Mountain huts in Switzerland : a niche market or a growing economy ?
In Switzerland, the trend of « alpinism » started around the late 1770’s. British men, hungry for challenges and full of courage, came to the Swiss Alps in order to conquer its numerous summits. Here is a list :
Mont Velan (1779)
Mont Blanc (1786)
Grossglockner and Watzmann (1800)
Hoher Göll (1801)
Monte Rosa and Zugspitze (1819)
Piz Bernina (1850)
While they were challenged by extreme weather conditions and had to live in hostile environments, they pursued their dreams of becoming the first to reach the summit. Their achievements were all related into newspapers in Great Britain and many countries.
In 1857, the British Alpine Club was created. However, alpine trekking and climbing mainly remained a sport accessible tot he elite only.
In Switzerland, the people living in the Alps saw more and more British tourists coming, either in order to climb the mountains, ski or accompany the climbers. Those explorers, however, needed to be accompanied on their expeditions. Local swiss people were hired and, slowly, acquired knowledge and experience in mountain climbing. Later on, these employees would be called « mountain guides ».
Along with a growing flow of tourists coming to Switzerland, hotels were created but there was still a problem : how could these explorers could avoid sleeping outside, risking death by cold or by being exposed to avalanches ? Under the impulse of British men and mountain guides, they looked for the best locations to build mountain huts and build them, sponsored by the British elite. They had little or no comfort but provided a safe and sound place to sleep and rest. They used tob e able to host a dozen people but nowadays, the average capacity of a mountain hut is of about 80 beds, sometimes even reaching 120.
Nowadays, the Swiss Alpine Club, founded in 1863, counts 112 sections with a total of 135’000 members, owns 152 mountain huts and has an average 340’000 nights sold per year since 2002.
Compared to the year 2011’s results (35,5 millions), this respresents a very little market. However, the fact that they are more and more possibilities for swiss and foreigner people to climb the swiss summits,even with some huts accessible to families, they often start or finish their journey in a remote village, where they like to spend a few nights in hotels. Also, with some world-famous contests such as the „Patrouille des Glaciers“ , the alpine trekking activity allows remotedly located hotels to have a steady base of clients.