Crisp autumn air, discounts, camaraderie, authentic engagement with locals. Travelling in the low season has its perks. Ged Brown explains in an interview with Chi Lo.
CHI: First, what is the “low season,” and who is the low season traveller? And of course, what is Low Season Traveller™?
GED: Well, the low season is defined by each destination really. For our purposes, it is the months and weeks when the destination is at it’s least busy and when the hotels have their lowest occupancy levels. We tend to avoid certain low season months in some destinations when the weather is so adverse as to make the experience dangerous but other than that, it’s all fair game!
The Low Season Traveller™ is a term for an increasingly large group of people who prefer to travel during the low seasons in each destination for reasons including cheaper travel and accommodation, fewer crowds, more interaction with the locals and also those who prefer the impact of their travel to be more positive. It’s a responsible form of travel ensuring that hotels and accommodation providers make full use of their facilities all year round, which of course is a more sustainable use of their assets, whilst also broadening the economic impact and jobs associated with tourism – rather than just focusing in on 4-6 months of the year.
As an organisation, Low Season Traveller™ is a compass for travellers who want to know where in the world it is the low season in any given month. We are working feverishly on a new site where travellers will be able to find out where the low seasons are for over 600 destinations in the world. Here, they will gain impartial and trustworthy advice on why it’s the low season and why it is actually a pretty good time to visit. In addition, we also have been running the Low Season Traveller Insider Guides Podcast series where each week we speak with industry experts to learn what it’s like during the low season in different destinations.
CHI: So can you please clarify for us, what is the difference between the low season and the off season?
GED: The difference between the low season and the off season is that the off season is typically a time when it is recommended that people do not travel, usually for very good reasons like hurricanes, cyclones and other extreme and potentially dangerous conditions. The low seasons are those that typically attract fewer visitors than the peak months but yet still are attractive enough for visitors to have a unique, interesting and above all, safe experience. They have the added advantage of greater interaction with the local community in each destination as there are far fewer crowds too.
CHI: Important question: why is it important?
GED: Great question and this is the critical part. According to the UNWTO, by 2030 the world will have 1.8 billion international tourists. In 2018, we hit the 1.4 billion mark and all predictions had us hitting the 1.4 billion mark in 2020. Tourism is growing at a rate that destinations cannot keep pace with and it is increasingly clear that we will be looking at a world with over 2 billion tourists in 2030. Not only is this unsustainable but it is also putting communities, cultural heritage, and infrastructure in many destinations at significant risk.
I often get asked where the growth is coming from. It’s a variety of sources but essentially:
- The rising global “Middle Class” – it stands today at 3.7bn and is set to increase by 160m in the next 5 years alone (Brookings Institute)
- China; in 2001 Chinese residents made 10.5m trips, in 2017 this figure was 145m (+1,380%) and it will exceed 400m by 2030 (COTRI)
- Millennials: As a group, 22-37 year olds are prioritising experiences over “stuff”. So rather than buying TVs, clothes and a mortgage, an entire generation is more interested in spending their money on holidays and travel.
Many solutions have been offered up, all of which are absolutely important. Encouraging tourism in new and ‘untouristed’ destinations has been widely promoted by a variety of organisations. My concern with this, is that it leads to tourism numbers in places that are not truly geared towards mass tourism, so more infrastructure needs to be built. For me, this is crazy. We have existing infrastructure, hotels, restaurants and tourism attractions that are at capacity for only 5 or 6 months of the year. Surely, we need to promote tourism during the times when these destinations have the existing capacity first? Now, I accept that a beach destination in the cold winter might not be attractive, but what about a trip to Madrid in the Summer, or Nice for the Christmas markets, or Rome in January? We don’t travel to Rome for the warmth, we travel to see the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, St Peters Square…and these things are all there in January – the only difference is that you will pay half the price on flights, half the price on hotels, you won’t have to queue for 3 hours to see these sights and you won’t be shoulder to shoulder with other tourists. (Oh, but you might need a jacket).
Seasonality has been an issue in every tourism destination worldwide for as long as tourism has existed, and as an industry we have never really made a concerted effort to address this. Well, now is the time. If we don’t address seasonality, many of our most incredible and historic destinations will either become tourism “theme parks” with no locals living there at all, or they will become so ruined by overtourism that many of their cultural assets will be destroyed. I really believe that we’re at a tipping point now.
CHI: So how does Low Season Traveller work to raise awareness in this issue?
GED: Well, for a start, we only ever promote destinations during their low seasons. That is our most sacrosanct rule. We are the first and only organisation in the world to make this claim and it is of paramount importance to us. Secondly, we inform our community about the issues facing the world in terms of overtourism, be it via the sharing of articles on the subject, or via my work with WTACH, which is the leader in this field. We also interview experts on the issue of overtourism for our podcast series to help people to understand the gravity of the situation facing us. Through podcasts with leading experts like Chris Flynn and Dr David Ermen, we are really trying hard to engage people on these issues. Finally, we raise awareness through our partners’ networks. Tourism authorities are all seeking to address seasonality and we are providing them with content to share with their networks via their websites, social media channels and general PR.
CHI: What can destinations and businesses do to reach the low season traveller?
GED: Low season travellers are not a new audience. People have been travelling during the low seasons for years in relatively small numbers. As an industry, we have spliced and diced the industry into many segments such as; Adventure Travel, Beach, Ski, Cruise, City Breaks, Over 50’s etc., but we have never before attempted to segment the market by seasonality. More and more travellers are looking to the low season months for economic and lifestyle reasons and this trend is set to increase exponentially as the world becomes more crowded with tourists. To reach and identify the low season travellers, we have to first provide content and products, which are clearly aimed at them. Low Season travel is a niche that has only recently been identified, and so in the first instance, destinations need ensure that they are promoting their low seasons. And that’s where Low Season Traveller can help.
CHI: What are some ways travellers can reap the benefits of travelling in the low season, and what might some of these benefits be?
GED: There are the obvious things like saving a lot of money on each travel experience – low season trips frequently offer price reductions of 50% or more on both accommodation and flights. This means that travellers can also stay in a higher standard of accommodation than they would otherwise be able to afford.
In many destinations, travellers can experience a more authentic version of the destination. There are fewer tourists; therefore, the locals have more time to engage with the fewer tourists there. I guess in the low seasons, local communities are less putting on a show for tourists and more living their normal lives, which is more interesting for travellers to see and understand.
And finally the weather! Choosing the right low season months can bring the most temperate and pleasant weather: not too hot and not too cold. There’s something magical about walking the streets of Riga or Paris on a crisp, late autumn day as opposed to the stifling heat of the high season. My absolute favourite memories from tropical destinations like Southeast Asia and the Caribbean have been those times when the heavens open and everyone heads to a local rustic beach bar to watch the storm sipping cold beers and cocktails – the camaraderie that can be enjoyed is wonderful. June, July and August are the lower season months in many of these places, yet they offer wonderful experiences.
CHI: Going back to your podcast – is it geared towards travellers or the industry, and why did you decide to do a podcast?
GED: The podcast is for anyone with an interest in low season travel. We have many travel industry listeners, but mostly the audience has one thing in common: a love of travel and a desire to learn more about the world and its destinations.
We feature a mix of destinations and the odd industry expert giving his or her take on the world of travel today. I guess I wanted to create a podcast that would help people learn more abut the low seasons in destinations (as there was a real lack of information out there), whilst also recognising that low season travellers are amongst the most intelligent, considerate and informed types of traveller. I never wanted to patronise them but more entice them in to learn more about the workings of our industry and the macro economics which drive tourism trends.
CHI: Last question – for podcast lovers like myself, where do you draw your podcast inspiration, and do you have any other favourites you can recommend besides yours?
I draw inspiration from the people I meet and engage with day-to-day and also on social media. There are so many smart, knowledgeable, passionate people out there with stories to tell and I absolutely love discovering new destinations and learning about what they are like in their low seasons. The frustration is feeling at the end of each recording that “I absolutely have to visit….”. My travel bucket list is just getting longer and longer!
The Big Travel Podcast is a wonderful podcast I can recommend. The host, Lisa Francesca Nand, is a joy to listen to and she has the best guests: John Simpson, Levison Wood, Will Geddes and more. But I also love non travel podcasts such as The School of Greatness, by Lewis Howes, and How I Built This, where host Guy Raz interviews successful people about how they started their business.
CHI: Thanks a bunch, Ged. Looking forward to listening to more of your podcasts and getting some low season travel inspiration from you and your guests!