Nearly all popular travel spots experience highs and lows in the flow of visitors. During the low periods, airlines, hotels, tour operators, and other travel companies are eager to attract paying customers by offering deals. Price-cutting, freebies, and special offers suddenly become the norm in places that wouldn't dream of offering discounts when demand is high.
For example, hotels in swanky ski towns like Aspen and Telluride do booming business in the winter, but may cut rates by as much as 50 percent in an attempt to lure outdoor enthusiasts to their mountains in the summer. Likewise, when visitation rates are down during the wintertime in Europe, hotels and airlines may halve prices.
Besides paying less, visitors who come to a tourist spot during the low-season will enjoy less crowding, and a more laid-back atmosphere. You'll also get to experience more local color, and you may even find that the residents, who won't be overwhelmed by hordes of tourists, treat you with more courtesy.
For instance, if you were to travel to the west of Ireland during peak travel season in the summer, you'd find the roads clogged with tour buses and the towns overrun by tourists. But if you wait until the off season in late September, you'll travel through the countryside with ease and find plenty of counter space at the local pubs.
While low-season travel is great for penny-pinchers, it's important to remember that destinations have slow periods for a reason: weather may be unfavorable at certain times of the year, and some attractions or activities may be unavailable for whatever reason. Unending rain during the monsoon season in Asia or 120-degree summer temperatures in Death Valley might be more than you can handle. And some National Parks, like Rocky Mountain or Glacier, may be completely inaccessible by car in the winter.
Sometimes the crowds can be so sparse a destination can feel downright lonely. Empty restaurants, shops, and streets may make getting around easy, but the quiet can feel unnatural. Also, you may find that the low season is used as a time for construction and renovation: Imagine staying in hotel when the roof is being repaired, or traveling to see a monument, only to find it covered in scaffolding.
Yet, while low-season travel has its risks, you might find the benefits outweigh them. Here are five tips for choosing a good low-season destination:
- Visit an area's local tourist bureau online, or give the folks there a call to find when the low travel periods are, and why they are off-season. You can find links to the websites of tourism bureaus for countries around the world, all 50 states, and countless cities and regions on the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory. Note that each hotel, airline, or travel company individually defines the dates it considers off-season.
- The number one reason for an area being off-season is usually weather-related, so search the visitor's bureau website and find out what weather conditions are like during these periods. Hot or cold temperatures might be an acceptable drawback, but a serious weather problem might rule out a destination.
- If there is a certain museum, attraction, or activity you want to see on your trip, visit its website or call the provider and check when (or if) it is open and if any renovations will be taking place.
- Once you've settled on a destination and begin looking for accommodations, call up the hotels you're interested in and ask if construction is planned on or near the property when you visit.
- Use the area's visitor's website as a starting point for deal searching. Most of these websites have a deals and promotions section listing some of the region's best offers for the season. You can also check out prices with tour providers and airlines that specialize in travel to the area you' re interested in visiting. A guidebook for the destination or a "travel guide" website (TripAdvisor.com is a good, free online travel resource), will usually list reputable tour operators and the airlines that service the region. Check with these companies to see if they have off-season specials.
SmarterTravel.com will also help you to learn about great off-peak destinations and deals with a four-part series describing the best low-season travel spots for each season. Check out our first segment, Top five low-season destinations for summer travel. Destinations include North American ski towns, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, Florida, and Costa Rica.