In the middle of Switzerland is a small community that is making headlines with one thing in particular: cheap petrol prices. Samnaun has long been known as “tank heaven”, and the residents benefit from tank tourism. But the business model is reaching its limits.

There are two main things you can do in the Swiss municipality of Samnaun: refuel and shop. In any case, this is the conclusion that comes to anyone who enters the place name in Google. “Samnaun Shopping” or “Samnaun refueling” are just two of the combinations suggested by the search engine.

And that’s no coincidence. Samnaun, a tiny place in the Alps, is known as “tank heaven”. A liter of petrol costs just under 1.50 euros there, diesel around 1.60 euros. This can be read on the website of the shopping center “Acla da Fans”.

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Samnaun is a so-called duty-free area, until 90 years ago the mountain village could only be reached via Austria. The duty-free status should actually only be retained until there is a direct connecting road to Switzerland.

But even after it opened in 1912, everything stayed the same. Because the special label eliminates mineral oil tax, petrol and diesel are significantly cheaper in the town of 800 than in the rest of Switzerland and neighboring countries.

This is why Germans and Austrians visit the Alpendorf almost every day to fill up their vehicles. As the “Swiss Radio and Television” (SRF) reports, many fill the fuel not only in their cars, but also in canisters. As a supplement, so to speak.

“There is generally tank tourism between regions close to the border,” says Swiss tourism researcher Frieder Voll in an interview with FOCUS online. He works at the University of Applied Sciences in Graubünden, and his areas of focus include transport, agritourism and sustainable development in tourism.

According to the expert, because fuel prices fluctuate greatly due to the Ukraine conflict, it can be worth filling up abroad. “Samnaun is very special, however, because it is a duty-free area and of course you work with particularly low prices there,” says Voll.

He also emphasizes that the 800-inhabitant community with its five gas stations is very isolated. The journey is therefore not worthwhile for everyone.

Nevertheless: So far Samnaun has benefited from tank tourism. According to a report in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, the municipality takes in 1.5 million euros in trade taxes annually from the fuel trade. Pictures of the village also show numerous exclusive watch, jewelery and liquor stores.

Because that too is part of the DNA of the 800-inhabitant community. In the 50 duty-free shops, visitors can buy expensive products at comparatively low prices. For some items there is a price advantage of up to 50 percent, writes the “SRF”.

“Shopping tourism is an important branch of the economy for Samnaun, both for the retailers who operate shops and gas stations, as well as for the community and holiday tourism,” explains the mayor of the municipality, Karl Jenal, in an interview with FOCUS online. He describes the duty-free status as a “USP, i.e. a unique selling point”.

But how long the shops in the shopping paradise of Samnaun will continue to flourish is unclear. Shopping paradises are no longer what they were 20 years ago. Almost everything your heart desires can be bought cheaply online for a long time now.

“Due to online trading, sales of various product groups have plummeted,” says Jenal. This is also shown by figures published by the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. Accordingly, the turnover of the duty-free traders in the mountain village in 2010 was almost 120 million francs. Eight years later it was “only” 88 million.

Tank tourism could also soon go downhill. Arno Jäger, former community leader and village historian, predicted a massive slump in an interview with “SRF” – because of the traffic turnaround.

After all, if you drive an electric car, you don’t need cheap petrol. Maybe someone like that doesn’t even get lost in the 800-inhabitant town.

Jäger believes that tourists who fill petrol cans in Samnaun “will increasingly be a thing of the past”. And mayor Jenal also told the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” that the fuel trade was a “discontinued model”. The turnaround in traffic will change Samnaun, even if not immediately.

Despite everything, tourism researcher Voll finds that Samnaun attracts guests with a “very diverse range of topics”. After all, the 800-inhabitant community also belongs to the Silvretta Arena, one of the largest ski areas in the Alps.

“Thanks to the altitude, Samnaun is more snow-reliable than other ski areas,” says Mayor Jenal. In his opinion, an “argument that should not be underestimated in international competition”.

He also believes that holiday tourism in Samnaun “can become even more important in the future, especially summer tourism”. Luxury properties that are currently being built could contribute to this. According to “SRF”, a five-star hotel is to be built in Samnaun. The opening is planned for December.

It is therefore quite possible that Samnaun will have a completely new image in a few years. And the community is known not only as a paradise for bargain hunters, but also as a retreat for wealthy tourists.