How to beat crowds, help reduce overtourism
Many popular destinations are grappling with problems related to overtourism. That’s when a place gets more tourists at the same time than it can reasonably handle, resulting in crowds, long lines, disruptions of daily life for locals, and sometimes environmental degradation.
But there are things travelers can do to reduce their impact on heavily touristed sites — especially if they’re planning ahead now for summer trips.
Here are some basic strategies along with some targeted advice from Johannes Reck, CEO of GetYourGuide.com , a website that sells tickets to 30,000 attractions and activities in 2,000 destinations.
Timed tickets and Google’s popular time
The problem isn’t just too many people. It’s too many people in the same place at the same time.
“Overtourism is a massive problem but it’s pretty misunderstood,” Reck said. “It doesn’t just mean too many people going to a certain place. It means there are too many people there at very discreet time points. It’s like the Uber surge.”
But if you tell an attraction in advance when you’re coming, they’ll let you skip the line. That’s the whole point of timed ticketing, which distributes crowds evenly throughout the day. If you buy tickets ahead, your visit will be less stressful and you’ll reduce your tourist footprint.
Reck notes that you can also get a sense of when restaurants, attractions and other sites are least busy using a feature on Google.com and Google Maps called “popular times.” The popular times feature generates a little bar graph showing busiest and least busy times as part of the information provided in response to a search.
Google’s popular times data for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for example, shows midday weekdays are “a little busy,” but weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. are “as busy as it gets.” The Van Gogh Museum, like a number of attractions, also offers advice on its website about the most and least crowded times to visit.
The surest way to avoid crowds and save money is to plan your trips for the offseason.
If you don’t mind sightseeing in chilly weather, head to Europe or New York in January, when prices are low and museums are emptier. Go to the beach in September when the water’s still warm but the crowds are gone. Avoid popular destinations during holidays and summer vacations when you’ll be competing with kids out of school and everyone else for expensive hotel rooms and a glimpse of the “Mona Lisa.”
“Key summer months and Christmas break are going to be very crowded,” Reck said. He said there’s an 80/20 rule of thumb in tourism: in which roughly 20 percent of the calendar accounts for 80 percent of the visitors.
Live like a local
Throw away the bucket list of wonders of the world and explore off-the-beaten path destinations instead.
Seek out neighborhoods away from touristy downtowns. Book offbeat walking tours or a cooking class in someone’s home. Patronize a corner bar or mom-and-pop shop instead of the restaurant listed in every guidebook or on TripAdvisor.
GetYourGuide.com has also found that customer satisfaction is higher with these types of experiences, and that travelers tend to go back to those places again on their next trips.
“The keywords,” said Reck, “are experiential tourism and immersive tourism.” Travel, he added, is not just about “the Van Gogh Museum or the One World Observatory.”