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This Picturesque Austrian Town Is Being Overrun by ‘Frozen’ Fans

The 16th-century hamlet, incorrectly believed to be the inspiration for the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, hopes to stem the deluge of tourists

Home to just 780 people, Hallstatt welcomes more than one million tourists each year. (Aleh Varanishcha via iStock)
smithsonianmag.com

Tucked amid Austria’s Alpine region is the historic town of Hallstatt, where pastel-colored houses curve around a shimmering lake surrounded by soaring snowcapped mountains. The town’s picturesque beauty has made it a major draw for tourists—but now, residents want the deluge of visitors to end.

Home to just 780 people, Hallstatt welcomes more than one million tourists each year, reports Rachael Kennedy for Euronews. These travelers arrive on buses and in cars, streaming into the town armed with cameras and selfie sticks. According to Laura M. Holson of the New York Times, many of these fervent fans believe Hallstatt inspired the kingdom of Arendelle in the animated hit Frozen—though the film’s art director says he actually drew on locations in Canada and Norway.

This steady flow of visitors has “deteriorated” locals’ quality of life, says Hallstatt mayor Alexander Scheutz to Euronews.

“The tourists who come to us from all over the world are well behaved and very friendly,” he adds, “but there are too many.”

The situation has gotten so extreme that churches and cemeteries have started hiring bouncers to prevent tourists from intruding on services and funerals. Signs posted around Hallstatt warn against the use of drones and designate residences as private property, a fact reinforced by traffic cones placed outside of locals’ homes in hopes of deterring nosy visitors. In November 2019, after a fire damaged several buildings in the Unesco World Heritage town, the mayor asked tourists to stay away from the area so authorities could carry out their investigation and cleanup procedures. But tourists came anyway.

“They wanted to see the damage,” writes CNN’s Francesca Street.

Now, the town is taking steps to crack down on its tourism problem. Starting in May, tour buses will be capped at 50 per day and asked to register with the local tourism office. (Per the Times, as many as 90 buses drive into Hallstatt daily during busy periods.) Groups that book lunches at restaurants, register for boat cruises or visit the town’s famed salt mines will be given preference. And visitors will be required to stay in Hallstatt for at least two hours and twenty minutes, a period encompassing enough time to patronize local shops and restaurants. Currently, many tourists breeze through the town, stopping for just a short time to take pictures.

The goal of the new rules is to promote “quality tourism,” Michelle Knoll, office manager for Hallstatt’s tourism board, tells CNN.

Hallstatt is far from the only European destination struggling to deal with hordes of visitors. Venice has become so choked with tourists that the Italian city is implementing a tax for daytrippers. Amsterdam is raising its existing tourist taxes and has launched a campaign to redirect visitors to other parts of the country. Like Hallstatt, Dubrovnik is feeling the sting of its association with a Hollywood hit: Fans of “Game of Thrones,” which provided the backdrop of King’s Landing, have invaded the city, prompting officials to restrict the number of visitors who can disembark from cruise ships at a given time, among other measures.

For officials, the challenge lies in striking a balance between reaping the economic benefits of tourism and ensuring that popular hotspots remain habitable. Speaking with Chinese news site News.cn, Mayor Scheutz of Hallstatt acknowledges that the “tourist dollar has become an indispensable part of the town's economy.”

Addressing future visitors in an interview with Euronews, Scheutz adds, “We are happy that you came to Hallstatt, and we ask you to take enough time to see the place and its sights.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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