Undeveloped land within the Austrian Tirol, in particular along the Inn Valley and where it is more tableland than vertiginous peaks, is in great demand and under growing pressure – in equal measure.

There is little doubt that the region’s popularity as a tourism destination and the location of second homes for wealthy Austrians, and indeed those of other nationalities, has priced out many locals from being able to buy property in locations where they grew up, and wish to continue living. The incredible backdrops and pristine nature which so characterizes the province have in this sense precipitated many municipalities finding themselves at a crossroads: how to ensure the Tirol’s natural attributes remain a blessing, not a curse to its residents whilst maintaining a sustainable tourist model that dovetails with the needs of citizens who at times feel like strangers in their own neighbourhoods.

A recently publicized proposal, to redevelop Seefeld’s popular Camp Alpin is a particular case in point. A Dutch-backed scheme to change the use of the site into a sprawling complex of apartments and lodges has drawn the ire of many locals, who highlight concerns of the delicate mix of tourist accommodation currently enjoyed in Seefeld being skewed by a project which could steer tourists away from established hotels within its historic centre and surroundings, whilst watering down the camping aspect of its accommodational offering.

There is also the issue of a sizable portion of land adjacent to the camp site being annexed to accommodate a wider development, land that could otherwise have been used to build homes for Seefelders who struggle to remain within their home town because of escalating property prices driven by second property owners and foreign investors.

With the likes of the Hotel Schneeweiss remaining abandoned – as shown in my photographs from 2016 – and presumably falling into greater decay, this is proof alone that Seefeld must first deal with such a visual abomination before even considering a radical but highly controversial change of Camp Alpin’s use, but is also instructive that if a hotel can lie in ruins for so long within a well-to-do Tirolean resort without intervention, then demand for the site but also further or rebooted tourism accommodation is perhaps not as insatiable as many would suggest. As is often the way with developers, turning their attention to green field sites is usually preferable to the ‘aggravation’ of issues of wholesale demolition and potentially contaminated land that are perceived to be attendent with previously developed sites.

Main entrance of the abandoned Hotel Schneeweiss, Seefeld
Side aspect of the abandoned Hotel Schneeweiss, Seefeld

Ensuring its place in the diverse mix of accommodation within Seefeld, Camp Alpin caters for those with neither the depth of pocket nor desire to use hotels or other catered establishments. Sweeping away this option for like-minded tourists will not instead see a boost to the town in terms of occupancy, with instead a potential for over-saturation merely shifting tourists away from other areas of Seefeld rather than attracting additional visitors. If the proposed apartments are primarily bought as second homes, they will for much of the year sit empty and be of little use to the tourist trade, all the while rubbing salt in the wounds of those who are unable to afford permanent residencies in their own town.

It can be argued that the travel industry has been developed throughout the Tirol for the benefit of locals, some of whom have become very rich off the back of it. If though this has created thousands of jobs for everyday Tiroleans it is their bosses, not they, who have benefited most from the Golden Goose of tourism, when areas become so popular and sought after that inhabitants cannot afford to live where they are from and work, unless in a soulless Arbeiterhaus used by some employers to house staff close to their place of toil.

A decision has to be made where, and indeed how, a line is to be drawn in the Tirol so that its inhabitants do not feel forced out by the popularity of their own homeland. Tourism is established as a vital element of the province’s economy but remains a movable feast where competition isn’t only transnational, but also comes from the next municipality and valley. This development could hollow out the centre of Seefeld tourist accommodation, whilst being empty itself for considerable parts of the year. It would instead make greater sense to enhance what is already there, whilst freeing up adjacent land for housing that is sympathetic to the landscape, and the needs of locals. There is though money in them thar hills, which doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a happy ending for those which need one the most.

Source material and further information:

Tiroler Tageszeitung: http://www.tt.com/artikel/17782927/hunderte-gegen-grossprojekt-in-seefeld-hilferuf-ans-land

Mein aufstehn petition: https://mein.aufstehn.at/petitions/campingplatz-ja-chalets-und-investorenmodelle-nein?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1608196929&utm_campaign&utm_source=facebook&share=381abc95-a405-4c3d-9597-cb8639443a0e

Plateau Zeitung: https://plateauzeitung.at/2021/01/21/buergerinitiative-uebergab-petition/