Coping with decline: initiating the BESTandermatt study

In Chapter 2, theoretical concepts clarifying the influence of tourism on the locals and the importance of reflecting the local socio-culture were outlined. As a negative perception of tourism by the locals might have negative consequences on the image of a tourism destination, a balanced coexistence of local residents and guests is important for the enduring success of a tourism resort.

The transdisciplinary long-term accompanying study BESTandermatt focuses on the social dimension of sustainable development and considers various opinions of the residents. The study was co-designed in an interdisciplinary research team. It was implemented and coordinated by a project steering group of local, regional, and national authorities, which are the public partners and co-funders of the study.

The long-term study analyses how survey participants subjectively perceive and experience changes triggered by the planning, construction, and operation of the tourism resort and how these changes significantly affect their lives. The long-term design permits to ascertain the evaluations and concerns of the survey participants at various phases of the resort’s development. Therefore, the research team chose a qualitative, open, and explorative approach.

The long-term study consisted of four substudies, where data was collected from 2009 to 2020. The first substudy was conducted at the start of the resort’s construction work (2009/2010) and the second during the construction phase (2012/2013). The third substudy (2016/18) was carried out during the resort’s early operating phase (the construction phase was still ongoing). For the first time, the experiences of the population with ‘new visitors’ and resort employees contributed to the results. The BESTandermatt study was concluded in 2020 with the fourth and final substudy. The investor, Andermatt Swiss Alps (ASA), originally planned to have the construction of the resort completed by 2020. Thus, the fourth substudy was initially planned as a survey after the completion of the resort; however, the construction was not completed by then.

The following research questions were examined:

  • How are the survey participants experiencing the social and socio-economic effects of the tourism resort?
  • What effects on living together in Andermatt, on relations among the residents, and on the survey participants’ attitude towards Andermatt are identifiable?
  • How are the survey participants dealing with the changes in Andermatt? What observations do they make concerning managing the change?

In the first substudy, twenty-five people were selected based on a quota sample and surveyed using narrative individual interviews. They were sampled by demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and marital status. Interviewees were asked to describe experiences in Andermatt that were and are important for themselves. Thereby, issues that the participants were concerned about at the time of the survey became the focus of the study.

To survey the people’s attitudes towards the resort and their individual ways of dealing with changes brought about by the resort, the same people were surveyed in every substudy – if possible. In addition to individual interviews, group discussions were conducted with a group of young people and with local tradespeople. This method allows to capture collective, group-specific orientations of group members. It thus supplements the narrative interviews.

The long-term study aspect reflects on the changes in Andermatt as perceived by the residents, whilst the accompanying study aspect processes the knowledge gained by the long-term study and reflects it back to the local population. The accompanying part of the BESTandermatt study aims to enable residents and local actors to participate in reflection and learning processes. Thus, residents are not only surveyed as experts of their lifeworld, but are motivated to take an active role. In initiated development and change processes, transparent dialogue with various actors – in particular dialogue with local residents – is very important.

Therefore, various events to exchange perceptions and ideas are conducted for interested residents:

  1. A public information event is conducted before each substudy to present the research design and discuss it with those attending the event.
  2. Furthermore, the results of each substudy are presented to and discussed by the residents of Andermatt at so-called outcome conferences. Unfortunately, the final results conference 2020 had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic measures.
  3. Finally, a local advisory group consisting of voluntary residents proved to be a valuable link between the authorities, the research team, and the local residents. The attendees of this group discuss various aspects intertwined with the resort’s development, develop actions to be taken and suggested to the responsible parties such as municipal and cantonal authorities and the investor Andermatt Swiss Alps, ASA. Thus, a process of knowledge co-production is nudged by this transdisciplinary research design. Read more about the co-production of knowledge in the fourth chapter.

Do you see arguments why a transdisciplinary approach was needed to set up the project? Revise the elements and phases of transdisciplinary research projects.

Author: Caroline Näther