Hallstatt, Austria: How Frozen Inspiration Handles Overtourism

(CNN) – When a restaurant, hotel, street, town or city becomes "Insta-Famous", it seems only a matter of time before hyper-tourism comes back.

The alpine village of Hallstatt, located on the Salzkammergut mountain in Austria's Gmunden district, knows it well: a waterfall of chocolate buildings surrounded by snow-capped mountains filled with crystalline water is straight out of a fairytale – and straight through from social media feeds.

The population of this UNESCO-protected site is only 780, but its tourist numbers reach around 10,000 visitors a day.

Part of his appeal, beyond the endless possibilities of the self, is Hallstatt, who is rumored to be the inspiration for Arendelle, the fantastic scene of Disney's "frozen" movies.

And it is particularly popular with Asian tourists, fueled in part by the fact that there is a Chinese copy of the village, built in Guangdong Province in 2011.
Now, the village is trying to find ways to cope with the influx of visitors, while Michelle Knoll, office manager of Hallstatt's tourist office, tells CNN Travel that there will be "a focus on quality tourism in the future".

Fairy tale arrangement

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Hallstatt is set in a beautiful setting.

ALEX HALADA / AFP via Getty Images

Hallstatt, created around the salt industry, first appeared in the early 19th century when it was discovered by romantic writers and artists, as struck by the beauty of Baroque architecture such as today's Instagrammers.

The first "Frozen" movie was released in 2013, but the village has been balanced on the edge of the break point for some time. In 2017, Local Austria reported that the village employed "excavators" in churches to stop tourists from disturbing services.
Still, as with any tourist hotspot, the influx of villagers is a double-edged sword. In 2019, Mayor Alexander Schuetz told Chinese website News.cn that "the tourist dollar has become an integral part of the city's economy."
The Disney movie "Frozen" is supposedly inspired by the beautiful scenery of Hallstatt.

The Disney movie "Frozen" is supposedly inspired by the beautiful scenery of Hallstatt.

Walt Disney Pictures

Volodymyr Mazurok manages a network of Instagram accounts based in Austria, including @Hallstatt_Gram, which displays traveler footage.

Mazurok tells CNN Travel that "Hallstatt's photos, compared to other cities, garner a tremendous amount of likes and opinions."

Knoll says Hallstatt was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 that marked the beginning of the influx of tourists.

"Hallstatt became more and more famous," he says. "Many new stores, hostels and attractions have opened."

Social media fostered growth.

"When someone posts a nice photo of Hallstatt on Instagram, his followers will probably want to go there," Knoll says.

Noting that the phenomenon of social media is not just about visitors, Hallstatt's bureaus are running social media-based advertising campaigns on Instagram and Facebook.

Morgan St. Pierre, a Connecticut teacher, visited Hallstatt with her family at Easter 2018 while studying abroad in Europe. They didn't know about the "frozen" connection, but stopped for lunch and to see the views.
As a lover of photography, Saint Pierre says he was willing to "capture the essence of the village".

But that wasn't always simple.

"It was frankly difficult to take some photos without having other tourists in the background," says CNN Travel.

Decrease in tourist numbers


Portions of Hallstatt were set on fire in November 2019.


"They had to work to fix the damage and so it was better to have fewer tourists here in Hallstatt," Knoll says.

Still, he says, many came anyway. They wanted to see the damage.

"So the mayor [said] Officially it would be great if they didn't visit Hallstatt until the damage was avoided, ”he explains.

"The situation with tourism is very controversial, it's just a blessing and a curse for the locals," says Mazurok. "On the one hand, they have a lot to gain from tourism, but at the cost of privacy and comfort."

St. Pierre says he was struck by the feeling that Hallstatt was "inadequately prepared for the level of tourists who were there, especially on a holiday weekend".

When visiting Amsterdam and Venice, Saint Pierre noticed that there were many visitors, but they tend to do business. At Hallstatt, most people only took pictures.

"I would love to go back to Halstadt in the summer to enjoy the lake more and see what the summer is like in Austria, but I would be hesitant because I know how many people there were in the cold months," he says. "[I] one can imagine how many more people there would be in spring or summer. "

Halstast-Austria- (3)

It is not always serene when tourists get off.

ALEX HALADA / AFP via Getty Images

Knoll says the local community center is working to strike a balance. The first step? Implementation of a new bus system in May 2020.

It will reduce "the number of buses and the number of visitors here to Hallstatt".

"Buses will be booked in advance and then visit Hallstatt. Buses booked in the city, whether overnight or cruise ship, visit a museum, prefer," Knoll explains.

Quality over quantity


Hallstatt now focuses on "quality tourism".

Pixabay / Creative Commons

Angry Hallstatt locals have been reported, who treat visitors in ways that are no different from the controversy coming from Venice, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam and other European superstars.

Mazurok lives in Salzburg and says he probably won't live in Hallstatt: "It's hard to stay in a city treated as a theme park," he says.

Knoll lives about six miles from the village in nearby Bad Goisem, but has a family in Hallstatt and has noticed the impact.

"On [the] on the one hand, many Hallstatt residents [make their livelihood] from tourism here. Many of them work in the tourism sector or rent their private rooms to stay tourists, ”he says.

"On the other hand, sometimes it's a little annoying to have so many visitors to your hometown. Supermarket prices are also more expensive than in other nearby cities."

The solution, he says, is to focus on "quality tourism", with the new bus system the first step.