Cooler, Farther and Less Crowded: The Rise of ‘Undertourism’

Tanner Knorr, who founded Off Season Adventures two years ago, frames the case for travel in less popular times of year as not only more relaxed but as easing pressure on natural resources, such as water, and promoting social sustainability.

“Our company has been able to keep a lodge in Tanzania open for an additional month, November, when they are usually closed,” he said. “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.”

Traveling in soft and off seasons is usually cheaper, of course, but risks poorer weather. On the other hand, Jared Sternberg, the founder of Gondwana Ecotours, says he has a hard time convincing people to join his Northern Lights tours in Alaska in fall, when the weather is warmer than winter trips, though he says the viewing is similar (weeklong trips cost $2,795).

Many destinations, like Colorado, are focusing on dispersing visitors. Sedona, Ariz., has created Sedona’s Secret 7, a website that identifies seven untrammeled places in seven categories, including hiking and picnics. Amsterdam aims to entice visitors to explore not just the Van Gogh Museum but South Holland where he grew up, or to experience the canal culture in secondary cities like Leiden.

“We don’t discourage people from visiting Amsterdam,” said Jasper Broekhuis, a social media marketing specialist with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions. “But we are familiarizing people with other places.”

Pioneering new trips to obscure destinations has long been the virtual arms race of the travel industry waged by adventure and luxury travel companies. TCS World Travel, which tours by private jet, now calls its next-destination trips “first-chance” tourism, exemplified by its trip to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan next April (21 days for $99,950).

“It’s our niche area and it’s just becoming more and more relevant as travel has become more popular over the past 10 years and people are more well-traveled,” Shelley Cline, the president of TCS, said.

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