Stretching over a surface of 1.4 million square metres and costing about a billion francs to build, Andermatt Swiss Alps will be unlike any other Swiss mountain resort. TRAVEL INSIDE editor Urs Hirt talks to swissinfo.ch about how it came to be and where it’s headed.
swissinfo.ch: Is there room for a big resort like this in Switzerland?
Urs Hirt: In this region there’s nothing comparable. Up until now, it was a blank canvas.
Andermatt itself used to be a year-round health resort, and the Swiss military also played a big role there with its barracks. But since the departure of the army, both the image and economy of Andermatt have receded. It no longer plays much of a role in Swiss tourism.
swissinfo.ch: So it’s high time that something happened there?
U.H.: Exactly. It seems that at the local and regional level, both the interest and the necessary funding were lacking. So this is why the people of Andermatt and canton Uri were so eager to accept this project by Samih Sawiris. And since its introduction, support for it has been as high as 100 per cent.
swissinfo.ch: In terms of scale, is Andermatt Swiss Alps too large?
U.H.: At first I thought so, but I think with this sales apparatus behind it – and the current sales figures – it’ll be OK. The appropriate clientele is certainly there.
What’s key for the success of this project isn’t just the creation of the hotel, the apartments and villas. In addition, the right infrastructure has to be there.
It has to work in winter and in summer – which is why they’re planning a golf course, which will be tested this summer.
And in winter, the upgrade of the existing facilities will create a large and modern ski resort; that’s another trump card in terms of sales. Another advantage is the elevation. Compared with other locations, it’s relatively snow reliable – and that will become important with climate change.
There’ll also be a conference centre and a spa. So with this additional infrastructure, I think this project can be a real success. Meanwhile, the surroundings – the nature and the mountain panoramas – they work.
swissinfo.ch: What else is key for its success?
U.H.: What’s very important to me is that the operators of Andermatt Swiss Alps make sure that they can host events that attract worldwide attention. I’m thinking something like White Turf in St Moritz, WEF in Davos, the Menuhin Festival or the Swiss Tennis Open in Gstaad.
Because if you’ve got this infrastructure – the luxury Chedi hotel, the middle-class hotel like Radisson Blu, the golf course and the mountains – then you’ve got to try to bring in one or two top international events where the focus isn’t just on Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: About how long do you think it will take Andermatt Swiss Alps to establish itself?
U.H.: That’s difficult to say. It’s a continual process. The hotel will open in December. The sales are also underway. But by the time all of the infrastructure is ready, I think it’ll take about three years. It will probably take five to seven years before it’s really established in terms of hosting a big event or some business conferences.
swissinfo.ch: Could something like this happen elsewhere in Switzerland?
U.H.: You should never say never, but I believe it’s a one-off. It was somewhat of a coincidence that Sawiris came to the area and explored it via helicopter. And similar to his other objects, like in Egypt, it seems like he had the gut feeling that something could be done there.
Who knows when someone else with so much passion and financial clout would dare to initiate a similar project? It’s certainly extraordinary. Within the next ten or 20 years, I don’t think something else like this will happen in Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: And if another “Sawiris” were to come, is there be another “blank canvas” like Andermatt?
U.H.: (laughs) Well, it depends on whether the local people want it. In Andermatt, the people wanted it because there were hardly any jobs and hardly any tourists.
There are places high in the mountains of canton Glarus where there would be potential for improvements in infrastructure. But I have no idea whether the locals would want that.
Otherwise, I think the Swiss alps are fairly well developed.
Andermatt Swiss Alps project plans
Investment volume: CHF1.8 billion
1.4 million square metres of land
6 hotels (4- and 5-star) and approximately 850 rooms
Approximately 500 apartments, 25 private villas
35,000 square metres of commercial space
Sports and leisure centre
Congress and concert facilities for up to 600 people
Nearly 2,000 parking spaces
18-hole golf course
Chedi Andermatt hotel due to open December 2013
First apartments ready in 2014
(source: Andermatt Swiss Alps)