Zermatt, a winning strategy

The quiet strength of the Burgergemeinde

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Sarah Deriaz
Winter 2022-2023

Biner, Julen, Perren, Taugwalder… These family names left a mark on Zermatt’s history and are connected by their deep roots in the Matter Valley and the local citizen’s community (Burgergemeinde). We discuss with President, Andreas Biner.

The structure of a Burgergemeinde, which is typically Swiss and an old tradition, is little known outside of the country’s borders. It’s formed when local citizens of an area create a formal association, and in Zermatt almost a third of the inhabitants are part of it. By investing heavily in the development of local tourism for over a century and a half, the Burgergemeinde have allowed the people of Zermatt to reap the benefits of the now booming tourism industry.

It all began in 1870 – five years after the summit of the Matterhorn was reached. The Zermatt Burgergemeinde, which had up until then been focused on the agricultural industry, shifted gears and began construction of the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. To limit the impact of the expensive project, each family helped complete the work at no cost, in exchange for receiving a share of future revenues. Little by little, with one investment after another, this model extended across the village to other hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and buildings that were rented to external investors, along with 23.6% of Zermatt Bergbahnen, the local lift operating company. Every member of the Burgergemeinde benefits from a variety of privileges, including receiving dividends and an annual bottle of Burgerwein!

Burgergemeinde: a path to preserving authenticity

This unchanged community model has played a major role in protecting Zermatt from overdevelopment… and too many vehicles. Here, the main stakeholders each get a say, and, even if decisions are not always easy to make, they are always made by consensus and for the common good. And the association has never lost sight of its main priority: to preserve Zermatt’s authentic charm and appeal.

The common and long-term good is what drives decisions in the Burgergemeinde, and sometimes that means being cautious. During the Covid pandemic, the association put a halt on new investments, which has now been lifted. “Currently, our most ambitious project is refreshing the (iconic) 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat, to enhance both its attractiveness and its longevity,” explained Andreas Biner. Upgrades include a new restaurant that revolves around local dishes from Valais instead of a self-serve counter. His thoughts on the coming winter season? “Our biggest challenges are inflation, the potential energy crisis, and the strength of the Swiss Franc. However, the number of reservations is promising. We’re expecting to have a strong 2022-2023 winter season,” he added enthusiastically. Optimism prevails for the Burgergemeinde!