Jean-Noël Escudié / P2C for Localtis
Marie-Noëlle Battistel, MP (PS) for Isère, and Laurence Gayte, MP (LREM) for the Pyrenees-Orientales, presented their information report, made on behalf of the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, on “mountain tourism and challenges of climate change”. The proposal was adopted at the committee meeting on 22 February. The subject is not new and is also at the heart of the Avenir Montagnes Plan, presented by the government in May 2021 (see our article from May 27, 2021). However, welcoming the approval of this plan, of which “they welcome a first positive evaluation”, the two MEPs would like to recall “a fundamental aspect with regard to mountain areas and associated tourism: to seek to impose a single model of tourism, whatever it is, it would be a business doomed to failure”. It is therefore necessary to “build strategies adapted to each territory”.
An economy 82% dependent on skiing
In its first part, the report analyzes the consequences of climate change on the mountains and what this implies in terms of “the global transition that requires a change in the tourist offer”. We will not dwell on the manifestations and perspectives of climate change – already abundantly documented –, except to remember that “the mountain is the first sentinel of climate change” (although the coast undoubtedly says so).
It is accepted that the consequences will be serious for the economy of mountain tourism, given its dependence on skiing, which today represents 82% of the mountain’s turnover, although attempts at diversification are multiplying. More specifically, climate change can jeopardize a tourist economy that remains entirely based on skiing in certain territories. Climate change is not, however, the only transforming factor in mountain tourism. The report cites, for example, an evolution in demand for more ethical forms of tourism in order to rediscover the values of sustainable development. This is the case, among other things, with the development of “slow tourism” or agrotourism, or even “benevolent tourism”, the approach adopted by the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in 2018. Other factors of evolution are also at work. This is the case, for example, of the general tendency to promote local areas and know-how. But the report also cites the Covid-19 pandemic, “a catalyst for a renewed appeal to the mountains, especially in summer.” This evolution, although very partial, for summer tourism is not evident, because “the conflicts of use are more accentuated in the mountains, especially in the summer” (between agriculture and tourism, around water resources, etc.). And these usage conflicts tend to develop further with climate change.
How to move towards “four seasons” tourism?
The second part of the report tries to imagine the paths of an “evolution of mountain tourism towards diversified activities and ‘four seasons'”. This must be done “in a well-founded way, adapted to each territory and in complementarity with the existing offer”. In practice, the objective is to make mountain territories less dependent on the snow economy. However, the report is far from condemning the ski economy, with the latter remaining “a major loss leader”. So it’s not about stopping investments in snow-related equipment. On the contrary, the modernization of this equipment forms part of the investments likely to benefit from the Mountain Future Fund. The report also notes that many improvements have already been made to the use of artificial snow. Finally, within snow activities, it is possible and desirable to diversify alternative practices to alpine skiing.
However, the main challenge remains the “deseasonalization” of mountain tourism. Several territories, of which the report gives examples, are already very active in this area. This development must be accompanied by an improvement in the quality of services related to tourism: reinforcement of digital tools, modernization of accommodation, renovation of leisure properties, more carbon-free mobility, renovation and improvement of the comfort of night trains, development of ” worth elevators”… However, a “reasonable” approach should be preferred. Thus, “the installation of new tourist facilities should not be synonymous with proliferation” and the report considers that it will be essential, given environmental and biodiversity issues, to manage the number of tourists. Hence the need for education in the mountains, “communication of incentives”, even “demarketing”, which “is a key in the strategy to combat overcrowding”.
Twenty-three proposals to move forward
In support of these observations, the report makes some twenty very concrete proposals. In particular, we highlight the incentive for winter sports resorts to carry out a ClimSnow-type snow diagnosis, especially when considering new investments. The report also advocates better consultation on water resources management with, in particular, at the local level, encouraging the establishment of water use reconciliation schemes by local water commissions. Another recommendation concerns the creation of a platform with a list of successful initiatives in terms of diversification and seasonality of mountain tourism, “with a search engine sufficiently precise to reflect the diversity of situations”.
Other recommendations promise to be more costly – such as supporting the normalization of family hotels in the mountains (source of “warm beds”) or improving accommodation for seasonal workers – or, more generally, the image of a parliamentary fact-finding mission on the improvement of the statute for pluriactive workers, which would establish specific recommendations in this area. As for alternative activities to skiing, the recommendations focus, in particular, on the development of itineraries dedicated to new mountain sports, on strengthening the “well-being” aspect of hydrotherapy in France (in particular for spas located in the mountains) or even on the fact that to privilege, during the study of a tourism development project, the installation of adaptable, reversible and scalable equipment.
On a trip to Les Orres (Hauts-Alpes) on Saturday, March 5, the Prime Minister announced that 30 new territories would benefit from engineering support for the development and implementation of a new tourism strategy adapted to ecological issues. This support forms part of the Future Mountains Plan released in May 2021 (see our May 27, 2021 article), and more particularly its engineering component (Future Mountains Engineering). It is recalled that the pilot plan of the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion is based on the Future Mountains fund with 331 million euros, of which 300 in investment and 31 in engineering (including 11 from the Banque des Territoires).
A first wave of 32 territories was revealed on Oct 8, 2021 (see our Oct 8, 2021 article). “In total, 62 territories are now supported in the development and implementation of a diversified and sustainable tourism strategy”, welcomes Matignon, in a press release. Each winner receives a fixed grant of €60,000 per year for two years to finance a project manager position. It also has “access to an offer of engineering services from around twenty partners and animation and sharing of experiences at a national level and by mass”, specifies the press release.
Accompanied by the two ministers responsible for the plan, Joël Giraud (former Secretary of State for Rurality who became minister of territorial cohesion on Monday) and Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, minister responsible for tourism, Jean Castex also announced the 58 territories which will be supported to develop innovative mobility projects (Future mountain mobility). This applies, for example, to valley lifts. Projects are financed up to 50%, up to a limit of 200,000 euros. Winners also benefit from Cerema’s support (see also our September 27, 2021 article).