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Alpine tourism Why hikers want the wild taken out of wilderness

A hiker in shorts and with walking sticks, shown from the waist down.
(Keystone / Melanie Duchene)

A new effort to promote hiking in the Alps will strike a chord with northern Europeans – it illustrates how they can enjoy the outdoors without having to give up any creature comforts.

The campaign, titled “Nature wants you back”, is the brainchild of the national tourist board, Switzerland Tourism, designed to win over Europeans, specifically Germans, French, Dutch and British, who bring the greatest potential for boosting tourism numbers. They are low-hanging fruit due to their relative proximity to Switzerland, cultural similarities, and track record of spending a few daysexternal link, rather than just a few hours, in the country. 

For Switzerland Tourism’s campaign external linkto be a success – and we’ll only know once summer is over – the agency had to understand, in today’s digital, performance-driven societies, how much value these groups place on being in the great outdoors.

Thanks to the results of a survey carried out in the targeted countries, the answer is ‘a lot’, but there are interesting nuances.

The Swiss outdoors stands for “soft adventure”, not a “survival trip”, said Michael Hermann of the Zurich-based Sotomo research agency, presenting the results (in Germanexternal link) earlier this week.

The questionnaire, completed by more than 5,000 people in the four countries and Switzerland, was lengthy, asking people to define where they can best unwind after a stressful day at the office, given the option of being in the outdoors, at home, outside in their garden or balcony, or in a city or town.

Spending time outdoors was the place of preference for the Swiss and was neck and neck with ‘at home’ among the Germans and French. The British stood out as the only couch potatoes among them, with less than half seeking the outdoors as a way of escaping the pressures of the workplace.

Graphic
(swissinfo.ch)

Most relevant for the Swiss alpine tourist industry is learning just why these Europeans, including even the less ambitious British, like being outdoors (because they enjoy nature and can relax) and which activities help them unwind the most.

Graphic
(swissinfo.ch)

Asked for their preferred accommodation if they were to holiday in the Alps, the people questioned said that they would not want to do without a hot shower or comfy bed. These two creature comforts matter much more than mobile phone reception.

Graphic
(swissinfo.ch)

Yet when it comes to the ubiquitous smartphone, few would leave it behind, or turn it off, saying they want it at hand to call for help in an emergency and secondly, to take and share pictures.

Graphic
(Keystone / Antthony Anex)

The people surveyed were not asked to name a destination where their dream hiking holiday could come true. But if they had been, Switzerland may well have come top or near the top of their list since its well-known postcard villages and mountain hotels dotted throughout the Alps are connected by an extensive network of roads and footpaths.

Yet, Switzerland Tourism says it could do even better marketing these aspects.

“It’s not as well known abroad as it could be how safe and comfortable it is to hike here, and how easy it is to reach the trails by public transport,” spokeswoman Sabrina Brack explained. “We’ll put the accent on ‘Soft Adventure’ in the images we use in our communications.”

Alpine hiking by the numbers

65,000 kilometres of trails

60% of all summer visitors to Switzerland hike at least once during their stay

The Swiss themselves account for around 60% of all hikers in the country, with Germans a distant second at 12.5%.

Great views, good weather, and well-marked trails are the three things cited as most important for an optimal hiking holiday.

Contact the author on Twitter @dalebechtel


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