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Canton under fire for Americanisation of landscape

A foundation would like hiking trails and not greens dominating the alpine landscape Keystone

Switzerland's largest canton, Graubünden, is a favourite holiday destination for people wanting to get back to nature. But environmentalists accuse tourist officials of trying to ruin the canton's natural beauty with tacky attractions.

This content was published on August 4, 2000 - 11:01

The Swiss Foundation for Landscape Protection has asked the authorities in Graubünden to answer one simple question: are there any ethics left in tourism? The foundation is incensed by a number of projects in the pipeline, which are aimed at attracting a different type of tourist.

"I see in Graubünden and in other parts of Switzerland a tendency towards tourism resembling Disneyland, including fun parks and golf courses, and I think these kind of offers have nothing to do with the landscape, with nature or culture," says the head of the foundation, Raimund Rodewald.

He reels off a list of what he says will be no more than blights on a formerly pristine landscape: a theme park in the town of Disentis, a summer bob sled run - the longest in the world - new cable cars stretching from peak to peak, and more golf courses.

Rodewald calls these "high technology experiences which fail to bring visitors to the region closer to other values".

"These offers are in direct contradiction with what tourism should be in Switzerland, namely an experience which is much more adapted to natural and cultural values," Rodewald adds. He says if the trend continues it will eventually destroy tourism in Switzerland because these types of attractions are available anywhere in the world.

Tourist officials don't buy his arguments. "As far as I know this concerns only two or three projects," says the director of tourism in Graubünden, Olivier Federspiel. "I don't think that's enough to say that Graubünden doesn't care about its landscape or the countryside."

Federspiel says the builders of a new golf course on Rodewald's list will have to follow strict environmental guidelines approved by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

He also finds the criticism of the proposed theme park in Disentis unfair. He says it is still in the early development stage, and that such projects are economically important for towns like Disentis, which have few tourist attractions.

But Rodewald says Graubünden would do better to look at examples of how low-impact tourism can be marketed and profitable. He says "holidays on farms" and the recent launch of a national network of bicycle routes have proved extremely popular.

Federspiel doesn't deny that most visitors come to Graubünden for its natural beauty, and he agrees that development should not go too far. But he doesn't think the canton is in any danger yet.

He also has high hopes that the newly enlarged National Park will boost tourism in the region. On that point at least, he's in full agreement with Rodewald.

by Dale Bechtel

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