The Mountaineering Villages Initiative was conceived by the Spatial Planning and Nature Conservation Department of the Austrian Alpine Association in 2008. The framework of the initiative is the Alpine Convention, whose main objective is sustainable development throughout the Alpine region. The mountaineering villages are committed to implementing the protocols of the Alpine Convention (tourism, spatial planning, mountain agriculture, sustainability, etc.). The title of mountaineering village is understood as a seal of quality of sustainable tourism, which is why applicants (municipalities) have to fulfil a catalogue of criteria before they can officially bear the designation. The mountaineering villages are exemplary regional development cores in sustainable Alpine tourism with a corresponding tradition. They guarantee a high-quality tourism offer for mountaineers, mountain hikers and active tourists and have an excellent landscape and environmental quality. They are committed to the preservation of local cultural and natural values. The role model effect of the mountaineering villages also extends to the active effort to realise the goal of sustainable development in the Alpine Space. From the municipalities' point of view, the aim is to exploit the tourism potential in municipalities that have so far benefited little from tourism, while respecting environmental and social limits. Since 2015, the national Alpine associations of the neighbouring countries Germany, Italy (especially South Tyrol) and Slovenia have been gradually involved in the project. After two more mountaineering villages (Göriach, Steinberg am Rofan) were newly included in 2021, 35 mountaineering villages (22 of them in Austria) are now participating in the initiative. Switzerland is now also represented with two mountaineering villages.
In cooperation with the Austrian Alpine Association (OeAV) and the Alpine Convention Office as well as Department I/9 BMNT (now BMKUEMIT Department 6/10), a descriptive stocktaking of the mountaineering villages initiative was carried out in 2019. With the help of a document analysis and literature research, short portraits of the 29 mountaineering villages were drawn up, the underlying criteria (exclusion, compulsory and target criteria) were analysed and the various protocols (tourism, spatial planning, nature conservation, mountain agriculture, etc.) of the Alpine Convention with reference to the mountaineering villages were recorded. Furthermore, the annual conference "The Future of Mountaineering Villages" in Ramsau/Berchtesgaden was attended and expert contacts were established. In addition, the first lectures were given.
In 2020, a statistical analysis of the accommodation statistics (ÖSTAT) of the 20 Austrian mountaineering villages was carried out, which elaborates the development of overnight stays since joining the initiative, and a special evaluation of the T-MONA guest survey (of the Tourism Monitor Austria of the Austrian National Tourist Office) in mountaineering villages was initiated. Furthermore, three mountaineering villages (Johnsbach in the Gesäuse, Mauthen and St. Jodok, Schmirn and Valsertal) were selected as case studies and initial online expert interviews were conducted on the basis of a qualitative guideline questionnaire.
In 2021, further interviews were conducted and evaluated in the mountaineering villages and beyond (experts, stakeholders). Furthermore, the writing of the final project report was started. It analyses and evaluates the potential and success factors of nature-based, sustainable tourism in small-structured, peripheral regions of the Alpine Space through this initiative, also in the light of the current Covid 19 pandemic.
The results show that sustainable tourism can be implemented with local initiatives that contribute to a positive development of the often structurally weak, peripheral villages/valleys. The target group of the initiative are mountaineers, ski tourers, climbers, etc. It represents a high-quality niche strategy for small tourism villages. It represents a high-quality niche strategy for small tourism locations. Two thirds of the 20 mountain villages studied have seen a stable or positive development in overnight stays since 2008, and seasonality has been reduced. Through three case studies (Mauthen, Johnsbach, St.Jodok/Schmirn- and -Valsertal) with 23 qualitative interviews, in-depth insights into the initiative could be gained. Joint marketing under the umbrella brand of the Alpine Club (OeAV) "mountaineering villages" is a central element of the initiative. This represents a unique selling point, which is also ensured by the criteria (e.g. no intensive tourism winter sports facilities, no encroachment on protected areas, no chalet villages, etc.). Local promoters of the initiative on the ground (e.g. tourism association, partner businesses, mayor, local OeAV section, etc.) are an important link to the strategic steering by the Austrian Alpine Association (OeAV) - the sponsor of the initiative. There is room for improvement in the participation of the local population. The danger of "overtourism" was denied. In recent years, the initiative has expanded to other countries bordering the Alps (D, SLO, I, CH). Due to the close interconnection with landscape development and land use, the linkage with agriculture and the local development of agrotourism activities are an important element in these local initiatives. The results of the project were presented at the annual meeting of the mountaineering villages in May 2022. The final report will be prepared by the end of the year.