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Structure and performance of the Italian alpine “core”: a counterfactual analysis

Alberto Bramanti (Department of Social and Political Science, GREEN Centre for Geography, Resources, Environment, Energy and Networks, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy and Transborder Centre on Tourism and Mountain Economies (TME), Università della Valle d’Aosta, Aosta, Italy)
Sofia Ricci (Department of Social and Political Science, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy)

Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes

ISSN: 1755-4217

Article publication date: 2 July 2020

Issue publication date: 28 August 2020




The competitiveness of the Alpine regions is strongly influenced by environmental constraints and its relationship with the urban network in the valley floor, which cannot be one of pure dependence. This study aims to analyse the health of the Italian Alpine economy through the performance of its capital companies, defined as those operating in the strictly mountainous are-as within the territories covered by the Alpine Convention. The authors compare the performance (2012-2018) of the “inner core” firms with a counterfactual sample of companies from neighbouring territories to delineate the strengths and weaknesses of the Alpine enterprises. The paper addresses policymakers and practitioners who will design the future policies for the high lands, exploiting a vast collaborative planning network.


The study analyses two broad strands of literature on territorial competitiveness. It uses the coarsened exact matching techniques for the selection of a counterfactual sample at the enterprise level. The study follows a policy-oriented design, offering answers to future challenges.


The Alpine region has several different local production systems, with a significant level of heterogeneity among firms that differentiate the top 25% from the rest. The counterfactual analysis carried out does not provide clear evidence of significant differences. Instead, it con-firms strong similarities between the Alpine core and the peri-Alpine belt. It is only in terms of employment growth that the core grows less (with a high statistical significance). Finally, the authors introduce the analysis of sustainable value added (SVA) in the core area and use the “tourism chain” to compare different models. The focus here is on two keywords – rarefied and uncontaminated – that enable the transformation of some typical weaknesses of the “minor (or marginal) mountain” into assets for development, provided that place-based and network policies are activated.

Research limitations/implications

The study focusses on the Italian Alps and could be extended in the future to the other countries participating in the Alpine Convention. It may also be enriched by qualitative analyses of partnerships and sole proprietorships that are not identified by the balance sheet analysis.

Practical implications

The study follows a policy-oriented design, offering possible solutions to future challenges.

Social implications

The study offers some suggestions on the post-COVID-19 phase. The bottom-up, reluctant and community dimension are possible strengths to face the challenges that are opening up.


The study is one of the very few to carry out a counterfactual analysis of Alpine enterprises. It offers evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of the productive fabric of the high lands and updates the assessment of the health status of Alpine enterprises to accompany future fact-based policies after the COVID pandemic.



Bramanti, A. and Ricci, S. (2020), "Structure and performance of the Italian alpine “core”: a counterfactual analysis", Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 387-407.



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