Why do some places become tourist destinations

Finally have Hallstatt all to yourself? Puff cake! Last Sunday, Christian Schirlbauer was once again out and about in the 800-inhabitant Austrian community; For the managing director of the Dachstein Salzkammergut holiday region, that truly picturesque market town on the lake is one of the central areas of responsibility. Schirlbauer noticed two things while queuing for a table in the restaurant. First: "Despite the rather bad weather, the place was almost as busy as always." And secondly: "You have almost only heard the German language."

Despite international travel restrictions, there is still a lot going on in those places that have established themselves in the minds and travel routes of many overseas tourists as the epitome of Central European or Alpine small-town idylls. Only the guests speak German more often again. After all, the international travel restrictions also mean that many are once again exploring their home region more closely. "Hallstatt in particular benefits very, very strongly from the Austrians," says Schirlbauer - and has been relying on other nations since the border with neighboring countries opened. In addition to Austria, more money has been invested in the German and Czech markets. "We're trying to compensate for that with Europeans," says Schirlbauer, addressing above all the absence of the Chinese guests, who see Hallstatt as a place of longing. However, he already knows: "We will not succeed."

Similar sentences can also be heard from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, that Middle Franconian-medieval half-timbered ensemble in which Japanese and American guests alone usually make up around 20 percent of the 540,000 overnight stays per year. "From Thursday to Sunday it is concentrated. The situation is very, very good," says Robert Nehr, who is responsible for communications at Rothenburg Tourism. But here, too, the Germans will not be able to replace the missing visitors from overseas. Because: "It's bad during the week." Hoteliers, landlords and retailers are therefore facing "a difficult year". In particular, souvenir sales are extremely focused on those markets that are expected to collapse for the entire summer. "We have to make sure that we get away with a black eye."

What is striking, however, is that the places that are heavily dependent on tourism because of their clarity are now trying to gain new knowledge from the lockdown. Hallstatt, for example, is currently being subjected to the compulsory test of whether fewer tourists may not be a solution. In the old normal, the place was more and more often in the headlines as a synonym for overtourism due to the record-breaking bus-local ratio and because up to 10,000 day tourists came on peak days. Meanwhile, the Corona break is acting as an accelerator for strategic tourism issues elsewhere. In Rothenburg, for example, for several years now, the aim has been to offer a greater variety of topics to those customers who are interested in more than just a quick visit to the old town. Nehr talks about vineyard tours in the area, family tours or even mixing cocktails with a world champion. In short: "Offer the German guest something so that they stay longer." Corona suddenly took this striving to a new level. "Now all of a sudden completely different hotel operators are ready to take part." The night watchman tour, which is limited to 15 tickets and for which more than 200 people recently wanted to register, proves that there is demand.

In Engelberg in Switzerland, on the other hand, tourism director Andres Lietha recognizes a new dynamic in the endeavor to extend the length of stay and develop from a pure excursion to a holiday region. Some hotels would like to position themselves more strongly. Currently, the smaller accommodations in particular are well utilized, as they tend to focus on guests from Switzerland. The larger hotels would have more problems, especially those that mainly serve the Asian market. Engelberg had Indian guests to thank for a fifth of the overnight stays in recent years, and in some hotels the proportion of Indian guests was more than 50 percent. "Some hotels will probably not open at all," says Lietha. He is pretty sure: "Asia won't be anything this summer."

At the same time, it is becoming more clear than ever what advantages the often poorly reputed groups from the Far East have for a place like Engelberg. "These groups come even when the weather is bad," says Lietha. Anyone who flies across an entire continent is guaranteed to book - and cancel - not as spontaneously as a Swiss couple from the city. And because the holidays in India fall in May and June and thus in the off-season, the capacity was well utilized throughout the year. "And the mountain railways are normally in operation for eleven months," says Lietha.

In contrast to the still booming Asian market with its continuously growing middle class, the number of guests from Central Europe is also stagnating. Lietha is currently even observing a "marketing battle for Swiss guests" in which every destination tries to show its advantages. He calls the attempt to compensate the failures by local guests a "short-term reaction". In the medium term, Engelberg, like other regions of Switzerland that traditionally advertise for tourists in many countries, will stick to the strategy of a diverse guest mix as possible. Because Lietha speaks for many of his colleagues when he says: "I assume that intercontinental tourism will be back next summer."