ISELTWALD - Asian tourists flocking to a pier in the small village of Iseltwald near Interlaken, central Switzerland, which features in a hit South Korean drama have caused a stir among the locals and caught the regional authorities off guard.
On an overcast Saturday morning in late April, a bus traveling from the Interlaken mountain resort to Iseltwald is filled with tourists, mainly from Asia, who have come to snap photos and take selfies on the pier, a famous location in the 2019 blockbuster series "Crash Landing on You."
To handle the influx of guests, the government has set up a payment gate on the famous pier.
After arriving in Iseltwald, all head straight for the dock, the location of the romantic drama's most iconic scene.
"Today it's okay...over Easter it was terrible," laments Raphael Streich, one of the bus drivers.
"Buses leaving Iseltwald in the late afternoon are most often completely packed. Locals wanting to get on in-between stops on the way to Interlaken often have to wait for the next one," he says.
Since last July, the bus company operating the line has boosted daily trips from 16 to over 20, sometimes increasing them up to 30 per day over Easter holidays. As the boom continues, the company aims to increase the number of daily bus trips.
The uptick in Asian tourists is a sensitive topic in the village. The authorities at Iseltwald have refused to answer questions from the media about the impact of the series' global popularity on the area, with staff at hotels, restaurants and local shops also tight-lipped about the bustling crowds.
Local authorities introduced bus parking restrictions in March and set up gates in May for paid access to the dock and the public toilet.
Tourists who wish to have their photos taken on the dock must fork out about 5 Swiss francs (roughly $5.5) to enter.
On its website, Iseltwald also requests that tourists "respect the quiet atmosphere (of the village) by maintaining a low volume and staying in public areas."
"The view on the lake is amazing," Fae Masaoy, 24, from Singapore, says after waiting more than 30 minutes to snap photos on the pier.
Masaoy, a "Crash Landing" fan, was on a trip across Italy and Switzerland with her mother and two brothers. They visited Iseltwald two days prior but due to it being "too foggy" at that time, they decided to return.
"Crash Landing on You" has seen huge commercial success with domestic audiences in South Korea, as well as in other Asian countries.
The series is a love story about Yoon Se Ri, an eccentric businesswoman from the South who accidentally paraglides over the nation's northern border, where her fate becomes romantically intertwined with a North Korean army officer.
Some of the most romantic scenes were filmed in Iseltwald, including around Lake Brienz and the glacier area of Jungfraujoch. For many, an episode featuring Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok, Yoon's love interest, playing the piano on the pier is among the most memorable in the series.
The tourists visiting the pier are of all ages, hailing from Thailand, India, South Korea and several other countries.
Taking photos a few steps from the crowds, Kat Javier, a 33-year-old from the Philippines, said she had not expected such a long queue to access the pier, but said it was well worth it. "The water is so clean, this is fabulous," she said.
A resident going about his business in front of his house, which overlooks the port, said he was there when the film crew from South Korea shot the scenes. "No one thought it would have such an impact on the village," he said.
Iseltwald, which has around 420 inhabitants, traditionally attracts holidaymakers from Britain, Germany and France, who mainly come to enjoy its nature and serenity, he explained, adding that such tourists might now avoid the location in search of more peaceful holiday destinations.
However, the man in his 50s thinks little is to be gained from the local government making money by controlling access to the pier. "It would be best for the pier to disappear," he said.
Some villagers argue that the local economy benefits little from the day-trippers, who rarely purchase anything while at the site.
A waiter at a local restaurant, who did not want to comment on the surge in tourists for fear of causing trouble, said he nonetheless thought the tranquility of the village had been "disturbed" by the increase.
He also acknowledged, however, that some "Crash Landing" fans do come to eat and drink at his restaurant while waiting for the bus to bring them back to Interlaken.
Interlaken's local tourist board says that the municipality has been a popular destination with Asian tourists for years.
Marcel Imhof, 59, is a cook who works in Interlaken. He moved to Iseltwald three years ago.
He believes the authorities have been overwhelmed by the situation, adding that it is a shame they have not taken the opportunity to bolster local infrastructure and better welcome the guests to the picturesque village on the shore of Lake Brienz.
Valerian Geffroy, a senior researcher at the Swiss University of Lausanne, says Switzerland typically has few issues with over-tourism, unlike other European cities such as Barcelona in Spain, Venice in Italy and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
In Switzerland, Geffroy says that the city most concerned about tourism placing an increasing burden on locals is Lucerne, a city located in the center of the country and a place chiefly visited by day-trippers from Asian countries. Locals often complain about traffic congestion and tourist shops sprouting up over the old town.
Still, Geffroy thinks that the boom in day-trippers to Iseltwald might be short-lived and could lose steam after a few years.
Switzerland Tourism, the country's national tourism organization, has called the rapid return of tourists from Southeast Asia to Switzerland after the COVID-19 pandemic "remarkable," showing a mere 3.2 percent decrease in inbound tourism in 2022 compared with before the pandemic in 2019.
The organization promoting Switzerland as a tourist destination expects 2023 to be the "year of the Asian tourists," with guests from Japan, South Korea, and, to a smaller extent, China, to be back visiting the homeland of the famous child fiction character Heidi.
Although it is unclear whether Iseltwald will feature in the future as a prominent Swiss tourism destination, in the short term, the large queues forming at Iseltwald's pier look set to grow longer still.