Focusing on Sustainability and Well-Being, Key to Future of Mountain Tourism

Focusing on Sustainability and Well-Being, Key to Future of Mountain Tourism - TRAVELINDEX.comAndorra la Vella, Andorra, March 25, 2024 / TRAVELINDEX / Sustainability, premium tourism, product development and training were the main themes of the second day of the 12th edition of the World Congress on Snow, Mountain and Wellness Tourism, held over the last two days at the Andorra la Vella Congress Centre. Experts from the mountain tourism sector stressed the importance of the joint involvement of all public and private stakeholders to consolidate the sustainable dimension of the tourism offer.

• Professionals in the mountain tourism sector stress the need to consolidate the sustainable dimension of the tourism offer.
• This year’s edition is carbon neutral, after having calculated the carbon footprint of the Congress and offset the tonnes of CO2 in the Andorra National Greenhouse Gas Offset Market.
• The parish of Ordino takes over as host of the next edition to be held in 2026.

The first talk on the second day of the Congress was given by Sandra Carvao, Director of Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at UN Tourism, under the title Sharing is Living. An interactive reflection in which attendees at the Congress Centre and those who followed the day via streaming were asked to participate to understand their impressions of mountain tourism, what they believe to be the main challenges for the future, and what actions they are currently implementing to face each of these challenges. Climate change, flow management and ensuring that the benefits remain in the communities were some of the challenges identified as key challenges for the development of mountain tourism.

Working with passion and offering a quality product are essential for premium tourism.

Premium tourism in mountain areas and how to boost its growth all year round was the focus of debate at the first round table, with the participation of Hermann Fercher, General Director of Lech Zürs Tourism in Austria, Caroline Couret, CEO of Creative Tourism Network, Daniel Soucaze, General Manager of Pic du Midi in France and Carme Vidales Molina, Expert on initiatives, businesses and gastronomy, under the moderation of Betim Budzaku, CEO of Andorra Turisme. In his introductory remarks, Budzaku pointed out that “this market segment is looking for quality, safety and experiences. In the case of Andorra, it is growing and, to maintain this line, it is necessary, first, to define the product, but also to have a communication and international marketing plan, strategic partners such as National Geographic or Disney, and to offer a calendar of unique events”, he explained.

“It is not about status and prestige, but about quality of life, individual and collective wellbeing, with greater importance given to time, health and sustainability,” Fercher explained. “We must do something that makes us different, and we must do it with passion because the client values this passion and exclusivity”, continued Vidales, who gave the recipe for premium gastronomic tourism: “a unique ingredient, the premium standard made up of four elements: people (talented professionals), the environment (which must be sustainable), the spaces (welcoming places where you can feel at home), and the story (which must be one of enjoyment)”. Caroline Couret, for her part, spoke of creative tourism as part of the solutions to the future challenges of the sector: “It is a trend under which tourists want to get to discover the local culture by participating in creative and artistic activities with local actors, thus moving on to vocational tourism where the destination is chosen according to hobbies”, she pointed out.

Before the midday break, a round table on tourism products and emerging products was held to discuss how to create and diversify the mountain tourism offer. The round table was moderated by Michel Julian, Senior Programme Officer at UN Tourism, with the participation of Peter Mall, Director and Coordinator of the Austrian village of St. Anton, Domitien Détrie, Director General of the Agence des Pyrénees, and Jordi Serracanta, Councilor on Tourism and Sports of Ordino.

Peter Mall explained the historical evolution of the tourism sector in this Austrian town, conditioned by the arrival of the railway, making St Anton today a reference sports tourism destination, where important sporting events are held every year. Mall insisted on the concept of continuous work to “revive tourism and on the general feeling of responsibility to generate new infrastructures, facilities and services”.

Domitien Détrie, for his part, emphasised cross-border cooperation for the transformation of mountain tourism, insisting on the need to develop and promote the Pyrenees, but always “seeking a balance between the economic order and the preservation of the landscape and natural resources”. The Agence des Pyrénees is carrying out two projects (LIFE and Poctefa PITON) that aim to change the territorial focus based on new models that integrate the cross-border concept. The organization also works on the challenge of climate change in a strategic way and with a transnational vision with the deployment of circular solutions in mountain resorts which. According to Détrie, “the circular economy is currently underdeveloped in mountain tourism”. “Cross-border and European cooperation is a powerful tool for accelerating transformation trajectories”, he concluded.

Lastly, Jordi Serracanta explained to the attendees the tourist destination of the parish of Ordino, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and has been awarded the distinction of Best Tourism Village by UN Tourism. Serracanta stressed that “it is a territory ready to take on the challenge of offering a non-overcrowded product with Riberamunt, the project that allows Ordino to have a flow of tourists throughout the parish, 365 days a year”.

Sustainability is the way forward and must be pursued together.

In the afternoon, Mattia Storni, head of Marketing and Communications at the Saas-Fee Tourism Organisation (Switzerland), recognised Best Tourism Village by UN Tourism, and Sarisher Mann, founder of the Sustainable Alpine Tourism Initiative (SATI), took part in a dialogue-conversation moderated by Gottfried Bachler, president of Slow Food Carinita (Austria), under the title ‘Be inspired: sustainability is the way’. “Slow Food does not want to teach anything, nor dictate what should be done, nor is it a marketing brand. It is a global movement to ensure quality, real, local and transparent food about origin and process, offering a unique range of activities,” explained Bachler. “Sustainability is the way forward, it is important to take care of nature, it is our mantra to achieve a balance between the environment, economic growth and society”, remarked Storni, who explained the measures that are being implemented in Saas-Fee, while stressing that “it is a path that all destinations must share together”. For his part, Mann explained the main objectives of SATI: “We want to connect all stakeholders in the outdoor industry and make the processes sustainable, finding solutions that serve to learn from each other,” he explained.

The last round table of the Congress focused on education and training, and how to prepare staff for the change that technology will bring, with the participation of Franklin Carpenter, Director of Tourism Advisory, Horwath HTL (Spain), María Abellanet, president of the CETT in Barcelona and David Hailstones, Senior Vice President & Chief Operations Officer of Bella Vista Institute of Higher Education (Switzerland), under the moderation of Sonia Figueras, Programme Director of the UN Tourism Academy.

Carpenter said that “tourism is at a crossroads: we are currently accelerating climate change, and tourism rightly needs to encourage positive change”. “Artificial intelligence is key to fostering sustainable tourism and doing it faster,” he added, while encouraging attendees to use it for more sustainable and healthy tourism operations and to help reduce environmental impact. “AI is an opportunity for the sector and we must take advantage of it,” he concluded.

For Maria Abellanet, “training and knowledge are a key lever for sustainability, innovation and competitiveness of companies and destinations to achieve a more resilient tourism with a positive impact on people and the planet”. Abellanet is convinced that “trained professionals are the solution to the challenges of tourism”. Finally, Hailstones gave a presentation on change and change management, from the perspective of knowledge transfer, stressing that “the public and private sector must work more closely together and data must be shared”.

Before the closing session, Javier Corso, a National Geographic explorer, presented the documentary ‘Andorra al natural, the environment where ideas germinate’, a project carried out jointly with Andorra Turisme. This initiative aims to improve the impact of tourism on the environment and on people, providing a response to what can be done to ensure that the relationship between the environment and visitors is as fluid and respectful as possible for everyone. The team has set the objectives of the innovation process around three aspects: sports, wellness and premium tourism, forming six working teams in which they have sought to combine local talent with the impetus of international creatives and entrepreneurs.

A carbon neutral Congress

The Honourable Mr. Xavier Fernàndez, Junior Consul of the Encamp Commune, the Hon. Maria del Mar Coma, Mayor of Ordino, Ms. Natalia Bayona, Executive Director of UN Tourism, and M.I. Sr. Jordi Torres, Minister of Tourism and Trade of Andorra, closed the 12th edition of the Congress, which was attended by over 300 participants of 14 nationalities from all over the world and which, since its beginnings, has been a meeting point for the sector and a space for reflection and debate on the main challenges and objectives facing tourism and, in particular, mountain areas.

This year, for the first time, the carbon footprint of the Congress was calculated, with a final result of 16 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which were offset by the purchase of credits on the Andorra National Greenhouse Gas Offset Market. Those credits correspond to the project for the use of hydrobiodiesel, a 100% renewable fuel from the recycling of cooking oils, which was used in a pioneering way in the snow grooming machines during the World Cup that took place this year in Soldeu. Thanks to the calculation and its compensation, this year’s edition of the World Congress on Snow, Mountain and Wellness Tourism is carbon neutral.

Encamp, the host parish for this edition, has passed the baton to Ordino, which will become the host parish for the next edition in 2026.

Organised by the Government of Andorra and UN Tourism, with the collaboration of the Común (town council) of Encamp, the Congress also has the support of the other Comuns (town councils) of Andorra and two main sponsors: Andorra Telecom as technological sponsor and Creand Crèdit Andorrà, as financial sponsor.

World Congress on Snow, Mountain and Wellness Tourism
The Congress is an initiative of the seven Communes and the Government of Andorra, together with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), with the aim of creating a forum for permanent debate on the development and sustainability of tourism in mountain areas. It is organized every two years: the first edition was held in 1998 in Escaldes-Engordany and since then, each edition is organized in a different parish.

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