Overtourism a growing problem in Krkonoše mountains

Sněžka, photo: Kateřina Kohoutová / Czech Radio

Krkonoše or the Giant Mountains are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Czech Republic. Every year, they are visited by hundreds of thousands of people. But dealing with the ever growing numbers of tourists is becoming increasingly difficult. Just recently, the national park authority had to install new barriers on Sněžka, to prevent them from destroying valuable nature at the top of the country’s highest mountain.

Jakub Kašpar, photo: KRNAP

I discussed the problem of overtourism with Jakub Kašpar, the deputy head of the Krkonoše National Park.

“The problem on the top of Sněžka was connected with a high number of visitors who stepped outside the area designated for visitors.

“For many years, this area has been fenced off by a chain and there were pictograms with a clear message: don’t step outside this area. Unfortunately there were hundreds of people a day who were breaking this rule.

“Therefore we decided to install the fences around the top of the mountain to make the message even clearer. And so far it seems to be working.”

Is the problem related to the ever growing number of tourists at the top of Sněžka mountain?

“Probably there is a connection. The higher the number of tourists, the higher the number of those breaking the rules. Even if there are just two percent of tourists breaking the rules, two percent of half a million is quite a high number. And the top of Sněžka is visited by half a million people a year just from the Czech side.”

Why is it important not to step beyond the area designated for tourists?

“You can imagine the area designated for tourists as a soccer field. Now try to imagine a soccer field visited by one and a half thousand people a day.

“The higher the number of tourists, the higher the number of those breaking the rules.”

“Outside the area, there is very sensitive and valuable nature not only from the Czech point of view but also from the European point of view, starting with geomorphological forms that were created for thousands of years and ending with very rare species of plants and birds nesting there.

“There are several bird species that are nesting only on the slopes and on the top of Sněžka. So we have at least three bird species for which the mountain plays a key role.

“That is the reason. Many people think that there is nothing but stones around. But that’s not true, actually.”

Which places in Krkonoše, apart from the Sněžka mountain, suffer most from overtourism?

“It is of course the top range, which is also the most sensitive area of the park. We call it Krkonoše Arctoalpine tundra. It is very sensitive, because of the time it needs for regeneration from damage caused by tourists, who step away from marked trails.

“It is the same problem you see in city parks. But inside the city, nature will recover after the first rain. However, in the climate that we have on top of the mountains, it doesn’t take a day.

“It takes years or even decades for the nature to recover, given that there are no tourists, but actually, there are thousands of tourists every day.”

Sněžka, photo: Magdalena Kašubová

The Ministry of Environment plans to regulate the number of tourists in the Czech Republic’s national parks. Do you welcome this step?

“We have just started the discussions and we are really glad that the Ministry of Environment started to realize the importance of these measures, which could help to regulate the number of visitors of specific places in the park.

“We are currently discussing how to do it. We won’t be able to implement the measures this year or next year, because we are lacking capacities and finances to install the necessary software and to register the tourists who would like to visit for instance the top of Sněžka.”

“We also have to coordinate it with the Polish side, because the top of the Mount Sněžka is right on the border of the two states and the two national parks.

I believe the Polish part of the Krkonoše national park has already introduced fees. Have you considered doing something similar?

“The entrance fees have been a reality of the Polish part of the Krkonoše National Park for almost thirty years and it is an important source of income for the national park administration, which is being used to improve the infrastructure for tourists.

“That’s the difference between the Czech and Polish parks, because the Czech national park doesn’t have any income from visitors. So it would help a lot and we have been considering such measure.

“But under the current legislation it is not possible to introduce any entrance fees, not only in the Krkonoše mountains but also in the other national parks in the Czech Republic.”

So that means the legislation would have to change in order for you to do so...

“Given the numbers of the visitors we have in the Krkonoše National Park, entrance fees would be a significant source of money.”

“You are absolutely right. The law on environmental protection would have to change to make such thing possible.”

Do you have any feedback from the visitors regarding the possible introduction of fees?

“I would say, frankly, that it is surprisingly positive. Over the past two years, we carried out quite a large survey among the visitors of the national park on both sides of the borders and one of the questions was focused on fees.

“We asked people if they though it was a good idea to introduce entrance fees also on the Czech side of the park. We were surprised that more than 60 percent said it was a good idea to have entrance fees.

“What was even more surprising is that more than 50 percent of Czech visitors said they would welcome entrance fees at around one euro, because the question mentioned 30 crowns per one visit.”

Which is really just a symbolic price…

“It is a symbolic price for tourists, but given the numbers of the visitors we have in the Krkonoše National Park, it would be a significant source of money that is needed especially for maintaining the tourism infrastructure.”

How do our neighbours, Germany, Poland and Austria, deal with overtourism and are there any examples of good practice from abroad that you think could serve as an inspiration for you?

“We are in quite frequent contact with our colleagues from other national parks in Europe, not only in the neighbouring countries and the solution varies country by country.

“The problem with overtourism is common all around Europe. Especially in Central and Western Europe, almost all protected areas are dealing with the problem.

“The solutions are very different, depending on the country’s legislation. We are trying to find inspiration, but the most important thing for us is to stay within the boundaries given by the existing legislation.

Krkonoše, photo: Guillaume Narguet

“Of course the national park administration is not an independent body. We are part of the Ministry of Environment and it is the ministry that makes the decisions. The ideal solution should be the same system implemented in all four national parks that we have in the Czech Republic.”

The number of Czech tourists visiting Krkonošeh is likely to be even higher this year due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Are there any other ways, apart from placing the barriers on Sněžka mountain, how to protect the most vulnerable locations?

“We don’t have many possibilities what to do. We are just preparing our ranger service, we are also putting people from the office, including me, into voluntary ranger service over the summer season.

“We are literary curious what will happen with the visitor numbers in our area. The borders are open and people can go outside but also foreign people can come into the park.

“I would like to say that our rangers are ready, but we still have only 19 people for 550 square kilometres. That’s a problem we are not able to solve just by ourselves.”