They arrive by the busload and on ferries, many in pursuit of the perfect photograph for Instagram, others seeking the transcendence of a fairy-tale land.
Each year, 1 million travelers visit Hallstatt, Austria, a picturesque 16th-century hamlet they say inspired the fictional kingdom of Arendelle in the Disney animated blockbuster “Frozen.”
Never mind that the 2013 film — and its 2019 sequel — was influenced by Norway’s wintry splendor more than 1,000 miles away. Or that Disney offers “Frozen”-inspired activities on its cruises in Norway. To be fair, Hallstatt looks remarkably like Arendelle, which is why visitors continue to arrive. But the 780 people who live there have had enough.
In May, Hallstatt is embarking on a campaign to focus on quality — not quantity — tourism, according to local officials. Tour buses, which tally as many as 90 on the busiest days, will be capped at 50 and must register with the tourism office. Groups that arrange lunches at local restaurants, sign up for boat cruises or visit Hallstatt’s famous salt mines will be given preference.
Visitors, too, will be asked to stay more than two hours, said Michelle Knoll, office manager for Hallstatt’s tourism board. The goal is to get people to spend time and money in Hallstatt’s restaurants and shops.
“Many visitors only have a short time and only come to take some pictures,” Knoll said in an email. She added, “The number of tourists is simply too much.”
A lot of countries and cities court new visitors after a movie or television show is released. New Zealand built a lucrative travel industry based solely on the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. (It was filmed there.) In 2018, the Singapore Tourism Board partnered with Warner Bros., the studio behind “Crazy Rich Asians,” to tout the country as a luxury destination.
For travelers, too, there are bragging rights. Want to visit the barren desert where “Mad Max: Fury Road” was filmed? Orbitz has a map with locations on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia. What about the souks and medina in the James Bond film “Spectre”? Orbitz has mapped their locations in Tangier, too.
But an influx of curious travelers comes with a cautionary note. Consider what happened to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, an island in Thailand where the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed. After the movie’s release in 2000, a daily influx of as many as 5,000 tourists and 200 boats damaged 80% of the coral reef. As a result, the beach was closed and won’t reopen until 2021 to give the reef time to repair.
The effect on Hallstatt has been less severe but equally intrusive. Churches have had to hire bouncers to keep selfie-seeking tourists from interrupting funerals and Sunday services, according to news reports. Guests are warned not to use drones or trample village property. After a fire broke out in November, Hallstatt’s mayor, Alexander Scheutz, implored travelers to stay home so locals could fix the buildings.
He recently said he hoped to cut the number of tourists by one-third this year.
Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism,” said that tourists should manage their enthusiasm after seeing exotic locales in movies and on television.
“Even nice people start to act like barbarians,” she said of overcrowded tourist spots. “Why do we expect to walk into anybody else’s life and have their romantic adventure?”
That’s particularly true in communities that are ill-equipped to handle the tons of additional garbage that tourists bring with them. Then there is the surge in water usage, Becker said.
It’s especially troublesome if there are not enough hotels, bathrooms and grocery stores to handle the hordes. She noted that even established tourist destinations like Dubrovnik, Croatia, which saw a flood of visitors with the popularity of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” buckle at first when the large cruise ships arrive.
“Communities need to recognize a tipping point has occurred and figure out how they will address it,” Seleni Matus, executive director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University, said in an interview. “They need to increase awareness of how behaviors can impact a community negatively.”
Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was popular before the release of “Frozen,” particularly among Asian tourists. The village was replicated in China’s Guangdong province in 2012, and the Chinese copy has become a favorite attraction there. But Hallstatt’s prominence grew with the movie and the ascendance of Instagram.
Last year, Harper’s Bazaar named Hallstatt one of the 10 most “Instagrammable” cities in the world. The hashtag #Hallstatt has more than 618,000 posts. One Instagram account dedicated to the village, @hallstatt_gram, has more than 16,000 followers. Its tagline: “Hallstatt is awesome.”
Sure, it may be awesome. But Hallstatt is overburdened too, according to Knoll.
Scheutz, the mayor, has been in touch with his counterparts in nearby Salzburg. That city saw a surge in popularity after “The Sound of Music” debuted in 1965. Salzburg’s local economy is now fueled, in part, by the “Sound of Music” travel boom. But, like Hallstatt, it has problems with short-term visitors.
“Hallstatt doesn’t need so many tourists,” Knoll said, “but rather those who really enjoy the time.”