Spread ’em out – how to manage overtourism

Manage overtourism Crowds viewing cherry blossoms in Tokyo Japan courtesy Masayuki Takaku on Flickr Creative Commons

Crowds at Shinobazu Pond to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masayuki Takaku on Flickr Creative Commons)

“What do we do when the answer is NOT ‘more visitors?'”

Tourism industry pro Matt Clement with Madden Media asked this very relevant question during a recent conference.

While it is true that at the height of the pandemic, many destinations were starved for visitors, others were absolutely jammed with people seeking open spaces and fewer crowds.

—->> In an earlier blog post, we shared examples of how CVBs and DMOs like Discover Puerto Rico and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge used their digital marketing assets to help with overcrowding.

As we kept researching, we came up with even more examples of how to manage overtourism, so we decided to make a two-part series.

Here are some ideas to help you…

Spread Visitors Out on Trails

Lots of CVBs and DMOs have created themed trails. One advantage of those trails is that they can keep visitors from clustering at one or two popular places, simply because they don’t know where else to go.

For example, Charlottesville, Virginia has 40 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail, built with industry vendor Bandwango.

Visit South Bend and Mishawaka, Indiana have a parks trail/pass that has also boosted their email newsletter signup and engagement rates.

Montana tourism uses a Dinosaur Trail to attract visitors (especially families with dino-crazed kids) to less-visited parts of the state.

The Montana Dinosaur Trail is a wonderful example of directing people away from the primary tourist areas of western Montana to the smaller communities of central and eastern Montana that see fewer visitors. With 24 partners, including two state and two federal agencies along with four of the state’s tourism regions, the 14 stops along the Trail do a good job of promoting each other by highlighting “the next best stop” along the Trail, to keep visitors engaged.

The Trail’s passport is stamped at each stop, and once the passport is completed, a T-shirt is awarded. Over 300,000 people a year visit the Trail, which began in 2005.

Victor Bjornberg, the Trail’s volunteer coordinator, says,

“The neat thing is that this is a hand-shake organization, based on a set of operating criteria that each of the partners have worked together on for 16 years to promote each other, assist each other, promote paleontology, and provide whatever resources are needed to help each other provide a great visitor experience.”

Even the Kalispell, Montana-based Fritz Corn Maze, which operates throughout October, used a dinosaur theme this year and shared info about the Montana Dinosaur Trail as part of their maze.

Fritz Corn Maze Montana dinosaur made from hay bales tie in to MT Dinosaur Trail

Dinosaur hay bale maze (courtesy Fritz Corn Maze.) 🦕


Geotagging and Geotargeting to Manage Overtourism

In today’s version of “meet people where they are” you can get pretty specific with tech tools that use location data from people’s phones.

Some travel bloggers and influencers recommend not geotagging particularly sensitive, fragile places on social media posts. It’s one of 10 ways to use social media to help combat overtourism, from Audrey and Dan with Uncornered Market.

Here’s what Travel Oregon did with geotagged data, says Mo Sherifdeen, their Director of Global Integrated Marketing & Publishing:

“Starting in May 2021 and running through Labor Day Weekend, we used geotagging as way to push safety and other key messages at high-traffic destinations in Oregon.

This was based on the success of a pilot effort we did in summer 2020 to help alleviate negative visitor behavior at Crater Lake National Park, which was seeing record traffic during the pandemic.

Key strategies focused on:

  • Launching trigger event ads: Geotargeted ads were served to metro areas near key sites surrounding big summer weekends (4x weeks overall). The copy was primarily focused on safe travel, visiting sites at off-peak times, or suggesting alternate destinations nearby, like Smith Rock State Park. Messaging was targeted to Bend, Eugene, Corvallis, and Salem (trigger event ad); we used a 25-50 mile radius depending on how close each location is to large metro areas.

Oregon North Coast alternatives sample geotargeted ad from Travel Oregon


  • Targeting high-traffic landmarks: Geotargeted ads were served to those traveling in landmark areas each weekend during the summer (15x weekends overall). The copy was focused on visitor recommendations and traveling responsibly.


Oregon North Coast responsible travel tips sample geotargeted ad Travel Oregon


These ads were really effective, reaching 5.18 million impressions; landmarks closer to big metro areas tended to be the most efficient (under $2 CPM)

Results – one big takeaway is that land managers noticed a difference in BEHAVIOR of people at the park. In a public radio interview with Craig Ackerman, Superintendent of Crater Lake National Park talks about the negative impacts of COVID crowds at parks and how our geotargeting effort (pilot) led to noticeable changes (it’s around the 8:50 minute mark of this interview.)”

Other location-based data companies can help the DMO actually see where visitor flow is going and when, then work out solutions to try to disperse them a little better.

Zartico, for example, uses a combination of data to show clients their top origin markets, how visitors travel to your destination, and places they go once they arrive. Zartico’s information can differentiate between visitors and residents (based on something called the “resting location” of a phone.)

Screenshot Zartico partner data Tampa Bay Florida geotagging

Screenshot of Zartico data from a project with Visit Tampa Bay, Florida. Click the image to go to the details.

They worked with Colorado’s Bear Lake Trail, for example, to get data on where visitors cluster and what times of day, then the DMO could make adjustments like new signage.

We want to emphasize… This is not the time to hand visitors an alphabetized list of attractions or restaurants on your website, in an effort to avoid tourism partner hurt feelings. Give visitors well-crafted itineraries and handpicked suggestions to steer them directly to your less-overwhelmed, but still worthy, places to see.

Taking a “Whole Destination” Approach

Even before the pandemic upended tourism, industry leaders talked about needing to shift from “destination marketing” to “destination management” and stewardship, with a lot more involvement/coordination with your locals instead of a constant drumbeat of putting “heads in beds.”

There is a June 2018 Skift article about how destination marketers need to evolve:

“‘The organization needs to spend as much time communicating with, monitoring, and measuring resident satisfaction as they do with visitors.’ This approach to destination management is increasingly important in destinations where overtourism is an issue.”

Glacier Country in western Montana is one of the places that is moving away from traditional destination marketing, and developing a plan for “Destination Stewardship” or destination management; balancing “the needs of communities while supporting a thriving visitor economy.”

This program is just kicking off with community round-table meetings across the state, where those in tourism plus local residents are meeting to discuss issues facing the areas that are dealing with how to manage overtourism.

Leslie attended one of the meetings – some of the issues discussed included affordable housing, transportation, and the idea of targeting people that are already there visiting with responsible tourism messaging (rather than inspirational messaging to those who are thinking about visiting – similar to what Amsterdam and the Netherlands did a few years ago in response to overtourism.)

It’s a unique approach and one that is sure to catch on throughout the country as we all work to promote responsible recreation, especially in areas with overtourism issues. Learn more here about Glacier’s destination stewardship initiative.

Are you experiencing overtourism in your area? If so, let us know down in the comments – we’d love to hear your ideas on how to deal with it.

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