Commentary

Marketing Travel When There's Too Much Demand

Travel may be the only product that has a problem with too much demand. The word “overtourism” has taken center stage as an issue for travel suppliers. There are simply too many tourists going to the same places -- think Venice, Amsterdam, major cruise ship ports -- making those destinations less appealing to visitors and even causing damage to them environmentally, culturally, etc. 

Many travel companies are dealing with the dilemma in sensible way by steering travelers to other destinations, encouraging travel in the off season and otherwise dispersing customers so they are not part of the crowd. 

Paul Barry, chairman of high-end tour operator Avanti Destinations, said his company is promoting touring in fall, winter and spring when there are more locals and fewer tourists. Avanti is also increasing options to less-visited destinations. In the past year it partnered with VisitBritain to promote travel beyond London to Wales, Yorkshire and other locations. Similarly, it is working with the Italian Tourist Board to promote Puglia, Sicily and Piedmont rather than more popular places.

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And even in major cities like Rome, London and Paris, Avanti can provide a better experience by offering private tours and experiences, said Barry.

Jack Ezon, CEO of Embark, a luxury travel advisory, said overtourism presents “an amazing opportunity” for lesser-known destinations to reinvent or market themselves to attract new visitors. It also drives people to secondary experiences within prime markets. 

Example: Ezon said clients are looking to stay in “neighborhoods” in major cities like Marylebone in London or Tribeca in New York. He said Kyoto is a prime example of a city being proactive in highlighting lesser-known neighborhoods and pushing attractions to open earlier.

Convention bureaus and destination management organizations should tell stories about new cities and new neighborhoods in an effort to spread the wealth and disperse crowds, Ezon said.

A related issue is the proliferation of “insider” and authentic” local experiences, according to Ezon. How do experiences remain authentic when they are overdone? After a few people get the privilege of cooking with a Contessa in her ancestral home or taking in a remote tribal village, said Ezon, these “authentic” locals (and their neighbors) begin to catch on and think like entrepreneurs. In come the value engineers and the souvenir shops, he said, and out goes the authenticity.

His client want to feel like travelers and not tourists, Ezon said. The image of Americans with fanny packs getting off mass cruise ships or tour busses repels a new breed of explorers. They don’t want to be trampled on by cruise passengers and want to escape the hordes of day trips. What they do want, said Ezon, is local and authentic experiences that do not feel staged.

With no letup in sight for the growth of travel, marketers will have to consider how to ensure that customers arrive home feeling they’ve had a unique experience. While it may be more in the province of product developers to come up with on-the-ground solutions, it’s marketers who will have to convince potential clients that alternative paths are at least as good as -- if not superior to -- the traditional ones.

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