Formula for Mapping the Tourists

I loved exploring the sights of Venice, Italy. I wandered through quiet squares where locals pegged washing out and gossiped. I was often the only tourist in the back alleys. Yet when I visited St mark’s Square, the place was crowded with tourists of every nation. Why didn’t those people stray far from the square?

The same thing happened when I went to Petra. Most people walked the one kilometre (half a mile) to the amazing treasury building and went no further. Some went to the next section. I explored the furthest reaches and was one of only a handful to do so.

Last week I was in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, Australia. Of the thousands of people who ride the scenic railway each day, only a handful walked to the nearest lookout. The number that went further along the forest path fell dramatically again. Despite a very full carpark not far away, we had entire swathes of pathway in the middle of the forest to ourselves.

London has hordes of tourists in key spots yet mere streets away, I can be one of a handful of non-locals. Of the 50 million tourists that visit New York’s Time Square each year, how many go to Roosevelt Island or Pomander Walk?

It seems that from my experience most tourists go for the most accessible, easy to find listed sites.

This got me thinking. Is there some mathematical formula for this phenomena? Eg do 50% of tourists visit the most well known places? Do 30% go a little further? Does that leave 15% that push more and five percent who explore the place backwards?

What do you think?



  1. I have to wonder if it depends on the specific destination. I myself much prefer to go off the beaten track, but only if I can be reasonably comfortable that I can communicate in the local language or sign language at least enough to get back to where I need to be. Since most of my travel has been in Western and Southern Europe and I speak all of the major languages in that part of the world (except Dutch, but many people in the Netherlands speak English), this hasn’t been a problem for me, but I overhear conversations among other tourists all the time expressing doubt about wandering away from the biggest sights for this reason. For all my preferences to see the unexplored, last year I spent a last-minute vacation of 2 days in Istanbul, 2 days in Israel, and 2 days in Tunis last year, completely touring the most well-travelled sights, because I was not able to speak the language, and I was nervous about being able to find my way back. I think with a little more time to get comfortable, or a little more advance notice of that trip to familiarize myself with signage and language customs, I would have definitely spent way more time off the beaten track.

    Also, with the surge in popularity of organized tours to multiple destinations, and cruises that only stop in port for a short time, it becomes impractical for many tourists to move beyond the major sights, either because of navigating a large group or seeing a new destination in a very short time. This could be why the crowds rapidly drop off as you leave the big destinations. Personally, whenever I am in Venice, I find myself accosted and overwhelmed by the groups more than the crowds of individual travellers, and it is the groups I try to get away from. I still visit some of the larger attractions, like the galleries and palazzos, but avoiding the veritable pilgrims’ path that has popped up from the train station/parking area to St. Mark’s Square has become a special hobby of mine.

    The combination of these (and I’m sure other factors) is what I’ve noticed first-hand on my travels.

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