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Why is Rick Steves still taking tours in Hallstatt?

My first trip in 2013 to Austria included two days in Lake Hallstatt. we stayed with Helga and Fred Lenz in their home at the top of the mountain. We were in love with this lovely small town and spent hours on the take. We used two days to rest up on our three week journey. We went back for two nights again in 2016 and again stayed with the Lenz's. The city was somewhat busier with tourists, but not out of control.

I wanted my daughter, her husband and 3 grand-daughters to share in our wonderful experience. We went for a third time in fall of 2018. Again with stayed with Fred and Helga who are such great hosts. I was very disappointed with 80 buses a day, full of Asian tourists pushing our Grandaughters, while walking down the street, blocking doorways, being loud, spitting on floors in restaurants, throwing their fish bones on the floor while they eat. We found a small restaurant our last night and they actually locked the doors to the restaurant when a group attempted to come in for dinner.

Please do not tell me I am a racist as I am not. This is a cultural problem and it has ruined the city. I just read an article that of the 800 residents, 778 jammed into a meeting to see if they can control the tourism even though they benefit from the money spent.

Posted by
1839 posts

I remember reading an article (I think) it was in Time Magazine maybe a decade ago re: how the culture/lifestyle in some Asian countries influences the way their citizens travel (to other countries). It was an enlightening article, and I have observed a lot of what was mentioned in the article in MANY countries we have visited since. In big cities at home, they have to push shove to survive (entering mass transit, etc.).

I do remember waiting politely in a line for restrooms in Italy several years ago, when a busload of women arrived at the restroom, pushing, shoving
their way ahead of the line. Being tall, I simply (but with grace) positioned by body (and arm) in a way that they were blocked when not respecting the line, and when they seemed frustrated, two ladies began going under my arm...LOL...I simply motioned to join the end of the line with a very kind "Here you must wait your turn." (and surprisingly, they did).

Tourism is a double-edge sword. My hometown of Nashville is overwhelmed with motorized scooters being driving by throngs of tourists (one was even killed last week darting out in front of a vehicle), and scooters being left in the most ungawdly places. The NFL draft hosted in Nashville pretty much overwhelmed the downtown area, I understand. And, there was much-deserved drama about cherry trees that were to be chopped down for their stage (that plan changed when necessary public outrage resulted). There is a balance that MUST be maintained between welcoming tax dollars and selling one's soul as a city (or country).

As a local, we just about NEVER go downtown anymore, and we show up before 5:30 at our favorite restaurants to beat the crowds. Yes, the sales tax dollars help the city, but it can also be overwhelming in the way of crowds. I can easily spot a tourist....they are the flocks in the cowboy boots (giggle, giggle) or hanging off the party beer pedal wagons that seem to be creeping outside the downtown area sometimes. As a local, we are friendly, helpful and have taken many photos for young ladies standing in front of street murals on trendy 12South (sometimes in a long line), just to be able to Instagram that special Nashville photo to their friends.

Do come visit our great city....and, contrary to (apparent) popular believe, we do not wear cowboy boots :)

Posted by
6408 posts

Yes nothing stays to same; it is business maybe the tour that includes Hallstatt is a best seller. But I don't understand how you think a brand is infallible. You've gone to the well once too many.
I was just in Switzerland and saw something similar in Bern and Luzern and so on; large tour groups blocking the streets fascinated by the scenery taking selfies oblivious to other traffic and I found myself sometimes muttering "get the bleep out the way". The times are changing. That is just the way it goes.

Posted by
6027 posts

Unfortunately for popular locations, tourism is a double edged sword. The locales want and, in most cases, need the tourist dollars. What they don't like is being overrun with tourists to the detriment of the locale itself. But as many of these places have found out (Venice and Cinque Terre come to mind) it's not easy to find a solution to the problem. You need tourists but how do you accept some tourists and ban others; how do you limit the tourism equitably without discriminating against some? If you charge high fees you risk being seen as elitist catering only to those who travel on bigger budgets. If you limit actual numbers how do you do that - ban big bus tours, ban cruise ships? Again you are seen as discriminating against those who choose not to travel independently. You don't want to ban certain tour groups based on their cultural differences - while some like this idea especially today, it's a step backward in my opinion. It may be that there's no solution other than to keep searching out new, less crowded, places rather than returning multiple times to a favorite place that doesn't please you like it once did.

Posted by
2433 posts

It appears that Hallstatt has found its way onto the mainstream tour bus map, just as CT was, and many other places that were once much less crowded with tourists. But I can't help wondering if the OP would be quite so outraged if these tourists had been Caucasian. Let's address the question of sheer numbers, and leave nationalities out of it.

Posted by
1839 posts

I Googled to find the article I referenced above, and found this more current one on European tourism in general....the crowds:

http://time.com/5349533/europe-against-tourists/

If you Google long enough (or check a local library) you will likely find the article I was remembering, and it might not have been Time Magazine,
but it was enlightening (and helped me to understand/tolerate a bit more). Seems the article mentioned that "getting the photo of oneself in front of a famous site" was more important than viewing the site. And, staying on schedule, to go/see/do,even at the risk of missing something really important if there were to be a delay, was most important. Art museums are interesting places to observe tourists from various countries and the various norms of what is acceptable in their cultures.

Posted by
10237 posts

The number of persons who can afford to travel to Europe has multiplied in the last couple of decades, but the number of tourist sights has not. Most Chinese could not afford to travel before, now there are more of them that can, due to improving economics in their country; and there are a lot of them. That shouldn't seem unfair, to those of us who were fortunate enough to be afford to travel to Europe in the old days. It may be that they wish there were not so many Caucasian travelers. It's uncomfortable to be targeting criticism of one ethnic group.

Posted by
6741 posts

Don’t you feel fortunate to have visited places before they became mobbed; I certainly do. I now chose my destination and time of year carefully. Eighty busses! Is that every day or one exceptional day? Reminds me of the cruise ship invasions, even if I love cruising. Times have changed.

As for spitting, dropping bones on the floor—I know what you mean since I had brilliant graduate students from the rural Asian countryside who had to learn not to spit, especially into the classroom garbage can, and they did. I remember the signs in the Paris metro telling French men not to spit in the metro in the 1970s and 80s. It has to be taught. When pushing starts, you have to put your arm out, like Maggie did.

But this leads to one my favorite photos I took in the restaurant on the Schilthorn. Two Chinese women, 60ish, had ordered a gigantic sundae containing everything. One had the spoon, the other a fork, but both glowed with joy. All I could think of was how much their lives had changed, going from the penury and fury of the blue-uniformed Cultural Revolution to the giant sundae on the Schilthorn. Times have changed.

Posted by
465 posts

Having lived in Japan and visited Hong Kong and Korea I can attest that in public spaces/crowds there is a different aspect than most Americans see here at home (big cities like NYC are different). While driving in bumper to bumper traffic or waiting in line for a chairlift at a ski resort, I learned not to let my attention drift or to let the least amount of space grow between me and the person or car in line ahead. However, if you paid attention and looked people in the eye they would generally back off. It's just a cultural difference dealing with crowding.

My biggest frustration is the photo hunters than block main walkways in an effort to get a picture. We even saw a car full at Bryce Canyon NP stop their car blocking the entrance to a parking lot while everyone hopped out to get a picture in front of the park sign. I used to be polite and maneuver around so picture takers could get an clear shot, but now if they are blocking traffic I just walk through.

For years we've been advised not to be the "ugly American" while traveling as even Rick Steve advises on this website. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/the-ugly-tourist-and-how-not-to-be-one
It often makes me wonder if there is an Asian Rick Steves equivalent helping them to understand the cultural differences and why certain behavior is considered rude.

Posted by
7628 posts

"But this leads to one my favorite photos I took in the restaurant on the Schilthorn. Two Chinese women, 60ish, had ordered a gigantic sundae containing everything. One had the spoon, the other a fork, but both glowed with joy. All I could think of was how much their lives had changed, going from the penury and fury of the blue-uniformed Cultural Revolution to the giant sundae on the Schilthorn. Times have changed."

Bets! What a wonderful story and beautiful analysis.

When I visited Hallstatt on an RS tour a few years ago, our guide told us about the Hallstatt replica being built in China.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallstatt_(China)

Posted by
159 posts

One of my Rick Steves tour guides commented to our group about Asian tour groups. She wasn't putting them down, just pointing out the cultural differences, some of which Americans or Europeans may find annoying.

I do agree that it is annoying for any person to simply go to Europe just to "say you did it" and take a selfie. This is not limited to any particular group. So many people do it. There was recently an article that said that millennials choose foreign destinations based on how "Instagrammable" they are. Then again, this isn't limited to Europe. Egos have grown more than the number of tourists.

This is one of those tough crossroads between capitalism and principle. Some of these towns may thrive off the tourism dollars (some locals make their living off it), but I feel like a town's history and charm shouldn't be trampled on with tacky souvenir shops either. I dunno...

Anyhow...
I feel that when you go to a foreign country, you should learn the culture and adapt to it temporarily. I know, not everyone does it. Even here in the US we get that "ugly American" stereotype.

In the meantime, if you want to avoid crowds, avoid 95% of the places in Rick's book. Many places are cute, from Rue Cler to Cinque Terre, but they're swamped. Try Taveyanne in Switzerland.

I'm deciding on a RS tours, but if I can convince my wife it might be fun to take our young son to Europe and chart our own course, we may be able to get a more authentic experience.

It took me 3 trips to realize this, but we can ask, "why are we really visiting a particular place?" Is it because it's the "have to" sight (Pisa, Eiffel Tower, etc.) even though we don't care much about the site? Are we worried that we'll be judged because "you went to Paris and you didn't see...(insert site)?!?!"

Do we have a historical or familial connection to the town? That's a great reason to visit. Maybe you love the food, wine, or other cultural aspects of the place. Maybe you love nature. Perhaps there's something unique that you can only do in particular places.
My best memories of three trips to Europe have always been off-tour. Lots of fun on the tour, don't get me wrong, but my favorite memories were my experiences with the locals, whether it's driving through the Champagne region with an expert, or being invited to someone's home for dinner in Nice.

Posted by
11481 posts

Rethinking my previous, self-deleted response....

It's so interesting when a tourist whose own bulk adds to the masses complains about the masses.

I had a friend who was a leader for large-group U.S. tours for tourists from the continent under criticism here. As he told me, part of his job was enlightening his charges regarding the differences between the country they were visiting and their own, and what was and was not acceptable behavior as guests abroad. He thought that providing those lessons should be the responsibility of EVERY professional guide, and that a lot of the problems such as the OP complained about were because of lazy tour operators who didn't take the time/effort to do that.

If an inexperienced tourist doesn't know that what's normal at home can be judged as unmannerly or rude elsewhere, it's not always their fault. I'll lay a big part of the blame with tour companies which rush them from one attraction to the next but fail to help them with the cultural piece.

The same might be true for some Americans on large-group tours to Asia or elsewhere?

Posted by
439 posts

So, you’re saying no one goes there anymore because it’s so crowded?

Posted by
159 posts

@Kathy, I agree, that would be a great idea, if all tour guides could provide insight into the local norms and customs.

Posted by
5616 posts

Recently in Japan, we were reminded some of the cultural taboos there.

Posted by
5484 posts

In neighboring Germany: https://www.dw.com/en/chinese-tourists-go-on-shopping-sprees/a-38146379

Chinese tourists go on shopping sprees

In big German cities, tourists from China are an important source of
income for retailers. These customers from the Far East however expect
to be courted and looked-after - as it's done in Munich and Frankfurt.

Chinese tourists in Munich, according to the survey, spend an
average of 513 euros ($558) a day
, which means that they have bumped
the strong contingent of Arab shoppers, with an average daily spending
of 367 euros, off first place.

How much do North Americans spend in a day?

Posted by
2936 posts

Lining up is a cultural thing. I don't think anyone can hold a candle to the British when it comes to orderly lines! They are amazing. Sometimes there is just a different way of viewing how one moves. Americans tend to be linear. We think about moving in paths. Other cultures tend to be spatial. If there is a free square foot, well then it is ok to move there. That is why driving in those countries with spatial relationship movements is so terrifying for us.

It isn't like there is just one way to do things or that one is right and the other is wrong. They are simply different. Travel is all about learning and appreciating other ways of doing things. Just because one is in Europe, doesn't mean you can't learn about people from all over the globe who are also there.

Crowds can get overwhelming anywhere. I am sorry that your experience wasn't what you were hoping for. I do hope that you still had a postive time with your family. How wonderful to be able to travel with your grandchildren.

Posted by
159 posts

Indeed, travel is so insightful!

However, I would agree it's still important for a guide to share the cultural norms with a visiting group. Just as we have expectations for visitors to our home (whether we express them or not), locals have expectations for their country.

Posted by
7640 posts

Frankfurt is a hot spot for Chinese tourism and if you think they spend a lot in Munich (500+€) they spend over 900€ on average in Frankfurt. Every store here has a Chinese speaker in their sales staff and Chinese signs.

I am like Bets. Though it can be a bit jostly and they have no sense of personal space, I love seeing their joy as they enter the Römerberg town square, walk into the Kaiserdom, take photos of the trams, or visit the Christmas Market. Riding a cruise on the Rhein with these groups is a blast. They love the castles and the vineyards. I imagine that Americans were about the same in the 1950s-60s with not knowing how to behave - Loud, dressed weirdly, flashing money, taking photos of everything, seeing 10 cities in 7 days. The Chinese will learn eventually too. Huge groups of Indians are now coming to Europe so this is the next big wave of tourism.

Seek out other cities and towns, read what many of us on the forum have written here about towns that are not in Ricks books and you will discover the gems of Europe that aren't packed with tourists. This doesn't include the big cities like Paris, London, Berlin, etc, of course, but for small towns, it is easy to move away from where all the tour buses are.

Posted by
8561 posts

Seek out other cities and towns, read what many of us on the forum have written here about towns that are not in Ricks books and you will discover the gems of Europe that aren't packed with tourists. This doesn't include the big cities like Paris, London, Berlin, etc, of course, but for small towns, it is easy to move away from where all the tour buses are.

Exactly. If you only go where the guidebooks tell you to go, only stay where the guidebooks tell you to stay, only eat where the guidebooks tell you to eat, you will share your world with other guidebooks readers.

Even in larger cities it is possible to find non touristy areas to stay in. To visit during times that are not as crowded.

Posted by
1959 posts

Frank II has a point. My RS Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol book from 2011 says that "While there are plenty of lakes and charming villages in the Salzkammergut, Hallstatt is really the only one that matters."

I learned my lesson after Rue Cler and the Cinque Terre - don't plan your vacation with just one travel guide.

Posted by
206 posts

I visited Hallstatt for the first time in June 2018 on a Rick Steves Munich/Salzburg/Vienna tour. It was SO much more pleasant after 5 pm and before 9 am when the many day trippers were absent. Our tour guide told us that Hallstatt has almost a cult like following among some Chinese and that they built a Hallstatt replica in China.

Posted by
141 posts

I find this thread fascinating and I've learned something new, which is always appreciated. I understand the OP's frustration as on our 2017 My Way Alpine tour I was pushed off the sidewalk by groups of Asian women twice - the first time in Salzburg, the second time in Hallstatt. I was so surprised at the time I said nothing. The same thing could have easily happened post tour in Annecy and Geneva, but by then I had developed a slim understanding that it was a cultural behavioral difference and darted quickly out of the way. I was 57 at the time and I am not a small woman - I stand 5'8" with an Amazonian build and I am not easily pushed around. But I have also learned to choose my battles. Kudos to Maggie - if I were waiting in line to use the restroom I hope I would have the confidence to do the same thing. I can't imagine living in a country where I had to push and shove to get anywhere and I truly appreciate the beauty of living where I live. This thread has reinforced my belief at how lucky I am.

Posted by
503 posts

I think the source of the OP's frustration is the BEHAVIOR of the large group of tourists she references and not their nationality. That they happen to be Asian is neither here nor there, they could have been purple beings from outer space and she would feel the same. Having been pushed and shoved by such groups has happened to me and so I understand her point. For those who criticized the OP for also being part of the tourist throng; her family of 5 or 6 does not have the same impact as bus after bus load of tourist who descend on a small town for a day. I think the future for the areas/towns that are over-run with day trippers will be trying to find some solution such as what Venice is trying to do.

A few days ago the Webmaster posted about trying to be more polite and not so sarcastic in responding to people on the forum. I found some of the answers on this particular thread to be the examples of what he was trying to avoid.

Posted by
3112 posts

I too find this discussion interesting. After years of seeing people including myself getting repeatedly bumped into or shoved and even watching a few people literally being knocked to the ground, I decided to investigate. It wasn’t a big surprise to discover that it’s not a rudeness or even a cultural thing. It’s behavior common to people who live in large over-crowded cities anywhere in the world, where having to be more aggressive than the “norm” when out and about is a part of everyday life. Being bumped into or shoved on a regular basis is their “norm,” and it’s neither intended nor received as rude behavior in that context. I’m sure I made my share of social faux pas when I first started traveling, so I now take a deep breath and hope it won’t be much longer before people behaving this way become more seasoned travelers with a greater awareness of acceptable social norms in the places they visit.

Posted by
1121 posts

I don't think many of us tourists set out to be annoying (apart from stag/hen do visitors, of course).

We just do what is natural to us until we realise it isn't the done thing wherever we are visiting.

Consider the American tourists who speak far too loudly - especially in cafes and restaurants, where they are disturbing the rest of us. They're not doing it deliberately to annoy, they just don't understand how to behave properly. Once corrected, they're generally fine.

Posted by
10237 posts

Nick's point is well taken: the overly loud American tourist. Of course, we Ricksters don't this, it's those other American tourists.

Posted by
6027 posts

Consider the American tourists who speak far too loudly - especially in cafes and restaurants, where they are disturbing the rest of us. They're not doing it deliberately to annoy, they just don't understand how to behave properly.

The fact is that those Americans (and others) who speak far too loudly in public places do not just do it as tourists in other countries, they do the same at home in the US, which is just as annoying to many of us here. Just as the bus loads of tourists from some other countries behave as tourists the same as they do at home. Neither are deliberately being rude or annoying, they just haven't been taught how to behave when in other countries/cultures.

One thing that makes the tour groups from Japan and China appear rude even when they are not aware of their own rudeness is that, while most western tourists speak English and can usually find someone in the tourist areas of other countries who speak English to help them if they become separated from their group, most of these tourists speak nothing but their native languages and live in fear of being separated from their fellow travelers and their guides because those are the only people that can help them. Not that many in the tourist business in Europe (or America, or South America, etc) speak Japanese or any of the many Chinese languages. In crowded places like the museums in Europe, they will cling to each other and push anyone away who might come between them or cause them to be separated. This, coupled with what they've learned dealing with the crowded conditions in their own home countries, makes them seem a bit rude and pushy to us.

So I guess I tend to agree with those who feel that the OP was not necessarily being racist when giving her impressions of those tour groups - more ethnocentric than racist.

Posted by
10237 posts

On this subject I would suggest differentiating Japanese from Chinese. Different cultures.

Posted by
1839 posts

Totally agree with Kent......China and Japan entirely different cultures. I have never run into a rude Japanese group touring.......and every interface I have ever had with those from Japan is uplifting and gracious. In fact, on a one-on-one basis, I have found the Japanese to be rather soft-spoken, especially females (a broad-based generalization, I realize..but my own observations). But, like anywhere with any nationality, there likely exceptions. Just as all Americans are not alike.

Posted by
2860 posts

I agree that in most respects the Japanese are polite, but you should see the Tokyo metro at rush hour. It gives new meaning to “pushy.” Little old ladies aggressively elbowing aside anyone in their path, for example. Everyone pushing everyone to the limits of their strength. I guess it’s an example of what an earlier poster mentioned about survival skills that people develop when they live in big, crowded cities.
Now spitting or throwing fishbones on the floor, that’s a different story. Culturally ingrained or not, those are disgustingly unsanitary practices. Good tour guides could educate their clients about the unacceptability of such behavior, and hosting enterprises could let them know they are not welcome unless they do.
Back on the Japanese . . . We visited our daughter there in 1987. We witnessed what was, to us, a cultural oddity. Though extremely neat and clean in their homes, people would throw trash around in public places. For example, we viewed watermelon rinds and other picnic detritus left on the sand on a beach in a national park. Our daughter explained that it had something to do with a deeply ingrained notion of “inside” and “outside,” which is pretty incomprehensible to Western people. The negativity that was being engendered led the government to create a brochure, sent to every passport applicant, explaining the duty of their countrymen to uphold the nation’s good reputation by not littering.

Posted by
6027 posts

I have never run into a rude Japanese group touring.

Well, I have. Not so much in Europe but here in the States. I worked by the Mall of America and spent a lot of lunch times there. The majority of out of country visitors were groups from Japan, Korea, China, and occasionally from Germany. From my observations and from talking with employees there, the best behaved groups were from Germany. Of the 3 oriental groups, the Koreans were the least rude or pushy appearing. Both the Japanese and Chinese groups were inclined to push and shove others aside in order to stay with their groups.

And yes I know the difference and don't lump them together culturally. Actually when you put aside the pushing and shoving in crowds which is common to many people that are raised in or live in crowded conditions, when encountered individually all of the oriental people that I have met, regardless of which country they come from, have been quite polite, soft spoken, and gracious. When I went to China I was surprised at how gracious and welcoming every one we met was to us, which was not what I expected. And personally I have never encountered the spitting that was mentioned.

Posted by
6741 posts

the best behaved groups were from Germany

That would be a revelation to French people serving large groups in restaurants where it gets louder and louder and more and more raucous. The quiet, soft-spoken French families start turning their heads and getting up to leave as soon as the meal is done. And then there was that large group of Italians finishing up an organized tour in Annecy one night--now there was a group to avoid--LOL. So what goes around, comes around dear compatriots. Large groups=chaos.

Posted by
141 posts

Frank and Nancy - thank you for sharing the information you have learned regarding the behavior/culture of people who live in such heavily populated cities that they have to push, shove and cling to each other to survive. Rosalyn, your description of Tokyo at rush hour seems like a nightmare to me and I am quite sure I will never visit. I am here to learn and your posts give me a greater understanding that my experiences with these women were not personal. Can I rewrite the past? No, but I can use this helpful information as a tool to be a more educated traveller in the future. Am I a racist because I contributed my experiences to this thread? I'll leave it to you. I could bore you with my ugly experiences with other nationalities - the drunk German dude who grabbed my backside during Oktoberfest, the overly friendly Italian waiter whose advances I found uncomplimentary, and for the icing on the cake, the boorish American couple sitting at the next table in a small restaurant in Salzburg - he bellowed "bring me a bottle of your finest Chianti" to the bartender - they were 5 tables away from the bar! I wanted to slide under the table. It goes on and on.

Posted by
19 posts

Lisa I think you said it better than I. When I travel I try to leave a small imprint. I learn the culture of the country I am traveling in.
This has nothing to do with Chinese, it has to do with large 80 bus tour groups pushing and shoving. I spoke to my friend who lives there and the town agrees with me and is making changes. Enough said

Posted by
1402 posts

I get a kick out of Rick being blamed for all the tourism in Hallstatt, Rothenburg, and other places. They were popular before he was born and those two were visited by me before Rick had set foot in Europe.

We just returned from Austria, where we spent a few days in Hallstatt. The crowds during the day were pretty breathtaking but getting off the main street except for early morning/late afternoons minimized the problem for us. But the tour bus situation -- which does seem a bit out of control -- may be improving in the future. On the shuttle ride back to the "P1" parking lot, the driver took a photo of a bus dropping off tourists just past the main bus lot. We asked about that & he said buses were supposed to pay a fee to drop off & that bus was not following the rules. Curious, I did a quick search & found that the fee is currently €40 but that Hallstatt is going to try to cut the tour bus numbers by one third. The article (in German -- thank goodness for Google's automatic translation! :-) ) is https://www.nachrichten.at/oberoesterreich/hallstatt-macht-ernst-heute-soll-zahl-der-touristenbusse-beschraenkt-werden;art4,3105861

Posted by
2358 posts

Nancy, thanks for your helpful explanation of their behavior. I think we can all empathize with their fear of being separated from people who speak their language.

Posted by
16761 posts

Hallstatt is included in a couple of 2019 tour itineraries because Rick loves it. Of course, crowding is a known issue that we try to work around. Not all RS groups stay in Hallstatt itself this year; some stay on the other side of the lake in Obertraun. A private boat cruise for the RS tour group allows a great view with some time away from the crowds. Guides offer advice for free time which I'm sure includes more crowd-management options like hiking trails, quantity-controlled salt mine tours, or other lake excursions, saving time in town for the quieter hours.

Posted by
291 posts

While there are certainly some cultural elements, I think any time you come across a large group like that you're going to notice things you'd likely not otherwise notice. If it was just a single family of Chinese tourists going about their day and taking in the sights, I suspect they'd not even pop up on anyone's radar.

With most all of us here being English-speakers (either as a first language, or second), we're quite fortunate when it comes to many of our travels abroad. We can come across signage, English-speaking hotel/restaurant/shop staff, tons of English-language books and websites with which to research trips. Folks who don't speak the local language, or the more common second languages among the locals, are at quite the disadvantage and might not have the options for solo/family/smaller group travel we do.

I spent years living in the Middle East, in predominantly Muslim countries, and would often see large groups of rowdy Western tourists boozing it up at bars and restaurants in a way that just seemed quite unusual given the host country; in years past, on visits to Prague, locals would talk about how rowdy groups of British tourists on stag parties were what they dreaded most (same in Amsterdam in years before that); when living in Latin America and the Middle East, a common complaint I'd hear from locals is how Americans, Germans, and some other nationalities were always overly skeptical when it came to pricing, convinced every taxi driver or shopkeeper or waitress was conspiring to rip them off and so would be rude and disrespectful and just looking for an argument over a bill or price tag. As certain Red Sea resorts started to get more and more popular with Russian tourists, complaints that had been reserved for Germans in years past were being applied to Russians in the present. I had a lengthy conversation with a tour guide in Buenos Aires once about how awful Brazilian tourists were, and how they were ruining the area.

I can only imagine what some American tourists have done before me in some places, and - heck, nothing wrong with some good ole introspection - what bad impressions I might have left behind for tourists from the US who've come after me. I'm grateful for lucking out on the birthplace lottery and being a citizen of a reasonably prosperous country, but can still cringe when the fellow citizen at the table behind me loudly complains about how hard it is to get any ice with their soda.

I don't think any of us have any sort of god-given right to particular tourist destinations, just because the odds were a bit more in our favor - a bit earlier on - we'd be able to afford certain places before someone else, or that kind of disposal income was more common in the country we happened to get born in before being available elsewhere. So rather than picking on particular nationalities - 'cause you know each of our own has its stereotypes and bad habits - perhaps the best focus of our ire could be on irresponsible tour operators who don't properly prepare their groups or spread them out, local authorities who are slow to react to issues that might be disrupting folks' experiences (the affected local residents' experiences, most importantly), and so on.

Posted by
291 posts

Two Chinese women, 60ish, had ordered a gigantic sundae containing everything. One had the spoon, the other a fork, but both glowed with joy. All I could think of was how much their lives had changed, going from the penury and fury of the blue-uniformed Cultural Revolution to the giant sundae on the Schilthorn. Times have changed.

This is beautiful, and thanks for sharing it.

As much as we might want to complain, I think it can be reaffirming and pleasant to think of the bigger picture - it's wonderful so many people who a short time ago could not have experienced the wonders of international travel on account of circumstances beyond their control are now able to. Heck, had some of us been born just a couple decades earlier we might have found ourselves among the vanguard of newly-prosperous citizens of our own country, able to invade some distant and remote village to load up on souvenirs and take in the sights. The overwhelming bulk of the world's population won't ever be able to experience travel as many of us have, and I'd hate to think that opportunity would be denied them once they had the means to do so simply because the rest of us didn't want to share.

While we're well advised to be a bit more creative and resourceful, we don't need to be exclusive. Something I quite appreciate about Rick Steves' guidebooks, travel shows, and approach to travel is encouraging you to go off the beaten path a bit, travel in smaller groups, and so on. Rather than the big chain hotels on the main drag, you're staying at a smaller and often family-run place; rather than getting around on one of those many buses, you learn about finding your own way around, and when to avoid the crowds. If hordes or tourists are all descending upon those usual suspect sights at those usual times, you're clued in on alternatives, less popular places, and ways to avoid the horde. Even this forum is a tremendously valuable resource there, with access to first-hand accounts and the wisdom of others.

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Thank you, 1885BD, for two beautifully written and thoughtful posts.

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This type of overcrowding seems to be taking place in many locations in Europe, so Hallstatt isn't alone in that regard. In the last year I've read articles on demonstrations against tourists in Spain, and of course the sentiments of those living in Venice are well known. I'm not sure what the answer is to avoid crowds, except to try and find other "back door" locations or travel early or late in the season.