The Alpine Mountain region includes the entire countries of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and portions of Austria, France, Germany & Italy. This mountain region fascinated Europeans as far back as the Roman era. Remains of Roman baths, villas, arenas and temples can be found in alpine towns such as Aosta (named for Augustus) in Italy, Martigny and Lausanne in Switzerland, and Partenkirchen in Bavaria (Germany).
With the local Alpine populations long subsisting on agriculture, tourism gradually came to the Alps by the 19th century – where railway links and tunnels were first established (easing travel throughout this transportation-challenged region). Spa resorts also existed in the 19th century, mainly at the base of the Alpine mountains, where visitors enjoyed the local scenery.
The birthplace of modern skiing is the Austrian town of Arlberg (where the Arlberg Ski Club was established in 1901). The introduction of the ski lift above Grindelwald (central Switzerland) in 1908 would pave the way to the proliferation of ski lodges throughout the region (in order to accommodate winter visitors).
One factor that boosted tourism in the Alps was the Winter Olympic Games. During the first half of the 20th century, three such Olympic events were held in the Alps: the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France; the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland; and the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. With World War II interrupting the Olympics, the winter games resumed in alpine locations like St. Moritz (1948), Cortina d’Ampezzo (1956), Innsbruck, Austria (1964 and 1976), Grenoble, France, (1968), Albertville, France, (1992), and Torino, Italy (2006).
With Switzerland and the Bavarian region of Germany long attracting winter visitors, Alpine tourism expanded elsewhere with time. By the end of the 20th century and into the early 21st century, France, Italy and the Tyrol (Austria) also began to see increases in winter visitors. More modernized ski lifts and snow making machines helped make Alpine resorts more viable (even during years when snowfall was light). In 2004, the first heated chair lifts were introduced at Arlberg.
Nowadays, an estimated 120 million people visit the Alps every year. Along with the skiing & winter sport destinations, tourists can explore the towns and cities in this geographic area and visit its museums and other historic sites, sample Swiss cuisine at local restaurants, and interact with the local populations.