Governments and travel agencies are working to lure visitors away from hot spots, toward unknown gems.
One of the most effective ways in which countries limit the number of visitors to popular destinations and landmarks is to ticket the entry. Paying to see the Colosseum, Machu Picchu, or the Hagia Sophia, for example, is not a money grab; it's a way of preventing hordes of visitors from overrunning these treasured places – and, of course, generating funds to help maintain them.
But sometimes ticketing isn't enough to help a country get a grip on its exploding tourism industry. The lineups still form and last for hours. This is when 'positive redirection' can be useful. An article in the New York Times explains that more countries and travel agencies are using this approach to lure tourists away from the famous destinations and introduce them to the less-well-known ones in an effort to reduce congestion. They also encourage people to travel in shoulder and off seasons for a lighter footprint.Writer Elaine Glusac offers up several examples of this, from Colorado's 150 multi-day itineraries that encourage travellers to get off the beaten track; to Sedona, Arizona's 'Secret 7' website that "identifies seven untrammeled places in seven categories, including hiking and picnics"; to the Netherlands' tourism board trying to get visitors away from Amsterdam, into south Holland. I wrote earlier about Amsterdam's Untourist Guide, which encourages tourists to engage in unusual activities like trash-picking and community gardening.
"Our company has been able to keep a lodge in Tanzania open for an additional month, November, when they are usually closed. Travelers get more personalized treatment because there are fewer people and we’re able to spread the economic resources to more people where normally they wouldn’t have a job."
It brought to mind a trip I took to Yucatán, Mexico, in 2014, when Rainforest Alliance was promoting tourism initiatives led by small indigenous Mayan villages in the interior of the peninsula. The goal was to encourage people to leave the coast and discover the many beautiful places and adventures to be had inland. I had a fantastic time and got to see a culturally authentic side of Yucatán that most resort-goers would never experience.
I suspect that recent conversations about Instagram's effect on overtourism are having an influence, too. There have been numerous reports this year about California poppy fields, Dutch tulip fields, and Canadian sunflower fields being trampled by enthusiastic selfie-takers. National parks are experiencing record numbers of visitors and stunning Thai beaches have been shut down to recover from the onslaught. There is growing opposition to the use of geotags, as they tell viewers exactly where to find a particular spot, and more talk about the benefits of traveling without posting to social media.
Overall, the attitude toward travel is slowly shifting. There is greater awareness of why it's kinder to the planet and to local residents to spread out visits across seasons and to avoid the 'top 10 most popular' lists in a given country. As Justin Francis of UK-based Responsible Travel said, "We should be less fearful [of missing out], because ignoring the obvious can often lead to the most magical experiences."
Positive redirection will be something we hear a lot more about in coming years.