Austrian picture-postcard village long for tourists to return

North view of the center of the Upper Austrian market town Hallstatt and in the background the 1934 m high Vordere Hirlatz


HALLSTATT, Austria - A tiny Austrian lakeside village so picturesque it had to limit throngs of tourists is now longing for visitors to return to its empty lanes.

Hallstatt, population 780, estimates it had a million day-trip visitors last year before the coronavirus pandemic halted international tourism. Other European hotspots once suffocated by selfie-snapping visitors face a similar fate.

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Most tourists came on bus tours stopping for a view that gained renown in Asia thanks to a South Korean TV series filmed there and a partial replica of it built in China.

Nestled in the Salzkammergut region of lakes and mountains east of Salzburg, Hallstatt often attracted attention for efforts to restrict the number of buses stopping there and to monetize those short visits, such as by charging 1 euro to use the toilet.

Now it wonders when it will face that challenge again.

"Recently it was too much, and it was perceived as too much and as a curse, and we kept taking measures," Hallstatt's Mayor Alexander Scheutz said.

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Restaurants, cafes, and bars are due to reopen on May 15, followed by hotels on May 29. But the borders remain essentially closed in a country heavily reliant on tourism.

"We in Hallstatt of course depend 95 percent on foreign guests...from Asia, from America, from England and from the surrounding European countries," said Markus-Paul Derbl, who owns a restaurant, souvenir shop and other businesses.

"If the borders stay closed it will be very, very difficult to keep business going properly."