The Königssee story or how influencers impact travel destinations

One spot on our journey for this year was the incredible lake Königssee located in Bavaria close to the border to Austria. The name Königssee literarily translates into “King’s lake” or “The king lake” and it truly is a kings worthy scenery you will witness. However the lake as a holiday destination has a very traditional image. Water sport activities are not allowed on the lake. There are no stand up paddlers, or surfers or fishers (only one man is allowed to fish at the lake managing the family fishing business in fourth generation. No joke!) and you risk a fine if violating the rules. If you fancy to go to the two destinations available St. Bartholomä or Salet you can choose to hop on on one of the 18 electrical boats operating still in the same manner since 1909 or rent a rowboat and hope for the best. In winter this place basically closes down because the further destination Salet as well as the hiking road from St. Bartholomä back to Schönau becomes inaccessible. So why is Königssee so popular?

Simply saying it’s because of the incredible beauty of the lake and it’s surrounding landscape. Due to the drastic and as one could argue - old-fashioned measures the area was perfectly conserved. One could maybe argue that the locals are not making enough out of the potential of this site. That investments should be done in bigger scale hotels (almost all of the hotels there are tiny family owned places) and water sport activities and secondary roads making the destination Salet also accessible in winter. Nevertheless the numbers are speaking for itself: 2019 the region registered a steady increase in visitors since 2012. People are coming anyhow and one of the reasons for that might be the increasing popularity and social media attention of one particular place around Königssee.

This year especially one German influencer got a lot of unpleasant attention in the media because of her pictures in one of the popular nature infinity pools located at Königssee. This pools are not an official site to visit and in the meantime they were completely closed by national park authorities due to safety and environmental concerns. Several tourists seriously injured themselves in the past years attempting to climbing there and two sadly drowned in the water. However the tourists and instagrammers keep pilgriming to this place even though the national park issued a social media campaign on Instagram asking the visitors not to. This leaves us with the question of how Instagram’s travel influencers are impacting the places and nature they are promoting in their feeds. Serious studies on the influence of social media on our behavior are scarce. However a 2017 published study from Ashley A. Anderson found evidence that the impact of social media on environmental awareness has been, for the most part, positive [1]. So if there is measurable influence on one topic, in this case climate change, there is no reason not to believe in an influence on other topics like travelling as well, meaning that people get motivated by Instagram to go places like their idols do. The bigger the reach of an influencer on IG the more power this person has for leading by example which places or actions to promote and here is where the true dilemma begins. On the one hand the place, in this case the national park Berchtesgaden, profits enormously by the almost free publicity the Instagrammers are providing it by uploading tons of pictures and turning Königssee from a destination of interest for our grandparents to a hot spot for all generations. On the other hand the authorities and local people are not amused when the visitors don’t play by the rules, meaning climbing to infinity pools and damaging the nature or even hurting themselves on the way there. Needless to say most of the young visitors are only coming because of the Instagram pictures. So what to do?

In the end it all boils down to the one golden rule of markets: demand = price. If they are sitting on this one million dollar spot (which is clearly the case) then they better use it right. It does not help to close the site and sue instagrammers for taking picture there. The illegal climbs will continue as long as there is social media around. A way could be to react to the demand and open the site partly for visitors, investing in safety precautions and solid ways not leading through the most delicate areas of the national park. Reading an official statement saying “the locals are already avoiding this beautiful place due to the masses” [2] feels very odd when considering it’s coming from a region almost 100% dependent on tourism. They could also just have written in bloody honesty : “Go and spend your money here but only where we tell you.” It is very well possible to successfully argue to have a certain site in a national park transformed from a no go area to a visitors friendly zone and still have all the criteria checked to run as a nature conservation area. Someone also someday approved to have a bobsleigh track being blown into the mountain just at the shores of the Königssee (just saying).

After a long and controversial discussion we as yuppies.on.tour decided not to visit the nature infinity pools due to basically two main reasons: firstly there are thousands of super beautiful sites around Königssee where you can take just perfect pictures so you do not really need to go up there to score the million dollar shot. Secondly we want to use our reach in a way we feel comfortable with. Although we are not agreeing with the way the national park Berchtesgaden is treating this topic we do not want to promote unsafe and environmentally delicate sites on our account.

However do promote our top 5 activities to do when at Königssee

1. Take the first boat to Obersee

Hop on the first boat leaving to Salet at 8:30. You probably need to be there already 8 o’clock to queue like a real German because obviously no activity is fun in this country without some decent queueing 😉 (if you are less into queuing you can also pre-book tickets online via Seeschifffahrt Königssee). When you arrive at Obersee take the path to Fischunkenalm. It is a very nice and easy hike at the shores of Obersee and you will be at the Fischunkenalm in about 30 minutes. From there you can continue to the waterfall having a very beautiful view over the valley.

2. Take a swim in the Königssee

They say (German joke alert!): if a king jumps into the Königssee he comes out as a princess again. The water rarely reaches 20 degrees at the surface which makes swimming or long dips into the water quite impossible. However nothing feels more refreshing as jumping into the ice cold clear water after a long and tiring hike.

3. Get a Weißwuascht-breakfast

This is a must do when in Bavaria. Weißwürste or white sausages traditionally were manufactured early in the morning and prepared and eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch. There is a saying that the white sausages should not be allowed to hear the noon chime of the church bells. Since they are not smoked or otherwise preserved they are very perishable. Today still most restaurants do not serve Weißwürste in the afternoon.

4. Hike the Rinnkendl-Steig

A beautiful but challenging hike from St. Bartholomä along the shore Königssee up the east heights of the Kleiner Watzmann to the Kührointalm and back to Schönau. Along the hike you have always a beautiful view on the lake as you are climbing up to the alp. You should definitely wear good hiking gear and be free from giddiness as it gets a bit tricky from time to time. The route is 11 km long and you will conquer about 800m in elevation. You can plan for being on the road for about 6 hours. We propose to spent some time at the Kührointalm to get a nice meal and lay in the grass next to the cows for a bit to feel like a real mountaineer.

5. Enjoy the view from the Malerwinkel

Probably the most famous view on the Königssee is the one from the spot “Malerwinkel”. This is the perfect location to end a busy day full of hiking and exploring. Enjoy how the light changes the color of the water and watch the boats bring back the last visitors back to Schönau.

[1] Effects of Social Media Use on Climate Change Opinion, Knowledge, and Behavior

[2] National Berchtesgaden Instagram Account, posts are available in German only


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