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The Road Less Traveled: Why Secondary Cities Are on the Rise

Over-tourism and the collective desire to go off the grid are two factors that are rapidly shaping the way people travel. One of the byproducts of these “trends” is the rise of “secondary cities” (think: Sedona, AZ and the San Juan Islands, WA) and the surge in travel to national parks and other scenic destinations.

“We have definitely seen growing interest from travelers, hotel owners, and investors in the transformational, spiritual, and other-worldly landscapes of Sedona,” says JamieRose Briones, Luxury Frontiers’ director of strategy & development. “And I personally just came back from a holiday in the San Juan Islands, where tourists from all over the U.S. enjoy adventures like hiking, kayaking, surfing, and marine safaris — during which you can encounter wild porpoises, sea lions, and killer whales. One might even say this is the American counterpart to the great African safari!”

The Road Less Traveled: Why Secondary Cities Are on the Rise
From left: The majestic landscapes of Sedona, AZ and the San Juan Islands, WA.

With unconventional, highly Instagrammable lodgings (glamping tents, geodesic domes, “ice” hotels) popping up in these secondary destinations, the spike in travel to these locations has never been more apparent. (Which is probably why you’ve seen photos of hip, unconventional lodgings all over your IG feed.) But as NBC noted in an article from 2014, these second-tier locales have shown stirrings of development for some time, as evidenced by the increase in hospitality infrastructure.

The article specifically cites the boom in tourism development in second-tier cities like Milwaukee and Louisville, where one-of-a-kind experiences like craft-brew tastings don’t require braving New York-sized crowds or the exorbitant prices of, say, Hong Kong.

These findings are consistent with a 2018 report by Expedia.com, which found a correlation between an increased interest in “unique and novel experiences,” the rise of secondary international destinations like the Azores and Cartagena (both of which saw an upwards of double-digit growth year-over-year), and the increased demand in non-traditional lodging options such as tentalows and houseboats.

Together, these articles support the thesis that, more than ever, American travelers are craving authenticity and connection with a place — especially when it comes to travel in their backyard. Notes Skift of the uptick of domestic travel in the U.S.: “For some, it’s a desire to experience their country in new and different ways.”

These findings also dovetail with the “trend” of sustainability tourism, which is at the forefront of many millennial travelers’ minds.

In California, there’s been an upswing in travel to comparatively “underrated” destinations like the wineries of Carmel Valley, in response to concerns of over-tourism in places like Napa Valley or fellow Monterey County destination Big Sur, where a recent tourist pledge is imploring visitors to act with care and consideration for the natural environment.

Which is where light-on-the-earth hospitality builds, similar to those that Luxury Frontiers has pioneered, come in. Along with offering immersive experiences for guests, Luxury Frontierstented camps and treetop resorts preserve the integrity of the land, while also generating tourism jobs and dollars for local communities.

Comments Skift, in an article that quotes Luxury Frontiers’ founder and CEO, Luca Franco, “five-star luxury is no longer the exclusive domain of hotels and villas … outdoor experiential hospitality [is] one of the fastest-growing phenomena in luxury travel.”