Little village under siege from tourists

“Hallstatt is no museum”, loud and clear, right in your face, and flashing from numerous houses and garage doors. Like guiding arrows, leading you about the village, almost every other building informs you about the villagers’ attitude, with no entry signs, no drones signs, or boards urging you to keep quiet. Just follow these markers and they will lead you to all the key tourist spots of the town, like some chiding angry breadcrumb trail.

In this manner the residents of this picturesque village are trying to point out the unbecoming and unsuitable behaviour of its incoming visitors. Hallstatt is no museum, it is home to ordinary villagers, whose idyllic reality has in recent years changed into a nightmare. This veritable wonderland by the lake is losing its charm to the ever increasing influx of tourists.

Day-trippers

Day-trippers, or so called ‘hour-trippers’ are one of the major problems facing the tourist industry in Hallstatt. They come in by buses, and spend only a little time here, use few if any of the services and adding insult to injury they leave it littered and dirty in their wake. Money thus, does not stay within the town and Hallstatt tourist industry does not profit as it deservedly should and essentially needs to. The high influx of day trippers, brought in by numerous buses every day, drive away not only the residents from their homes, but also tourists who might be willing to stay for longer too. Mass high-speed tourism thus harms the development of high quality tourism in long term.

Symbol of Mass Tourism

The village of 800 inhabitants leads in all the rankings of popularity and number of visits per annum. (Which, according to an independent citizens’ association Bürger für Hallstatt number 1 million). The aims of this association are to include all the citizens in the decision making processes and support the improvement of life quality in Hallstatt. Bürger für Hallstatt know exactly how this improvement should be made. They believe tourism must be brought to heel to serve the town. Friedrich Idam, one of the association founders, states that in the past 7 years the number of day-trippers has increased by more than 20%. This has lead to increasingly stressful lives for the inhabitants of Hallstatt, putting their stress levels on a par with that of far larger cities. Chaotic traffic is an everyday reality of all the residents, and Hallstatt has thus become a symbol of mass tourism on a level with Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice.

The Most Photographed Austrian Village

Despite its relatively small size, it ranks surprisingly high amongst the top ranked tourist destinations. According to The World Tourism Organization UNWTO, Austria with its 141 million overnight stays, took 11th place in the international tourism rankings that year. In 2017 the number went up (2.6% to an amazing 144.5 million overnight stays, according to Statistick Austria Web Page) Hallstatt has thus become as attractive as Vienna, Salzburg, Zell am See, The Alps, or Innsbruck.

Why is that so? This – one of the oldest and most photographed Austrian villages, in the Salzkammergut region, is very rich in history and prestige. Johann Georg Ramsauer, and his 1846 discovery of the prehistoric cemetery and one of the world’s earliest blacksmith’s forges (dating back all the way to 700 – 400 B.C.), has made it famous all over the world. Salt mines, so important for the past industry in Hallstatt too, have now become a huge tourist attraction. Salzkammergut is a unique and well recognized World Heritage region, which became part of UNESCO in 1997.

South Korean Soap Opera and Chinese Replica of Hallstatt

According to Michelle Knoll, the Tourist office manager in Hallstatt, most of the tourists are Austrian, German, Chinese, and Czech. In the top ten, you will find also people from The Netherlands, Hungary, The USA, Great Britain, Switzerland and Poland. This place has become extremely popular amongst Chinese and other Asian nations. Most of the above mentioned day-trippers come from these countries and often don’t respect the personal space of villagers, whose home this is. Agoda Company (a leader Asian Company for accommodation online booking) came up with top 3 European destinations for Asian people. Hallstatt took the first place! The next top destinations were Füssen, the home of the famous Neuschwanstein castle, Český Krumlov, Heidelberg and Salzburg.

I could not resist the temptation to find out the reason why Hallstatt has become so attractive to Asian tourists. Michelle Knoll, as well as Friedrich Idam, both confirmed that the increasing popularity of this destination is a phenomenon, which we can accredit to the city of Guangdong in China. It is in this city that you can find a replica of Hallstatt which was built in 2012. Many Asian tourists are very keen to see the “original Hallstatt” which served as the model for their own one. South Koreans have one more reason for visiting this spectacle, as their soap opera Spring Waltz has used Hallstatt as its backdrop for many important scenes. Hallstatt becoming a member of World Cultural Heritage UNESCO and its active promotion at international fairs has made it a place firmly on the radar of the international tourist community. However, as Michelle Knoll added, in order to regain the control over the tourist influx, Hallstatt is being promoted in Asian countries only in winter season now.

Mass Tourism – No Longer a Solely Metropolitan Problem

Mass tourism has long been a phenomenon which the citizens of big cities had to suffer. Recently, however, this problem has started to reach further than the gates of large metropolitan areas. Countries like Iceland, outdoor touristic attractions such as Mt.Everest, or formerly tiny tranquil villages such as Hallstatt, are hugely affected too. The positive contribution of tourism is obvious. However, there is a line where the bearable becomes its opposite. The negative side of mass tourism is evident and we can see how much it affects the environment, not to mention the quality of life of locals. Never-ending noise, omnipresent litter, traffic jams and increasing prices push the residents to move to the outer suburbs and peripheries.

Tourism Should Serve the People, Not Vice Versa

Many cities have already taken action in the form of precautions and forestallments. Some of these are e.g.: the lowering of lodging capacities, raising of local taxes and limitations on sightseeing admissions.  Whether Hallstatt is going to go down that route too, I honestly do not know. Local authorities did not respond to my requests for information and thus it is difficult to guess what their standpoint is. The mayor of the town, Alexander Scheutz has been rather clear about his point of view, when he stated he did not wish to do this Barcelona style, where people frequently spray tourists in the streets. Neither does he want to hear about turnstiles as in Venice, or any sort of entrance fees, despite the already existing parking and toilet fees. He understands the importance of visitors feeling welcome. Michelle Knoll from the tourist office stated that there are people from Hallstatt already involved in solving the traffic problem, and they have been working on a concept which could help the situation on their roads. More information will be revealed only next year.

Friedrich Idam from Bürger für Hallstatt Association has been more outspoken about this problem. “We want tourism within measure, in moderation, and with an aim. We are not against the tourism as such. However, we are convinced that the present-day situation might harm the positive course of our town in long term. Tourism must serve the people, who have lived here permanently, not vice versa.” The members of the Association came with concrete precautions which need to be taken. The first step would be higher parking fees. That should restrict the short term mass tourism. Money raised this way will be given back to the town and its maintenance. The most striking action however, is to determine the top limit of incoming buses. They are planning to start registering them in advance from the year 2020.

Come Early

My photographs which you see totally deny all that has been said above. Minimum people, and Hallstatt – a picturesque village just at your service. Unfortunately, I have to admit that is only an illusion, well planned in advance, and hard work too. Until the planned precautions are taken in the future, it is well advised to follow some rules. Don’t come in high season, avoid the weekends and holidays. To be honest, high season lasts the whole year, but summers are extremely crowded. Winter season very much depends on the amount of snow in the adjacent ski resort. It usually lasts from December to April. Meaning: the ideal time to visit is in spring and late autumn months.

Mass tourism does not need to be so much more destructive than the other branches of it. Finding the balance between the tourists and destinations they visit, together with its inhabitants is an obvious kea and precondition for sustainable tourist industry. What none of the present parties should ever forget, is that letting the visited places keep their distinctive uniqueness is what matters the most, in order not to let the thing which has attracted people in the first place change into something which will drive them away.

Mass tourism is a form of tourism which denotes big masses travelling to the same destinations at the same time, using the same accommodation facilities and means of transport. This form of tourism stands in contrast with individual tourism, where you can find all activities like hiking, rural tourism, bicycle touring and many others. Mass tourism has many forms and does not appear only in limited specific places. You can find it, really, anywhere. It affects big cities, as well as nature beauties, cultural sights, and tourist attractions.

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