“Any given month it's low season somewhere.” - Ged Brown, Founder of Low Season Traveller.
When Ged Brown speaks with hospitality and tourism providers about their off-season, he always asks:
“Is it an awful time to visit?”
Without fail the answer is, “No! It's wonderful! There’s hardly any tourists. It’s when we love it the most.”
And yet, the vast majority of customers will never experience your low season. Why?
"They’ve been heavily discounted and sold on price. And that cheapens the experience for the destination and for the travellers."
“The way in which low seasons have been sold,” says Brown, “is they’ve been heavily discounted and sold on price. And that cheapens the experience for the destination and for the travellers.” Because “when [travellers] see these ridiculous prices during the low season, they think, ‘What's the catch? Oh, it's the low season, it's a crap time of year to go.’ But it's not a crap time of year to go. It's a different time of year.”
Brown is the founder of Low Season Traveller, a collection of travel industry aficionados who have travelled the world during the low seasons and are passionate about the experiences to be had during these quieter times. He is on a mission to change the world’s perception of off-season travel. And to help local communities and businesses along the way.
Why promote off-season travel?
The way Brown sees it, off-season travel is the best answer we’ve got for the blight of overtourism.
Host communities the world over are strained to the brink by overtourism. Crowding, traffic, inflation, and destruction of natural and cultural treasures are just some of the hardships associated with unchecked tourism. And yet, by 2030 we may reasonably expect another 500,000 international arrivals per year. It’s simply unsustainable.
The travel industry has put forth two primary strategies for solving overtourism.
The first is to raise prices. Of this, Browns says, “You know, if you raise prices then that means that travel will potentially return to the exclusive preserve of the relatively wealthy. And I think that's fundamentally wrong.”
The other idea is to get people to travel to different destinations. Ones that haven't been quite as well developed, yet. And that worries Brown because, “If the big mainstream destinations haven't managed their tourism effectively to prevent overtourism, then why would a small town 25 miles down the road do any better?”
Having studied the global trends in visitor arrivals, Brown knows well that most destinations are seasonal, and that for up to six months of the year hotels sit at about 20% occupancy.
In Brown’s eyes the answer is obvious. Rather than pricing the lower and middle classes out of travel or shifting the burden to less-equipped destinations, surely it makes more sense to use the resources you’ve got to positively and proactively promote the low season months.
How to bring in customers in the off-season?
Low Season Traveller works with tourism authorities to help them understand how and why they should be promoting their off-season. Yet, it is the local businesses who most acutely feel the impact of seasonality in tourism.
Says Brown, “It’s the local hoteliers and the local businesses; the local tour operators and DMCs; they're the ones that are impacted and they're the ones that are like, ‘Oh my god do we need this for our industry.’”
I asked Brown what local tourism operators can do to attract tourists in the off-season. He said:
“My advice is you need to start making packages for the low-season months. And, yes, it might be slightly less expensive, but don't lead on the price. Lead on the unique experience. And also, lead on the fact that it's more adventurous because most people don't go during the low seasons.”
When it comes to promoting your off season, sell visitors on the idea that you can have a more immersive cultural experience and more interaction with locals who’ll have time for you.
Point out to visitors that their money will have greater economic benefit because it’s really needed and wanted at that time of year.
Also, talk about how there are no queues at the attractions or anywhere else.
Oh, and the prices are lower.
The only downside? You might need to bring a jacket.
In other words, you need an off-season marketing strategy that targets a specific kind of traveller.
Who travels during the off-season?
When Brown first started exploring the idea of Low Season Traveller, many industry insiders said, “If you're focusing on the low season, then you're going to exclude everyone who has kids because most of the school holidays are peak season.”
His response was, “You know, I'll take the over 45s whose kids have flown the nest and they've got plenty of money; and I'll take the under 30s who haven't decided to have kids yet...and, you know, there's a massive market right there.”
But upon further research he realized that wasn’t even accurate. Because “there just isn't a month in the year where it's not the low season somewhere on this wonderful planet of ours.” Which means a low-season traveller really can fit into a wide range of demographics (families, couples, solos, luxury, economy, etc.) What bonds them together is a desire to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing.
“It's the people who, if the world is turning left, these guys turn right. If they see two roads diverged in the wood—like the famous poem by Robert Frost—they go for the one less traveled by. They want to go where most people don't go. And they want to go at a time of year when most people don't go.“
Brown understands these low-season travellers because he is one.
“I hate crowds. I hate the stress of crowds. I hate the noise and everything to do with lots of people being crammed together. It just gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
So the low season traveller is someone who doesn’t travel just for the right weather. They’re looking for adventure, uniqueness, cultural immersion, and quiet.
Use sustainability to attract customers in the off-season
An increasing number of travellers are motivated by social responsibility. And when I asked Brown about the connection between off-season travel and sustainability, he told me:
“In most destinations, for up to six months of the year you have hotels that are like 20% occupied. And yet new hotels are being built for the peak season, which are then going to be empty to the tune of 20% capacity in the low seasons.
“So if we're going to welcome another half a billion or billion more International tourists around the world in the coming years, we don't need to build any more hotels. We really don't. We just need to make sure that a certain proportion of the visitors are traveling during the low season and using the existing hotels. That's more sustainable and that's more responsible.
“Also, you're getting an economic boost during the low season months when, frankly, it’s needed. They don't need the economic lift in the peak seasons, they're getting the visitors anyway. During the low season, that's when they need the money. And it's not just the hotels, it’s the coffee shops, the restaurants, the taxis, you name it.”
So promoting your low season based on social good can also help bring in customers in the off-season.
About Low Season Traveller
Low Season Traveller researches and highlights destinations during their low seasons. The company aims to show tourists how much better the experience can often be compared to during the high seasons. For more ideas for how to bring in customers in the off-season you can check out the Low Season Traveller website, podcast, Instagram, and YouTube channel.