IMG_6412 Hiking trail in Kazbegi National Park (photo by A. Michel 2022)

Influence of Alpine Clubs on Tourism in Switzerland and Georgia

Written by Aleksandre Davitashvili, Cedric Gehrer & Dennis Wild, a collaboration between students of the Tbilisi State University and the University of Zurich

The Alps are one of the most important parts of Switzerland and also the biggest. In fact, 60% of the country's area are taken from them. However only 11% of Switzerland's population live in alpine regions as well as 23% of the country's area is above 2000 meters above sea level (EDA 2019). Therefore, it is not surprising that the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) is an essential partner for alpine tourism, due to opening the possibility for hikers and mountain explorers to spend the night in some of the highest located sleeping facilities in Switzerland (Swiss Alpine Club 2022). The club was founded in 1863 with the interest of the local people rising to "explore their own summits" (Gurtner 2008: 81). For today's alpine tourism in Switzerland, the SAC formed a big role in its early stages of existence due to having the interest of producing national maps for the mountain regions. "The Alpine Club produced 35 maps until 1900" (Gurtner 2008: 83), however the spokesman of the SAC, Eduard Imhof, a professor at ETH, pleaded for large scale maps "covering the whole country" (Gurtner 2008: 83). By convincing the minister of defence, the starting point for Swiss national topographic maps were made. There were almost no accommodations in the early ages of alpine tourism, with the first hotel at Zermatt built in 1850 (Gurtner 2008: 83). After the founding of the Alpine Club, the first hut for hikers was built shortly after. Nowadays, around 150 huts of the SAC in the Swiss alps can be found which offer a place to sleep for over 9000 people in total. These huts are accessible for everyone, even if you are not a member of the club, although members can expect a reduction in the price for an overnight stay (Swiss Alpine Club 2020). Without the Swiss Alpine Club, tourism in Swiss mountain regions would probably not be the same today.

Georgia is located to the south of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, which was hidden behind the Iron Curtain for world tourism for almost a century until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Mountains cover 65% of the country's territory and it is not surprising that winter tourism plays a big role in Georgian tourism. Visitors to mountain ski resorts in Georgia between 2011 and 2018 increased by 491% (MRDC 2018). It is the merit of the "Mountain Resorts Development Company" (MRDC) which was established in 2013 and is a subordinated entity of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia. MRDC manages all the country's mountain ski resorts: Gudauri, Bakuriani, Mestia, Goderdzi, and is responsible for various aspects that this resort has to offer: all levels of ski slopes, winter hiking routes, hotels and guesthouses (MRDC 2018). But if you wonder what role Georgian alpine clubs play in the country's tourism development, unfortunately, it is insignificant. The reason behind this is that after the fall of the Soviet Union and the gained independenccy an ongoing civil war followed and the country's well-developed Soviet period alpine clubs were left without any finances and all the infrastructures, huts, and mountaineering archives were destroyed (Levan 2015).

EDA, PRS (2019): Bundesamt für Landestopographie swisstopo, Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU) [accessed 19 November 2022]:

Gurtner, M. (2008). The Swiss Alpine Club SAC and its role in national mapping.
Proceedings of the 6th ICA Mountain Cartography Workshop, 11-15 Feb. 2008, Lenk,
Switzerland, p.81-84.

Levan, G. (2015): Mountaineering [accessed 19 November 2022]:

MRDC (2018): Mountain resorts of Georgia [accessed 19 November 2022]:

Swiss Alpine Club (2022) [accessed 19 November 2022]:

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