Yesterday was the New Deal Climbing Symposium of FLERA, the Luxembourgish Federation of Climbers. The New Deal Climbing Symposium brought together the local government and interest groups as well as international specialists and activists in order to discuss about the climbers’ impact on local communities from a social, environmental and economic perspective. We saw contributions from activists in Frankenjura and Innsbruck, Germany, from France and Belgium as well as from Luxembourg. The goal was to identify ways to achieve responsible and sustainable uses of different areas by reconciling the demands of humans with those of nature.

During the symposium I presented my impact study on the topic of “The economic impact of the climbing community in Luxembourg”. You can find my pdf HERE (German version HERE), and a short overview of my discussion transcribed below.

Economic impact of the climbing community in Luxembourg

Prof. Dr. Ingmar Schumacher, environmental economist, alpinist and sport climber

Berdorf climbing area

Climbing has developed from a marginal sport to a mainstream one during the last few years. While there were around 70.000 active climbers in Germany in 1990, it is estimated that this number steadily increased to 600,000 in the year 2021. International competitions are now broadcasted live on television, climbing has become an Olympic discipline, climbing gyms can be found in most cities, and even in many villages. Of course, this also means that more and more climbers are drawn out into nature and onto the rock, a trend that is also clearly noticeable in climbing areas such as Berdorf in Luxembourg.

Overall economic contribution of climbers

This increasing number of climbers in outdoor sport climbing areas often also means an important source of financial income for the local Horeca (hotel-restaurant-café) sector. In Luxembourg, for example, about 15% of the employees work in the Horeca sector, which, therefore, provides an important contribution to the overall economy.

Unfortunately, there are comparatively few studies on the economic impact of climbers. Estimates of the American Alpine Club for 2019 have shown that climbers contribute about 12 billion EUR to the American Gross National Product. Roughly translated to Luxembourg, this would mean that climbers in Luxembourg spend EUR 4 million annually on climbing. This number is likely to be underestimated, as we will show later on.

Local economic contribution of climbers

The important question is, of course, how much climbers contribute economically to municipalities where climbing areas are located. To answer this question, we undertook a preliminary study for the Horeca sector in Berdorf, which is Luxembourg’s most important outdoor climbing area. The data collected is based on an initial survey in the Horeca sector, as well as representative surveys in the Berdorf climbing area itself.  We found that the Horeca sector has about 12,000-21,000 overnight stays by climbers per year, nearly exclusively from climbers outside of Luxembourg. If we add to the costs of an average overnight stay the expenses for food and material bought on site (e.g. topo), as well as the typical multiplier factor for the Horeca sector (1.5), we arrive at a total amount of about 350,000 – 970,000 EUR. If we compare this with similar estimates for other climbing areas (Mount Arapiles and Grampians are the only ones for which there is data), our estimate is still very much at the lower end of the spectrum (by several factors). This means that this conservative estimate, if supported with more accurate data, could be a lot higher.

The data for the total gross turnover of overnight guests only exists for the entire Müllerthal area, but this states that overnight guests spend about EUR 35 million per year. If we now convert this to Berdorf with the assumption that most of the climbers who climb in Berdorf also stay overnight in the village, then this results in climbers contributing roughly 15% to the total gross turnover of the Horeca sector in Berdorf. This, in turn, is, in our view, a significant contribution. We also expect, due to the recent increase in popularity of climbing, that climbers will contribute even more to the Horeca sector in the future.

The outlook

According to a 2018 study by GoGet, Luxembourg has lost around 40% of its hotel establishments in the last 20 years, with up to 55% of hotel establishments closing in rural areas such as the Mullerthal (the region which includes Berdorf). It is expected that up to half of the hotel establishments and campsites in the Mullerthal region will close during the next 10 years. Based on our analysis above we expect that fewer establishments in areas like Berdorf will be affected. The reason is that, especially through the work of FLERA for the preservation and modernisation of the climbing area, local businesses will benefit because an increasing number of climbers will continue to visit sites like Berdorf in the future due to the popularity of the sport.      

Furthermore, we should not underestimate the additional public finances that local communities obtain from the climbing community. These can be used for environmental protection measures, as well as for other additional, local public finance needs. It should also not be forgotten that climbers help protect the local environment. For example, FLERA organizes several clean up days per year, where climbers help to clean the local area, undertake measures to prevent erosion or help build paths that are also used by other groups such as hikers, too.

As a final remark, the average time outdoors for children in Luxembourg and the countries around Luxembourg is approximately 7 minutes per day. Thus, outdoor sports such as climbing are important experiences and opportunites for children (and adults alike) to connect with nature. Few other sports allow participants to enjoy nature to such a degree.