts of local income (BCMSRM 2003: 4). Frenzel (2004: 651) also raises another problem: as ski tourers do not make large use of ski area infrastructure usually, for instance lifts and gondolas, the local value chain suffers. They often benefit from complimentary public car parks and climb ski pistes without buying a lift ticket which does not contribute to local income.
Literature also offers other points of view. Tourism is always a source of income and employment for locals, especially in mountain regions, which might push the local economy and stops emigration due to unemployment (Kariel and Draper 1992: 101). The European Alps are a perfect example for this development. There has been a massive tourism infrastructure development in the last decades which is already part of the local culture. Infrastructure, gastronomy and accommodation services have been set up by locals in a response to the growing tourism demand. The value created by tourism activities thus mostly stays in the destinations as tourists spend most of their holiday time in their chosen destination and e.g. eat at locally-owned restaurants and book their overnight stays at regionally managed hotels which in turn employ locals (CIPRA 2002: 9).
The drawbacks of ski touring can also be essential as any interaction with locals also causes a cultural response, adaption or acculturation. Some communities and cultures change their value systems and / or lifestyles, and lose their former sense of community (Kariel and Draper 1992: 101). Franch et al. (2008: 11) found that many winter tourists are not as interested in learning about local culture compared to summer tourists to the same destination which poses a further threat to the local community.
All those spheres need to be managed by tour operators. They should already be included in any planning activities for ski touring offers. Assessment checklists, e.g. by UNEP (2007b), can assist in following the right strategy. Summing it all up, “mountain-based tour operators can have considerable influence in minimizing negative impacts and promoting positive impacts by adopting good environmental and social practices in their tour operations” (UNEP 2007a: 14).
4 Tour Operators’ Adaption of Ecotourism Principles
The previous chapters illustrated that nature protection and tourism can go hand in hand. Yet, the involved tourism providers need to adapt certain criteria to fulfil the various aims that ecotourism demands. As ski touring operators should have an inherent interest in a sound environment, it is assumed that they are tourism providers who should warmly embrace this tourism concept. But have ski touring providers really adapted any of the mentioned measures?
To be able to appraise the current stance of ecotourism in ski touring, an online survey was conducted which helps to understand the relevance of ecotourism to tour operators, while also giving an insight into tourists’ motivation and consumption patterns.
4.1 Research Design and Procedure
As research on ski touring operators’ adherence to ecotourism principles is scarce, it was decided to conduct an online survey to assess the current situation of ecotourism in relation to guided ski touring services. For this purpose, 166 ski touring operators were contacted via email to answer an online questionnaire designed with the help of www.q-set.de (Appendix A, page 24). The addresses of the tour operators were taken from the websites of the Association of German Mountain and Skiing Guides (VDBS 2013) and the Association of Austrian Mountain and Skiing Guides (VÖBS 2013).
The survey was conducted from 13th of January until 1st of February 2013 and the questionnaire was offered in German as all of the contacted tour operators are either situated in Germany or Austria. 34 of the contacted tour operators filled in the questionnaire, resulting in a response rate of approximately 20.48%. Respondents were able to skip questions during the survey so that some questions were only answered by 33 partakers. All survey results are rounded to the second decimal and are given as percentages of the partakers who answered the respective question.
The online questionnaire consists of 19 questions which long to analyse if the concept of ecotourism is known to the tour operators; whether or not the offered ski tours take care of the ecological, socio-cultural and economic impacts of their offer; and how they assess the interest and motivation of their clients. To cover the most important issues relating to ecotourism, the self-assessment guide of UNEP for mountain tour operators was used as a basis for the questionnaire (UNEP 2007b).
Due to the limited scope of this work only a short analysis of the pros and cons of online surveys can be given. Surveys are a means of quantitative research and give a “quantitative or numeric description of trends, attitudes, or opinions of a population by studying a sample of that population” (Creswell 2009: 12) that helps to provide answers to research questions (Robson 2011: 250). They can either be conducted face-to-face, via telephone or internet, or sent via post (Robson 2011: 238; Fantapié Altobelli 2007: 37). Since the population of interest was precisely known, i.e. tour operators offering guided ski tours, and due to time constraints and the geographic dispersion of those elements, an online survey seemed most suitable for the research purpose.
As with any other research method, online surveys possess certain drawbacks. For instance, the wording and order of questions can bias the survey results (McQuarrie 2012: 133 – 135; Robson 2011: 240; Fantapié Altobelli 2007: 42). Should the respondent face difficulties in answering one of the questions, the interviewer cannot clarify them as online surveys are asynchronous in time and space which presents a disadvantage compared to e.g. face-to-face surveys. Furthermore, the survey environment cannot be controlled by the researcher (Fantapié Altobelli 2007: 42). Another point of criticism of the conducted online survey is the fact that it could not be pretested so that e.g. confusing wording could not be identified beforehand (Robson 2011: 264).
However, the advantages of an online survey clearly outnumbered its disadvantages in relation to the paper’s objectives as it allowed the researcher to collect large amounts of data that would otherwise not have been collectable (Robson 2011: 239). The “ability to deliver precise numerical estimates” and the “superior objectivity” (McQuarrie 2012: 130, 131) also justify the use of an online survey. Other conveniences include the minimised time requirements to collect and analyse the survey data, neglectable distribution costs, and the perceived anonymity of respondents that allows to question respondents on sensible topics such as business practices (Fantapié Altobelli 2007: 42).