Work on $600mln Swiss Alps resort to start next yr-developer

Tue Jul 24, 2012 6:00pm EDT

* Move seen as boost to embattled tourism industry

* Strong franc has hurt sector

By Emma Farge

GENEVA, July 24 (Reuters) - A firm backed by a Russian property tycoon will start building a $618m luxury resort in the Swiss Alps early next year, the company said on Tuesday, in a move likely to be interpreted as a boost for Switzerland's struggling tourist sector.

Swiss-based firm Aminona Luxury Resort said it was in a position to press ahead with construction after a Swiss federal court gave the project the green light last week, dismissing environmental concerns about its construction.

The five-star complex - called "Royal Village" - will be one of the Alpine country's largest tourist resorts able to accommodate up to 2,500 guests. It will also be equipped with 30 bars and restaurants, a night club, an artificial lake and a ski gondola.

The resort will be linked to a ski resort in the same canton as the picturesque Matterhorn mountain.

Vladimir Marakutsa, the managing director of Aminona, said the firm would start construction next spring with the first tourists due to arrive in 2017. Aminona is backed by Russian tycoon Sergei Polonsky, the former chairman of bankrupt property firm Mirax Group.

The project is being seen as a vote of confidence in the country's embattled tourist industry which has suffered due to the strength of the Swiss franc.

Although it was capped at 1.20 francs to the euro last September, the country is still considered an expensive destination relative to neighbouring France and Italy.

Tourism accounts for five percent of Swiss GDP.

Despite the recent federal ruling, the project still faces opposition over, among other things, plans to construct five high-rise towers.

($1 = 0.9938 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Osborn)