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Capitalizing on second city tourism or undertourism represents an opportunity for both visitors to discover new locations and for travel businesses to stand out from the pack.

Understanding Undertourism and Second City Destinations

A Bit of Context

Let’s clear things up and start off with the terms. The term ‘second city’ is often used to refer to a city with the second-highest population in a country. But more generally, it can also apply to any secondary, smaller, or simply lesser-known destination. In terms of travel, it can describe any city, region, or even a country that is a lesser-known destination for a traveller, but which still offers its own sights, attractions, and possibly even distinct culinary or cultural aspects.

By this point, the term ‘overtourism’ is becoming more familiar to those of us in the travel industry. This is the phenomenon of popular destinations being inundated with high volumes of visitors, an overwhelming bottleneck where visitors are crammed in and even sometimes have to wait to get their own photo without other tourists in the background. ‘Undertourism’ in contrast is used in reference to marketing and promoting travel to destinations which are less commonly frequented. While the automatic inclination is to think of less popular cities, it can also refer to regions or even countries.

It’s Not a Battle of One or the Other

There’s no point in directly comparing major and secondary destinations because they exist in parallel, with different infrastructures, tourist cultures, and generally different atmospheres. Travellers can be broken down into two categories first-time visitors and returning visitors, and second city destinations can cater to both of these groups.

For first-time visitors, it’s a full introduction. This is their first experience with the country in general, and in this case you have the opportunity to either be the initial experience entirely, or be part of a trip which also includes a stop at a nearby well-known spot. In contrast, for returning visitors a stop in a second city destination is more about expanding on a previous positive experience in a nearby major city. This visitor obviously liked the destination to come back another time in search of more.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that this isn’t a case of superior versus inferior destinations. Rather, secondary cities act as a way of complimenting, adding to the visitor’s overall experience or offering a completely different adventure. A second city should not try to compete with a primary city, rather they should highlight what makes them different and worthwhile in their own right.

A More Authentic Experience

A major plus for secondary cities is the notion that avoiding major cities results in a more authentic experience, precisely because they are not intentionally catering to “tourist tastes”. Because the area is predominantly local, their offerings will reflect that, rather than a watered-down, palatable version for people experiencing the culture or flavors for the first time. Moreover, nothing takes you quite out of vacation mode than being completely surrounded by people who are clearly tourists, and all of whom are speaking English.


Another point of consideration is the cost or value proposition. While there may be an increased cost in traveling to a less popular or slightly farther destination, when you eventually arrive you will likely see significantly lower prices in these smaller, secondary destinations. You can be pleasantly surprised by saving money both on accommodations and food. Think about it, in order to maximize success, tourist traps are specifically set up in areas where there is a guaranteed high concentration of tourists. Tourism-heavy locations are more likely to charge a “tourism-tax” again, capitalizing on additional sources of revenue at your expense. It’s not to say that value cannot be found in all locations, it’s just that a budget is more likely to go further in smaller or lesser-known places.

The Social and Environmental Benefits

While undertourism is beneficial in spreading out tourism income across a country rather than being concentrated in particular areas, there are also larger social and environmental benefits to be noted. Once-popular destinations can fall in ranking following either environmental or man-made disasters(opens in a new tab) such as natural disasters or civil unrest. Here, promoting undertourism is not just about distributing wealth, it’s about tourism having a direct impact on revitalising an area and the livelihood of its residents who rely on tourism income. Another benefit of undertourism is working towards directly counteracting the negative effects(opens in a new tab) that overtourism has had on the environment such as deterioration of natural resources and landmarks, and contributions to cities already battling higher pollution levels.

As a Tour Operator

Reputation Management

As a tour or activity operator, all the points mentioned up until now (uniqueness, authenticity, value, and benefits) are ones that you should be emphasizing and conveying to potential customers. Working in a lesser-visited part of the world, you have an added responsibility of promoting not only your tours but your area in general. We’ve talked before about strategies attracting customers to difficult areas(opens in a new tab), and the main point to take away is getting yourself out there. Be active on your social media, show people the beautiful landscapes or a sneak peek of the fun, hidden gems waiting to be discovered. In other words, give them a local perspective of just how great your city, region, or country is!

Most importantly, while you are a steward for your lesser-known area, by no means should you feel like you have to go at this alone. This is precisely why in addition to tourism campaigns there are convention and visitors bureaus(opens in a new tab). Or find out if there’s a local or national tour or guide association(opens in a new tab) in your area that you can join. These resources are there for you and other businesses to have another channel to reach potential customers.

Letting People Know You’re There and Ready

The most important point to emphasize is that second city tourism and undertourism represent an often overlooked opportunity for travelers. You are equally valid as your major city counterparts, and in fact, what you offer is a unique and authentic experience that cannot be matched, precisely because of your location. Circumstantially, given an increased hesitancy towards crowded and popular areas, now is the perfect time to market your destination as one where there were already fewer people visiting. Furthermore, in smaller areas that are almost entirely reliant on incoming tourism revenue for survival or those which for example use funds for conservation-related purposes(opens in a new tab) transparency is a great marketing tool. Let people know the importance and value of their dollars where you are based as another way to connect with them.

A great way to not only promote your business but also be a source of information for people to learn about the area is through a blog. Blogs provide a longer-form platform for you to really highlight your region. Whether it be the top sights, best restaurants, or a list of things to do, it’s a great way to connect with potential customers and also contributes to the larger framework of convincing them to visit. If you like the idea of blogs but find the writing part overwhelming, get in touch with us today(opens in a new tab)—we’re passionate not only about showcasing your tour in the best way possible but also about travel.

Consider the same strategies typically associated with low season tourism(opens in a new tab): proper promotion and preparation. Don’t allow a lower number of customers to result in poor functioning equipment or unprepared guides. Another absolute must is keeping your site up to date, appealing, and engaging—our specialty here at Tourism Tiger(opens in a new tab)! Your site is the first point of contact with potential customers, so visual and content presentation is essential. At the end of the day, your website is what helps you sell tours online. Once you’ve secured a booking, your guides are your biggest advocate in representing not only your brand but in creating a lasting impression on a larger scale. A memorable tour or activity experience leads to a higher probability for reviews both online and by word of mouth. Counteract any negative perceptions people may have by offering the highest quality experience and by being an invaluable resource for visitors(opens in a new tab).

A Careful Balance

Promoting yourself as an under-visited destination can be a tricky business precisely because of the “risk of becoming a victim of your own success(opens in a new tab)”. It’s important to maintain a balance of letting people know you’re special because you are a less-visited destination, not compromising authenticity for generic “tourist tastes” and preventing your own overcrowded destination.

Ultimately, undertourism in general, represents a step in the right direction towards counteracting the negative effects of overtourism. It is helping disperse tourism and counteract congestion or the overtaking of cities, in addition to generating revenue for areas reliant on tourism or who stand to benefit from it. And most importantly undertourism and second city tourism are introducing new cities and cultures to tourists, resulting in a win-win-win outcome for visitors and operators alike. Be the voice of your area, promoting not only your tour or activity but also your area in general and make the most of this undeniable opportunity.

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