Fans of the South Korean television series Crash Landing on You are flocking to Switzerland from all around Asia. The influx is more than the village of Iseltwald can bear and has sparked a backlash from locals and tourism officials.
This content was published on August 27, 2022 – 14:00
When the bus number 103, running from Interlaken to the picturesque Bernese village of Iseltwald, reached its destination on a Monday morning in late August, Asian passengers started walking towards the shores of Lake Brienz, some 200 meters away.
Their final destination, of a trip which for some began in Korea, Japan or Vietnam, is a wooden pier on the lake. This is where one of the main characters of the Netflix series Crash Landing on You plays the piano. As he plays, a girl he falls in love with arrives on a ferry from Interlaken. Since then, the location has become a must-see location for fans of the series.
Around the pier, which is 1.5 meters wide and seven meters long, about ten tourists are already waiting to get on and take pictures. All day, groups of about ten people rotate on the pier, eager to immortalise their trip. They come with tripods, selfie sticks and even drones. Now and then they move their faces close 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 crash lands in North Korea from South Korea by paraglider and falls in love with a North Korean soldier.
It started airing in South Korea in December 2019 and recorded high viewer ratings. The unprecedented setting of a South Korean woman and 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, Vietnam and China. It is currently being 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 by Lake Brienz in Iseltwald, canton Bern, is particularly famous and has become a must-see location for fans of the series.
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Ms Lee and Ms Park, two 21-year-old students from South Korea, arrived on the 9:06 bus and make their way to the pier. They are attending summer school in Germany for a month and decided to travel to Switzerland to visit the different filming locations of the series: Iseltwald, Lucerne and Zurich. “The natural beauty of Switzerland is very attractive. We don’t have that in South Korea”, Park says.
Taking photos next to them is a Vietnamese couple in a wedding dress and dinner jacket. “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 talks, her hands never stop moving as she packs her bags. “We are spending only a day in Iseltwald. If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the train,” she says, taking the groom’s hand and hurrying off the pier. Their next stop is Lucerne, also featured in the series.
The number of tourists visiting Iseltwald increased towards noon. The bus leaving Iseltwald is packed.
PostAuto, the operator of the bus route, announcedExternal link in late July that until October it was increasing the number of services by four per day due to rising demand from tourists. That’s a 30% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2020. On top of those, 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 per day.
This unexpected influx of customers has at times disrupted the usually tranquil bus route. “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 route. This makes it a challenge for us to keep to the operating times,” Urs Bloch, PostAuto’s spokesperson, wrote in an email in late August.
Postponed by Covid
The TV series was first broadcast in December 2019. As its popularity grew, more and more viewers wanted to visit the Swiss filming locations, but global restrictions on international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic put their plans on hold. However, in April this year, Switzerland’s removal of restrictions on entry from all destinations led to a resurgence in the number of international visitors to the country.
According to statistics released by the Federal Statistical Office on January 5, the return of international visitors after the lifting of restrictions led to 16.9 million overnight stays in Swiss hotels between January and June this year, an increase of 47.3% from 2021. While 70% of these were from Europe, there was also an increase of 727,000 overnight stays from Asia, over ten times more than the same period last year. By region, demand for inbound tourism increased in all 13 regions, with the Bern region in particular recording 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 is widespread concern the region will not benefit financially and that the municipality has nothing to gain and instead will end up picking up left-behind rubbish. Residents also worry the influx will frighten away regular tourists who come for the peace and quiet.
“Iseltwald is a quiet village with a population of 420. The local residents 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 to fame of her native village has left her confused and overwhelmed. “Tour groups leave the village within five minutes after taking photos at the pier. Tourists who come by bus bring their own food and drink so do not eat in the restaurants. Therefore, the village earns almost no extra income from these tourists. All that is left is the rubbish that has been thrown away. This is just ‘rubbish tourism’,” she laments.
The Bönigen- Iseltwald Tourism office acknowledges that these residents’ statements are “unfortunately true”. “There has been no particular increase in the village’s tourism income as a result of the series. We only spent money on disposing of the waste. We are currently discussing with the local municipality to find a solution,” the office said. This would include how to benefit financially from the new tourists.
“There is more to Iseltwald than meets the eye in the pictures,” says the tourist office. “Some regular visitors have been coming to Iseltwald for 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 cannot ignore those who are happy that Iseltwald has become widely known as a result of the series. A Swiss couple living in Iseltwald say they are “delighted” by the increase in tourists visiting the village. “We live here and have walked around the pier at least a hundred times. The number of tourists is overwhelming compared to before the series was made. But once the boom dies down, it will be quiet again. As long as we don’t have to pay extra taxes, we are not particularly bothered.”
The topic of how to accommodate the needs of the tourists with those of the residents will be discussed at the next village meeting.
In the meantime, tourists look set 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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