Hiking in the Garden of Eden – from the glacier to the sea
The Alpe-Adria-Trail, launched in 2012, leads through Carinthia, Slovenia and Italy and within a few years has established itself as one of Europe’s leading long-distance hiking trails.
„Create a hiking route through three countries,
all of which are celebrated for their stunning landscapes and vibrant culture, and will have you returning home after the journey with a very special feeling.“
For there is hardly any other region on this earth which within a radius of 100 kilometers reveals such scenic and cultural diversity as this stretch of land between the main Alpine ridge and the Adriatic Sea.
This chapter is dedicated to the myth. Therefore also to the incomparable magic of a region whose abundance and diversity is difficult to put into words. A magic that extends from the majesty of the snow-crowned high mountains around Austria’s highest mountain, the Großglockner (3.798m), to the turquoise swimming lakes of Carinthia, the emerald wonder of the Soca River in the Julian Alps, the lovely vineyards of the Collio and the Goriska Brda in the foothills of the Alps down to the Adriatic coast with the fishing town of Muggia. Enriched by a history spanning thousands of years, which has left behind a cultural richness that is unique in the world: for nowhere else, as in this “triangle of three countries”, do the three great European cultures, the Slavic, the Romanic and the Germanic, meet and merge into a fascinating conglomeration. What a variety, what a promise!
Images from a long lost time: a class photo of the elementary school of Stavoli. When the school leaves, sooner or later the people follow – the fate of many villages ©Trail Angels
The strategy of focusing all resources on a long-distance hiking trail as a lighthouse project was more than bold. Not only should its impact shed more light on the entire hiking offer of the destination and on the destination itself. And a concrete, bookable product is better suited for this purpose than an ineffective statement about having a network of 12,435 km of hiking trails (the number is of course fictional).
Of course, breaking new ground requires a lot of persuasion. And Kresse succeeded in this with great persistence and convincingness. Step by step the project of a few succeeded to become one of many. Thus, the Carinthian Tourist Board, the tourism organisations of Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and all regional tourism associations and communities between Heiligenblut and Muggia also joined the project “Alpe-Adria-Trail”. The annual meetings, the ongoing joint projects and the coordinated marketing plan show how much the Alpe-Adria-Trail family has already grown together.
Talking about perseverance: to make a product like the Alpe-Adria-Trail sustainable, you need great perseverance. In management as well as on site, on the trail. Roland Oberdorfer is the driving force behind the product owner Kärnten Werbung, who is constantly pushing the project forward with calm determination. And to us Trail Angels as the official Alpe-Adria-Trail Booking Center is a reliable partner. Not to forget the daily co-operation with the teams of the Booking Centers in Italy (Tarvisio) and Slovenia (Bovec), where the head of tourism Janko Humar, for example, is committed to the project far beyond the usual.
Last but not least, the many good souls involved in maintaining and caring for the trail should also be appreciated. After all, at least in the case of the alpine clubs, this is unpaid work by volunteers! The coordination of all necessary work is the responsibility of the “flying Dutchman” Ron Kapteyn, who is tirelessly on the trail, especially on the demanding stages in the Hohe Tauern, and who is more familiar with each and every step on the Alpe-Adria-Trail than anyone else.
The secret of success: from a few to many! Thus, within 10 years a project idea has been turned into one of the most successful long-distance hiking trails in Europe!
on the left: Alpe-Adria Trail Project Manager Roland Oberdorfer in action.
Let’s start in 2010: The idea of developing a long-distance hiking trail from the Großglockner to the Adriatic Sea came to life and Carinthia Advertising has been able to inspire its partners in Italy and Slovenia with the same idea. With the help of a first bilateral INTERREG project (Austria – Slovenia), additional resources for the first project phase could be secured and the planning of the route began. The intelligent valorisation of the already existing route network as well as the involvement of the municipalities and experts on site were the main focus. At the same time a design concept for the trail was selected through a competition, which was then implemented in all three countries in a slightly adapted form.
The Trail Angels, at that time one part of the team was still working in the destination management of the Hohe Tauern National Park region of Carinthia, were responsible for the route guidance in Western Carinthia together with our future company partner REVITAL IB. The Trail Design, which has become a key visual for the Alpe-Adria-Trail in the eye-catching stage locations, is also a product of REVITAL IB. By pooling resources and joint efforts, it was possible to festively open the Alpe-Adria-Trail already in October 2012 at its starting point, the Kaiser-Franz-Josephs-Höhe.
With the opening of the Alpe-Adria-Trail in October 2012, project phase two began. This first phase included the development, joint financing and ongoing implementation of a cross-border marketing plan. This was complemented by the implementation of an organisational model which clearly regulates the responsibilities in the various areas and levels. Constant working meetings, such as annual motivation meetings and joint hiking days, are defined, as is the extensive monitoring and maintenance programme for the trail. However, a central factor for project phase three was the establishment of the Booking Centers for the Alpe-Adria-Trail in Austria, Italy and Slovenia. The booking centers are service centers for the hikers, central contact points for the regional service partners and professional partners for international tour operators. The most important goal for the work of the Booking Centers was to ensure the individual and serviced bookability of the Alpe-Adria-Trail from the Großglockner to Muggia. The Booking Centers work on the basis of fixed-term licence usage contracts and perform the following tasks: enquiry and booking management; guest support; reselling via selected Tour Operators; contracting and coordination of regional service partners (there are now more than 500 in the three countries!); ongoing reporting; evaluation and quality management; ongoing product development and transnational coordination. The Booking Center in Austria is located in Obervellach and is operated by us Trail Angels. The Italian Booking Center is located in Tarvisio and the Slovenian Booking Center in Bovec and both are operated by the respective regional tourism organization.
The third project phase started in 2017 with the start of another INTERREG project (this time between Austria and Italy). This phase includes the refinement and consolidation of the services offered. The Trail Angels are responsible for the project management of this INTERREG project in Carinthia. A spectacular result is the conception of new, innovative forms of accommodation, the Alpe-Adria-Trail Cubes. For their implementation, a separate Trail Infrastruktur GmbH was founded on the initiative of the Trail Angels and won the major tourism prize (lighthouse project) of the province of Carinthia in 2019. A further milestone of project phase 3 is the implementation of our Online Trail Information and Booking System in the ongoing operation of our Booking Center since 2017. With Bookyourtrail.com, a professional and efficient booking management that meets our expectations has finally been implemented. This step was financially supported by the Austria Wirtschafts Service (AWS) in the context of the award “Innovative Firmengründung am Land” and the Carinthian Economic Development Fund (KWF). We are particularly proud of the first client solution from Bookyourtrail.com: The booking center for Slovenia in Bovec decided to integrate our system as a central tool and has been working with it with great success since 2019.
With or without Corona: the Alpe-Adria-Trail has firmly established its place in the Hall of Fame for responsible tourism. It is the prime example of ecological, social and above all economic sustainability! Ecologically, because it has been possible to use the existing network of paths with economical resources and thus to integrate a product of international appeal harmoniously into the landscape. Yes, consciously subordinating itself to this landscape. Ecologically, but also because the bookable product itself has been designed to be sustainable and, in particular, the climate-friendly journey with the “Green Spirit” packages developed by us already makes up an amazing 35% of the total booking volume.
Socially, because the Alpe-Adria-Trail has succeeded in intensifying cross-border cooperation to an unprecedented level. The three Booking Centers now act like a joint company in relation to the guests and what could be better, when – despite all language barriers – the hoteliers from Heiligenblut, Bovec and Muggia have inspired discussions at the working meetings and look forward to seeing each other again on the Hiking Days? But also socially, because the Alpe-Adria-Trail management model has managed to involve the largest possible circle of motivated business people with goodwill. Accommodation providers with businesses in the most diverse categories, from alpine huts to 5 star hotels, mobility service providers, mountain hiking guides, but also sports shops, rest stops and many more. And socially, because one characteristic that is so vital for the survival of rural areas has been fueled: the spirit of innovation! The examples are as diverse as they are encouraging. Ranging from the Alpe-Adria-Trail boards, as so tastefully realised by the host from the Danielsberg, Hannes Viehhauser, to merchandising products, which are increasingly offered all around, to the initiative of the Alpe-Adria-Trail Cubes. Here, committed entrepreneurs on the Alpe-Adria-Trail are building new, innovative forms of accommodation under the coordination of the Trail Angels. And last but not least socially, because the Alpe-Adria-Trail provides inspiring encounters. Authentic, close to life and among people who would otherwise never have met! Imagine that: Guests from 28 (!) different nations hiked the Alpe-Adria-Trail in 2019 and will certainly do so again after the Corona crisis! Would Erika from the Almgasthof Marterle (one of our partners) ever have met Matt from Portland, Melina from Jerusalem, Rick from Sydney, Lien from Singapore or Jose from Buenos Aires?
Economical, because the Alpe-Adria-Trail brings additional value to the regions! And year after year more of it, a fact that is well documented. Based on installed tracking stations and calculated from the figures of the Booking Centers, about 15.000 multi-day hikers have been on the Alpe-Adria-Trail in 2019. On their journey they spent approx. 8 million euros, thus boosting the net product in areas often extensive for tourism. In total, hundreds of accommodation establishments, dozens of mobility service providers and mountain hiking guides as well as many restaurants, food and sports shops, excursion destinations and many more benefit from the Alpe-Adria-Trail. If you then refer to the figures from our Booking Center, the following picture emerges: Hikers from 29 (!) nations have so far booked a hiking tour on the Trail via our Booking Center.
On average, they were on the move for 7,8 days in a group of 2,4 people. 95% of them make use of our Mobility Service. 35% of the guests are vegetarians or vegans, 18% come with their dog and 33% travel by train. They spend approx. € 105,– per day (excluding side expenses) on their hiking trip (which is an amazing value for a hiking product) and 76% of them return to continue the journey from the glacier to the sea. Those are some impressive figures! Economically speaking, it’s also because we have succeeded in developing a network of B2B partners based on mutual trust through the constant and professional work in the Booking Center. Currently, the Trail Angels on the Alpe-Adria-Trail work together with 21 selected specialist tour operators and – also as a result of the Corona crisis – the number is constantly increasing. We are proud to have attracted such renowned Tour Operators as National Geographic Expeditions, Asi-Reisen, Weltweitwandern, Hauser Exkursionen, DAV-Summit Club, Wikinger Reisen, Alpen-Reizen and many more as our partners. Economically but also because the Alpe-Adria-Trail has also created immaterial values! For example, by winning several awards. From the awards of National Geographic (Top 10 Best New Trail 2014; Top 7 Trail 2016; “Best Insider Tip” 2019) to Tour Natur (Best Hiking Trail of Austria 2018). Building on this reputation, we have succeeded in positioning the entire Alpe-Adria region as a hiking destination in particular and as a leading international destination in general on the international market. Certainly no mountain railway or cruise ship would have succeeded in doing so to close the circle in this chapter.
Left: This is what we call a low ecological footprint: the combination of long-distance hiking with train arrival and regional “zero kilometer” cuisine. Already realized in an exemplary way on the Alpe-Adria-Trail! ©National Park Region/Dapra
What is our vision for the Alpe-Adria-Trail?
Let us take a look at the year 2030!
But the possible is not enough here! Our vision of the Alpe-Adria-Trail is that of opening the door to the Alpe-Adria region growing together to become one of the leading international destinations for responsible tourism.
Our vision therefore applies to the Alpe-Adria region as a whole. An international flagship for responsible tourism, which uses the rich and diverse resources of nature, culture and its people in such a responsible way, to do justice to this “Garden of Eden”. As a model region for a sustainable world. You can call me a dreamer!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way! How this houseleek finds its habitat even in narrow rock gaps, sustainable tourism can spark regional value creation in peripheral, rural regions without huge investments ©Klaus Dapra
»The success story of the Alpe-Adria-Trail is almost too good to be true. And this success inspires us to expand this story with more innovative and sustainable chapters«
This article was written by: Günter Mussnig
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