But do visitors want this kind of experience? The trends seem to suggest not. Instead, they are seeking experiences that make them feel like a local and less like a tourist. They want to meet the locals, not replace them. Balance is needed where residents and visitors can co-exist.
Many claim that the only solution to overtourism is to limit visitors. While this could be a temporary solution, stopping the movement of people is not going to fix the problem.
If we take a step back, there is an opportunity. Let’s entice visitors beyond the city hubs with curated authentic regional experiences? Let’s give visitors an opportunity to make discoveries along a less worn path.
Successful visitor dispersal is a win-win.
Let’s get travellers to think differently
Empowering travellers to think differently about travel is the first step. Destinations are not a tick list of monuments, rather a collection of moments. They are not a bucket list of sights, instead a tapestry of stories. Bucket lists imply you can mark a destination as ‘done’, and then be gone, which is fuelling an unsustainable culture of travel.
Reports suggest that visitors want to follow the masses. They want to do what everyone has done before them. While this may be true now, it doesn’t need to continue. As an industry we have trained people to think this way. We feed the FOMO, and pave the way to the same experiences over and over again.
Travellers shouldn’t treat travel as a commodity that they add to their social currency. Travel is about experiencing a different culture, and sometimes that culture is best experienced in the moments we can’t find in guide books.
It’s the conversation you had with a local shopkeeper. The view of the sunrise reflecting off the buildings. The smell of smoke as you pull up a stool at the izakaya bar. These are the kinds of experiences that stay with you. Sadly, many travellers have such a narrow view of a destination that they miss these experiences entirely.
The concept of ‘off the beaten’ track experiences are not new, but maybe there should be a new approach to how we push them at visitors. In the past, to follow an ‘off the beaten’ track implied that you were a backpacking intrepid traveller looking to ‘rough it’. At the other end of the spectrum, we were pushing everyone to ‘Top 10 must-do’s’ and ‘Bucket lists’.
Rather, let’s stop trying to force travellers ‘off the beaten path’, and instead uncover local stories that lead them to these experiences. Let’s give them the tools to make their own discoveries.
Tell them the story of the ramen master in a small Japanese town that has been simmering his broth for 60 years. Or the village in South-West China where paper is made by hand from the bark of mulberry trees.
Whilst not ever traveller will venture to these towns, the act of uncovering the stories fuels a desire to discover their own stories. It can show that, despite what places may appear like on the surface, in fact, there are incredible things to uncover if you look.
Smash down the barriers to exploration
One of the fundamental barriers to traveller dispersal is the lack of confidence (in the visitor) to go further, and go somewhere new. This is even more amplified for the overseas visitor. We need to help the independent self-guided visitor to uncover experiences that don’t form the traditional ‘bucket lists’. Curated itineraries offer the reassurance of a safety net, with the opportunity for unplanned discoveries along the way.
It is also important that we address both rational and irrational barriers. How do I get there? Where is it? Is it worth my effort? What can I expect to find when I get there? Well curated itineraries balance the prescriptive with a narrative around uncovering experiences.
Technology as a facilitator
Technology is a facilitator in encouraging visitor discovery and exploration. It helps those with stories to tell, to curate and share journeys to inspire travellers to go somewhere new. And then, can put it in the traveller’s back pocket, to give them the confidence to go somewhere unfamiliar.
At Alpaca, we’re using the power of an interactive map, with layers of rich interactive stories to break down those barriers. We’re helping storytellers turn rich experiences into elegant stories – linking inspiration to discovery.
Written by Zoe Manderson