If you want to visit the beautiful Braies Lake in the north of Italy during the summer months and even take a rowing boat to explore these mesmerizing waters, you’d better plan ahead.
For some time now, access to this unique mountain lake has been restricted to keep the number of visitors at a manageable level. Before going there, book a ticket in advance, and travel there by public transport, bicycle or on foot.
The government is calling for a radical rethink
Tourism has grown steadily in the northern Italian province of South Tyrol in recent years. Between 2000 and 2019, the number of annual overnight stays increased from 24 million to almost 34 million. While residents and environmentalists were the first to sound the alarm and criticize this massive influx of tourists, local lawmakers now also recognize that things cannot be this way.
A South Tyrolean government report on tourism last year found that “the highest number of visitors was reached in some very popular parts of the South Tyrol mountains.” Among residents, resentment of tourism is growing because it is linked to noise pollution, increased traffic, and drives up rents and the cost of living. The government report therefore calls for a radical rethinking of how tourism is desirable.
Set the number of tourist accommodations
The state government is in the process of introducing a far-reaching measure to tackle overtourism: a limit on accommodations. The authorities want to freeze the total number of available beds at the 2019 level. To do this, hotels and restaurants in South Tyrol are asked to report how many tourists they can accommodate. Authorities hope it will provide the data needed to control the number of beds available.
But not everyone thinks this move will work. “The cap is a half-hearted measure,” said Josef Oberhofer, who heads the Association for Nature and Environmental Protection. He thinks the cap is ineffective because it provides too many exceptions.
Recently, the authorities extended the deadline by which hotels and other establishments must report their beds for another three months. Oberhofer said it shows that decision makers are too generous and “trying to please the tourism lobby.”
Tourism is an important pillar of the economy
The tourism lobby in South Tyrol has a lot of energy. Not surprising, since the lodging and gastronomy sector accounts for 11% of the region’s GDP. Indirectly, other industries such as retail, crafts and agriculture also benefit from the tourist trade. That’s why the association of hoteliers and innkeepers, HGV, criticized the government’s plans to restrict the tourist industry. “Unification of the whole province is unacceptable,” said HGV head Manfred Pinzger. “There are places where any sane politician would actually welcome more tourism.”
Take for example Vahrn, a town with only 5,000 residents. Mayor Andreas Schatzer says he wants to see the local tourist sector grow. Currently, he said, there is enough capacity to accommodate about 1,000 tourists. “We have 116 municipalities in South Tyrol, of which about a dozen rely on tourism,” said Schatzer, who heads the South Tyrolean Association of Municipalities. While 30 cities have average tourist development, he said, others would like to see more tourist lodgings open in their region.
The state government in the provincial capital of Bolzano sees things differently. “Our goal is not the same amount of tourism in all cities,” said Provincial Tourism Councilor Arnold Schuler, who oversees the proposed cap on tourist accommodations. However, he said, there is a possibility to allow less touristic regions to accommodate more visitors in the future. In addition, the authorities exempted farms from the accommodation cap. “A lot of farmers just need the extra income from tourist rentals,” Schuler said.
Josef Oberhofer, however, needs some drastic measures to ease the pressure in some regions. He thought that “we should completely stop promoting South Tyrol as a tourist destination,” and added that “enough is enough!”
It remains to be seen whether the cap on tourist accommodations will yield the expected results. Provincial Tourism Councilor Schuler also did not rule out more radical measures if mass tourism continues. He says if certain locations are frequented by visitors, access should be restricted, as is the case with Lake Braies.
This article was translated from German.