1According to M. Panizza and S. Piacente (1993, 2003) and G. Quaranta (1993), geomorphological sites (or geomorphological assets) are defined as geomorphological landforms and processes that have acquired a scenic/aesthetic, scientific, cultural/historical and/or a social/economic value due to human perception of geological, geomorphological, historical and social factors. This process is called optimization by J.-P. Pralong and E. Reynard (2005). From a tourist and recreational point of view, these four different values may be considered as exclusive components of the tourist value of a geomorphological site. All tourist goods, services and infrastructure created from geomorphological landforms and processes result from the use of this value and its four components, which is understood in terms of degree and modality of exploitation.
2In this sense, it is possible to assess the potential and exploitation of geomorphological sites by using several values (scenic/aesthetic, scientific, cultural/historical, and social/economic in relation to degree and modality), criteria (see Tab. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) and marks from 0 to 1 by quarter-points. Therefore, this assessment method enables a comparison, on the one hand, of the tourist value of different sites and categories of geomorphological sites (Pralong and Reynard, 2005) and, on the other hand, of their tourist potential with their actual use. Moreover, from the criteria scores and their differences, factors of explanation of the differentiated uses of geomorphological sites may be underlined (e.g. too small area or elevation, lack of cultural interests, presence of natural hazards, etc.).
3This assessment method has been developed, tested and applied in the areas of Chamonix Mont-Blanc (Haute-Savoie, France) and Crans-Montana-Sierre (Valais, Switzerland), in relation to the case studies of Mer de Glace and Bossons glaciers, karstic (underground lake of St-Léonard and Vaas cave) and hydrographic (Finges and Diosaz gorges) case studies. In this paper, the assessment of the tourist value and its components is first presented and developed. Then, the assessment of the exploitation value allows the notion of use intensity to be determined. Finally, a comparison of the two first stages is carried out in order to analyse and discuss the potential and use of the studied geomorphological sites.
4The tourist value assessment includes four values : scenic, scientific, cultural and economic. Precise criteria and specific scales of scoring have been defined for each constituent of the tourist value, notably inspired by V. Grandgirard (1997) and G. Quaranta (1993) for the scenic/aesthetic one, by P. Coratza and C. Gusti (2005) for the scientific one, by D. Rojsek (1994) and V. Rivas et al. (1995) for the cultural/historical one, and by V. Rivas et al. (1995) and M. Panizza (1998) for the social/economic one. In this sense, the tourist value is considered as the mean of these four different values, and is expressed by :
5Vtour = ( Vsce + Vsci + Vcult + Veco ) / 4, where Vtour is the tourist value, Vsce the scenic/aesthetic one, Vsci the scientific one, Vcult the cultural/historical one, and Veco the social/economic one. No weighting is introduced, because there is no objective reason to think that a specific value is less important than the other one when we have to determine the theoretical tourist potential of a site.
6As defined by M. Panizza (1998), the scenic value especially depends on the spectacular and intrinsic aspect of a geomorphological site. The scientific value is based on natural rarity, didactic exemplarity, palaeogeographical testimony, and ecological value of a geomorphological site. The cultural value depends on an art event or a cultural custom in relation to a geomorphological site, while the economic value is based on the usable and workable characteristics of a geomorphological site (e.g. in a tourist and recreational context). In this sense, different objective criteria with a specific scale of scoring may be used to assess these values :
7Vsce= (Sce 1 + Sce 2 + Sce 3 + Sce 4 + Sce 5) / 5, where Sce 1, Sce 2, Sce 3, Sce 4 and Sce 5 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 1. No weighting is introduced because there is no objective reason to discriminate a specific criterion.
8Vsci= (Sci 1 + Sci 2 + 0.5 x Sci 3 + 0.5 x Sci 4 + Sci 5 + Sci 6) / 5, where Sci 1, Sci 2, Sci 3, Sci 4, Sci 5 and Sci 6 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 2. Weighting is introduced because Sci 3 and Sci 4 both assess the natural rarity in relation to Sce 3.
9Vcult= (Cult 1 + 2 x Cult 2 + Cult 3 + Cult 4 + Cult 5) / 6, where Cult 1, Cult 2, Cult 3, Cult 4 and Cult 5 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 3. Weighting is introduced because Cult 2 may also assess the number of literary mentions, which are seen as proportional to any iconographic material.
10Veco= (Eco 1 + Eco 2 + Eco 3 + Eco 4 + Eco 5) / 5, where Eco 1, Eco 2, Eco 3, Eco 4 and Eco 5 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 4. No weighting is introduced because there is no objective reason to discriminate a specific criterion.
Table 1 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the scenic value.
Tableau 1 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation de la valeur scénique.
Table 2 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the scientific value.
Tableau 2 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation de la valeur scientifique.
Table 3 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the cultural value.
Tableau 3 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation de la valeur culturelle.
Table 4 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the economic value.
Tableau 4 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation de la valeur économique.
11The exploitation value assessment includes two components. In the same way as for the tourist value, criteria and scales of scoring have been defined for each constituent value of the exploitation one. In this sense, this value is understood in terms of degree (coordinate x) and modality (coordinate y) of exploitation :
12Vexpl = (Vdeg ; V mod), where Vdeg is the degree of exploitation and Vmod the modality of exploitation. The relationship between these two values may define three kinds of exploitation (low, intermediate, high) in terms of intensity.
13The degree of exploitation considers the spatial and temporal use of a geomorphological site, whereas the modality takes into account the use of the four constituent values of the tourist value of a geomorphological site : no weighting is introduced because there is no objective reason to discriminate a specific criterion. In this sense, different objective criteria with a specific scale of scoring may be used to assess these values :
14Vdeg= (Deg 1 + Deg 2 + Deg 3 + Deg 4) / 4, where Deg 1, Deg 2, Deg 3 and Deg 4 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 5. Vmod = (Mod 1 + Mod 2 + Mod 3 + Mod 4) / 4, where Mod 1, Mod 2, Mod 3 and Mod 4 correspond to the criteria scores mentioned in table 6.
Table 5 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the degree of exploitation.
Tableau 5 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation du degré d’exploitation.
Table 6 – Criteria and scale of scoring used to assess the modality of exploitation.
Tableau 6 – Critères et échelle de scores pour l’évaluation de la modalité d’exploitation.
15Following the two first stages of the assessment method, the resulting scores enable different comparisons to be made. In relation to some application examples (tab. 7), the most distinctive characteristics are briefly presented.
Table 7 – Some examples in the areas of Chamonix Mont-Blanc (Haute-Savoie, France) and Crans-Montana-Sierre (Valais, Switzerland) assessed in 2003 using the proposed method.
Tableau 7 – Quelques exemples de sites des régions de Chamonix Mont-Blanc (Haute-Savoie, France) et Crans-Montana-Sierre (Valais, Suisse) évalués en 2003 selon la méthode proposée.
16All constituent values of the tourist value of the Mer de Glace (one of the most famous and most visited glaciers in the Alps) are clearly high, in contrast to Vaas cave, St-Léonard lake or Diosaz gorges. However, there is a low use of the scientific and cultural values (lack of didactic optimization compared to their potential), whereas its degree of exploitation is very high, as is the use of its scenic and economic values. This is also the case for Diosaz gorges.
17Far from being a profitable business exploitation, Finges (a large alluvial plain formed by the Rhone river and a Lateglacial rock fall) and the Bossons glacier (the biggest icefall in the Alps starting from the top of the Mont-Blanc) present a use more oriented towards the scenic and scientific poles proportionally to their high specific potential. In these two cases, the didactic interest and sensitivity of the people exploiting these sites are obvious.
18Concerning the St-Léonard lake and Vaas cave, two karstic and underground sites considered as speleological geosites, their use is completely different as their exploitation value indicates, although their tourist potential is quasi identical with a relevant contrast between their components. Due to the natural risk management, the first site welcomes about 100,000 visitors per year whereas only 1000 visit the second one!
19The analysis may be more developed, when sites of a same category (glaciers, lakes, caves, etc.) are compared by using the criteria scores of each value. For instance, the St-Léonard lake and Vaas cave are quite different in terms of scientific value due to their representativeness and integrity. In comparison to the use of these interests, the first site, which is potentially less didactic and preserved, offers a lot of educational material whereas none are offered at the second site. In this case, the existence of uncontrolled natural risks explains that peculiarity, which lowers the economic value of Vaas cave as well as limiting protection and a regional level of attractivity. Thus, the use of its economic potential is weak in terms of number of visitors ; for that reason, this site presents no exploitation infrastructure and its surface is smaller than one hectare.
20Geomorphological sites may become natural and tourist resources, because of human exploitation of their scenic, scientific, cultural and (or) economic interests, components of their tourist value, in order to develop recreational activities and induce economic effects. As proposed, the assessment of degree and modality of exploitation enables a definition of the intensity of their use from a spatial and temporal point of view and determination of the use of their potential.
21In the perspective of sustainable development, all these values must be used proportionately to their relevance in order to guarantee their current and future conservation and exploitation, and to maintain their level of interest. The proposed method may contribue to attaining these goals by quantifying values of geomorphological sites and by underlining factors that explain their different uses. Thus, it is necessary that all the different stakeholders directely or indirectly involved become aware of these issues, because a dangerous lack of recognition exists concerning the interests (and vulnerability) of geodiversity. From a local to an international level, stakeholders of the social, political, administrative and economic system are concerned.
22To completely validate this method, its values and criteria should be tested in various topographical (mountain, plain, seacoast) and tourist (mass tourism, soft tourism) settings in order to adapt the scales of scoring. Subsequently, this approach could be used to define carrying capacity of geomorphological sites as a fonction of their recreational activities and of their evolution in terms of potential and exploitation.