Fans of the South Korean TV series Crash landing on you flock to Switzerland from all over Asia. The influx is more than the village of Iseltwald can handle and has sparked a backlash from locals and tourism officials.
This content was published on August 27, 2022 – 14:00
When bus number 103, from Interlaken to the picturesque Bernese village of Iseltwald, arrived at its destination on a Monday morning in late August, Asian passengers began walking towards the shores of Lake Brienz, some 200 meters away.
Their final destination, on a journey that for some began in Korea, Japan or Vietnam, is a wooden jetty on the lake. This is where one of the main characters from the Netflix series Crash landing on you play the piano. While playing, a girl he falls in love with arrives on a ferry from Interlaken. Since then, the place has become a must-visit place for fans of the series.
Around the pier, 1.5 meters wide and seven meters long, a dozen tourists are already waiting to get on and take pictures. Throughout the day, groups of about ten people circle the pier, eager to immortalize their trip. They come with tripods, selfie sticks, and even drones. From time to time, they bring their face closer to the camera to check the shots. When the next bus arrives a few hours later, more people join the queue.
Korean TV series “Crash Landing on You”
The drama is a love story about a tycoon’s daughter who crashes into North Korea from South Korea on a paraglider and falls in love with a North Korean soldier.
It started airing in South Korea in December 2019 and achieved high ratings. The unprecedented setting of a South Korean woman and a North Korean man falling in love also boosted the drama’s popularity, leading to a huge boom in South Korea and other Asian countries, including Japan, the Vietnam and China. It is currently distributed in nine languages in 190 countries by Netflix.
The drama was filmed in several Swiss locations, including Zurich, Lucerne and Bern. The scene where one of the main characters, Ri Jeong-hyeok, plays the piano on the pier at Lake Brienz in Iseltwald, canton of Bern, is particularly famous and has become a must-see for fans of the series.
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Ms. Lee and Ms. Park, two 21-year-old South Korean students, arrived on the 9:06 a.m. bus and headed for the platform. They follow a summer course in Germany for a month and decide to go to Switzerland to visit the different filming locations of the series: Iseltwald, Lucerne and Zurich. “Switzerland’s natural beauty is very appealing. We don’t have that in South Korea,” Park says.
Taking photos next to them is a Vietnamese couple in wedding dresses and tuxedos. “We are getting married in November and came here for a pre-wedding photo shoot. We chose this place because of the series. It’s very romantic,” says the bride, Thu Nguyen. As she speaks, her hands keep moving as she packs her bags. “We only spend one day in Iseltwald. If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the train,” she said, taking the groom’s hand and hurrying off the platform. Their next stop is Lucerne, also featured in the series.
The number of tourists visiting Iseltwald increased around noon. The bus from Iseltwald is packed.
PostAuto, the operator of the bus line, announcedExternal link at the end of July that until October it was increasing the number of services by four per day due to the growing demand from tourists. This is a 30% increase from pre-pandemic levels in 2020. On top of that, tour operators are also flocking to the location. The Swiss press reported that at its peak in the first half of August, up to 12 large tourist buses arrived daily.
This unexpected influx of customers has sometimes disrupted the usually quiet route of the buses. “We are very happy that so many people are using the service. However, since last week there has been a combination of construction work and increased traffic, which has led to more congestion on the road. It is therefore a challenge for us to respect the opening hours”, wrote Urs Bloch, spokesperson for PostAuto, in an e-mail at the end of August.
Reported by Covid
The TV series first aired in December 2019. As its popularity grew, more and more viewers wanted to visit Swiss filming locations, but global restrictions on international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic have put their plans on hold. However, in April this year, Switzerland’s removal of entry restrictions to all destinations led to an upsurge in the number of international visitors to the country.
According to statistics published by the Federal Statistical Office on January 5, the return of international visitors after the lifting of restrictions resulted in 16.9 million overnight stays in Swiss hotels between January and June this year, an increase of 47.3% compared to 2021. While 70% of these were from Europe, there was also an increase of 727,000 overnight stays from Asia, more than ten times more than at the same period last year. By region, inbound tourism demand increased in all 13 regions, with the Bern region in particular registering a 4.6-fold increase compared to the previous year.
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However, the boom has not always been welcomed by local tourism operators and residents. In Iseltwald, there are fears that the region will not benefit financially and that the municipality will have nothing to gain and will end up picking up the waste left behind. Residents also fear the influx will scare off regular tourists who come seeking peace and quiet.
“Iseltwald is a quiet village of 420 inhabitants. The inhabitants are not happy with this wave of tourists,” complains Marion Krähenbühl, who works in the small supermarket and souvenir shop opposite the bus stop.
The rise of her hometown has left her confused and upset. “Tour groups leave the village within five minutes of taking photos at the pier. Tourists who come by bus bring their own food and drink so do not eat in restaurants. Therefore, the village gets almost no additional income from these tourists. Only the discarded waste remains. It’s just “rotten tourism”, “she laments.
The Bönigen-Iseltwald tourist office recognizes that these statements by the inhabitants are “unfortunately true”. “There has been no particular increase in tourism income for the village as a result of the series. discuss with the local municipality to find a solution,” the office said. This would include how to financially benefit new tourists.
“There’s more to Iseltwald than meets the eye in the photos,” says the tourist board. “Some regular visitors have been coming to Iseltwald for the peace and quiet for 20 years, as it has long been known as an ‘oasis of tranquility’. We don’t want to lose our charm.
On the other hand, they say they can’t ignore those who are happy that Iseltwald has become widely known thanks to the series. A Swiss couple living in Iseltwald say they are “delighted” with the increase in the number of tourists visiting the village. “We live here and have circled the pier at least a hundred times. The number of tourists is overwhelming compared to before the series was made. But once the boom subsides, it will be quiet again. As long as we don’t have to pay additional taxes, we’re not particularly bothered.
The subject of how to reconcile the needs of tourists with those of residents will be discussed at the next village meeting.
In the meantime, tourists seem ready to keep coming to Isletwald. According to the municipality, a Thai film crew has applied to the Interlaken authorities for a filming permit in the village as well as Lake Brienz.
Adapted by Virginie Mangin
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