Marketing is key to ensuring sustainability beyond project funding. Alpine Pearls is a network of 28 communities in the Alps (Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia) that offer easy, yet comfortable ways to enjoy holidays with environmentally friendly transport.
The network is the result of two European Union projects (Alps Mobility and Alps Mobility II – Alpine Pearls) that were initiated and coordinated by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management to develop the product in 17 municipalities, finishing in 2006- since then the growing network is self-financing and has the dual marketing and product development role, through a one-time entry fee and an annual fee of 12,000EUR, which constitutes the budget for all marketing activities (substantial press coverage, study visits, fair presence) and for the maintenance of the Alpine Pearls Management.
Destinations have to comply with a list of criteria and have to prepare an annual report for internal quality control of three villages per year (e.g. developing non-motorized areas in the destination and providing electrically generated vehicles).
The products include soft mobility (or environmentally friendly transport) such as public transport plus the use of an e-bike, a Segway, or an electric car, and the sustainably scrumptious low carbon footprint food festivals. Convincing visitors to leave their car at home, or at least at their holiday accommodation, is complex. In Werfengweng (Austria’s soft mobility icon) 25% of guests are travelling by train and staying in local hotels: this gives them a soft mobility pass that provides free taxis to the train station, plus in summer free electric vehicle rental, e-bikes, e-cars, Segways, and in winter free cross country skiing, ice skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing, lama trekking, horse coach rides.
In Arosa (Switzerland) the figure 50% but this is due to the risk of driving in heavy snow, and also the highly attractive Swiss-quality rail connections more than environmental consciousness. In most other members, the percentage is much lower, and there is no systematic monitoring.
Communicating it as an improved experience requires good will– the tourist offices in the 28 villages usually have good quality information on how to arrive by public transport, but the accommodation suppliers still tend to promote first arrivals by car in their website. In order to provide an environmentally friendly arrival to and departure from the destination, cooperation with transportation providers has been established. Transport infrastructure is nationally organised, which means Alpine Pearls has to cooperate with national railway companies. Due to different laws and regulations, this constitutes a major challenge, particularly for providing cross-border transportation solutions across the Alpine Pearls destinations. So far, Alpine Pearls has entered cooperation with DB (German railway) and ÖBB (Austrian railway) and some regional railway companies. The cooperation focuses mainly on joint media and promotional activities.
Despite the challenges, the Alpine Pearls membership is strong due to its dual marketing and product development role, with additional annual focuses such as 2011 “regional culinary specialties in the pearls”, 2012 “electric innovative mobility” (like E-Bikes and E-Cars), 2013 “soft holidays in protected areas”, and 2014 “unlimited access to the mountains, for families with kids and also for aged or disabled people”.
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