Hallstatt, Austria's Alpine jewel, debates post-corona tourism

  • Wednesday 24, June 2020 05:56 AM
Sharjah24 – AFP: Only a few months ago residents of the impossibly picturesque Austrian village of Hallstatt were debating how to stem the influx of tourists thronging its narrow streets, nestled between soaring mountains and a sparkling lake.
Careful what you wish for: with the collapse in international travel brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the tour groups that used to jam the streets -- with up to 100 coaches arriving daily in the high season -- have disappeared.

In pre-coronavirus times the main concern for locals was that Hallstatt would be turned into an open-air theme park and become yet another symbol of the phenomenon of "overtourism".

With a million visitors per year for just 750 residents, the tiny village competed with the likes of Venice and Barcelona in the rankings of most tourists per inhabitant.

"There are more than 600,000 photos of Hallstatt on Instagram!" says local mayor Alexander Scheutz, still a little incredulous at the worldwide fame Hallstatt has garnered.

The number of tourist coaches coming to Hallstatt doubled in the space of five years, reaching 21,254 in 2019.

Many of the bigger tour groups were made up of visitors from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States.

A major draw has been Hallstatt's apparent similarity to the village depicted in the wildly successful Frozen film series, with its sloping, snow-laden timber houses and pointed church spire.

The unveiling of a replica of Hallstatt in 2012 in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, as well as its starring role in a Korean TV series, have also helped its international fame.

- Disney rumours -
As Austria was easing its coronavirus lockdown in May, Hallstatt brought in a new system for limiting coach numbers -- only for the coaches to vanish anyway.

The system had been put in place after a social media rumour sent chills down the spines of locals; Disney was apparently using Hallstatt as its template for yet another film.

While the car park has been full on the weekends since lockdown eased, current visitors are overwhelmingly Austrians or people from neighbouring countries.

Hallstatt's fame has helped it stave off the depopulation which afflicts so many other rural communities and has brought the locality jobs and revenue.