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Hallstatt: The small Austrian town of 800 people under siege from one million tourists a year

Hallstatt, small Austrian town with a population of just 800 people, is situated between the southwestern shore of Hallstätter See and the steep, uncompromising slopes of the Dachstein massif.

A simple search of Austrian travel returns list articles with Hallstatt propped firmly at the top of the pile, a picturesque salt-mining town dating to the late Bronze Age.

Given its spectacular views, Hallstatt has always functioned comfortably under the guarantee of its short summer tourism window. However, a huge surge of interest from Asia, more specifically China, has resulted in the small town battling a severe increase in numbers.

Alexander Scheutz, mayor of Hallstatt, said: “The advantages are that we have become financially independent. We used to be a place that people left. We couldn’t balance our budget but not that’s changed.”

He added: “Now we can develop our own projects and offer a lot to our population.”

Despite the obvious financial gain from such a surge in tourism figures, local residents have been quick to point out numerous different horror stories which have blighted their home. With tourists appearing in droves of tour busses all with the single aim of getting a picture for their social media, locals believe Hallstatt is being treated more like a theme park than the UNESCO world heritage it is in reality.

“It’s a catastrophe,” hotel owner Verena Lobisser said in an interview with WP. “Many visitors seriously think this is a theme park.” In other aspects, stories have emerged of tourists casually letting themselves into the private timber-framed homes owned by locals in order to look around and use the amenities.

The boom in popularity has been credited to South Korean TV series ‘Spring Waltz’, a successful show which was partly filmed in Hallstatt. The result has seen tourism companies, travel websites and Asian flight companies promoting the location heavily.

Bizarrely, given the demand for a visit to the tiny Austrian town, a full life size replica go Hallstatt was created in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong which was created without the approval of the locals.

“Hallstatt is Instagram-able,” Friedrich Idam, a local architect of the town told Traveller. “So, many tourists only come here to quickly snap one or two photos and that’s it.”

(Credit: Daniel Frank)
(Credit: Daniel Frank)

(Credit: Daniel Frank)
(Credit: Jennieramida)
(Credit: Jennieramida)
(Credit: Rafael Saes)
(Credit: Sheng Li)
(Credit: Yeo Khee)