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(CNN) Like Europe sold and throngs of tourists descend on Italy for what looks set to be a busy summer season, one region has limited visitor numbers in a bid to avoid overtourism.
The autonomous region of Alto Adige, also known as Bolzano – South Tyrol, in the north of the country, introduced a limit on overnight visitors, limiting numbers to 2019 levels and imposing a ban on any new openings of residence — unless another one closes.
The region, which borders Austria, is one of the best-known gateways to the Dolomite mountains, where visitors flock to see the spectacular craggy peaks glowing pink at sunset, dreamy glacial lake, and cute Tyrolean towns, where they float on dumplings, drink local beer and practice their German — because the province is bilingual.
The capital of Bolzano is also home to a world famous resident: “Ötzi the Iceman,” the naturally mummified body of a local man who died about 5,200 years ago. Her body — along with her almost perfectly preserved clothes — has a museum of its own in the city.
Arnold Schuler, who is responsible for tourism in the province and proposed the new law, told CNN that — the region has reached the limit of what it can do.
“We have reached the limit of our resources, we have had traffic problems, and residents are having difficulty finding shelters,” he said, adding that they want to “guarantee the quality [of life] for locals and tourists alike,” which has grown more difficult over the past decade.
‘We’ve reached the limit’
Alto Adige is known as an outdoor haven, but Schuler says its long-standing reputation is beginning to be jeopardized by the sheer number of people visiting the area.
“Tourists come here to hike and see beautiful places, not to find themselves in the crowd,” he said.
By 2022, the region had 34 million overnight stays. “At certain times of the year and in certain places, it becomes a lot,” he told CNN.
“The tourism sector is very important for us, for jobs and the economy, but we have reached the limit, so we have taken these measures to guarantee a better management of the flow of people, and to guarantee lodging for tourists.”
The law, which came into force in September 2022, prevents anyone from opening new accommodation (including an Airbnb) or adding more rooms without seeking permission from their local authority.
The number of officially registered beds in 2019 was set at just under 230,000. Business owners now have until June 30 to report to authorities how many guests they actually accommodated in 2019 — essentially adding sofabeds to the tally, which were previously not counted in official number. The last number will mark the limit, which cannot be exceeded in the future. Each business will have their number of rooms, and each community (local authority) will also have a set number — the total of all businesses under its authority.
To help small businesses, there will be an additional 7,000 so-called “beds” that will be assigned to the local authorities of Alto Adige to distribute as they see fit to small businesses with a capacity for less than 40 guests . Another 1,000 “beds” have been ringfenced to be designated in exceptional cases if, in the future, someone wants to open a business in a town with a very low level of tourism.
Curbs on ‘hit-and-run’ day-trippers
Day trippers — seen as the scourge of fellow overtourism-suffering Venice — won’t disappear either.
As of 2021, peak season car access to Lago di Braies (or Pragser Wildsee) — a perfect glacial lake in the mountains, and an Instagram staple — is by reservation only. Schuler said the region took the step — which he called a “pilot project” — because the situation was becoming untenable.
“You have to register to go to the lake, but that way you’re guaranteed access and we won’t have too many people there,” he said. “But also, everyone who goes, will see the lake.”
Access to the Alpe di Siusi, or Seiser Alm in German — a vast Alpine meadow in the shadow of the mountains — was also previously restricted. The road up to the plateau is closed between 9 am and 5 pm to private vehicles — anyone wishing to travel must use public transport. Residents and those with hotel reservations on the plateau are excluded.
And expect these to be the first of a broader reservation system for popular spots, as Schuler says they’ll “definitely do it in other areas” of the region. Limiting access to the most popular places benefits everyone, he says, compared to museums and galleries that sell a set number of tickets every day. “It’s not just the locals who are happy, but the tourists who have less access problems, have parking, and can find something to eat.”
There are no houses for locals
Schuler said the flood of tourists is also making it difficult for locals, who are struggling to find a place to live.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find housing because there are so many [lodgings] has been converted into tourist accommodation,” he said, adding that as a result, rental costs have increased.
The region has a population of about 532,000, with residents outnumbering tourist beds by about two to one — but that average is thanks to some areas that see little tourism. “We have areas where the number of tourist beds is greater than the number of residents,” Schuler said.
The number of Airbnbs in the region has increased by 400% in the past five years, he added.
“We always say that we want to be a region for tourists, but also a place where local people live well,” he said.
Quality not quantity
Anyone who wants to open a hotel, B&B or vacation rental in the future will find it difficult, but not impossible.
If a business closes, its designation of “beds” reverts to its comune, or local authority. Then they can give those places to a new opening, or someone who wants to extend their property. “That way we guarantee that the number of spots remains unchanged in the future,” says Schuler.
The move is part of a 100-page document called “Programma provincial per lo sviluppo del turismo 2030+”, or Program for the development of tourism beyond 2030 in the province.” A 100-page document outlines the years of research that went into the program, and will consider how it aims to develop the region sustainably. Another step is the introduction of a “green star” rating system to reward hotels that work sustainably .