Managing Tourist Congestion for Sustainable Destination Recovery Post-COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Dr Kate Mingjie Ji

Funded by: British Academy

About us

Tourist's desire for international travel can no longer be contained. Sky News highlighted that UK tourist bookings to ‘amber-list’ countries had increased by 400% following the lifting of UK government quarantine restrictions in July 2021. Many tourism-reliant European destinations have been quick to welcome back international visitors. The need for work critically reviewing congestion and its management remains as vital as ever.

Large package tours have been held responsible for causing tourist congestions in the major UK tourist cities. The seminar focuses on the large Chinese package tours to the UK and North Ireland. It presents the spatial features of all the packages, their similarity and differentiation, and the rationales behind the design of the itineraries.

The findings reveal how the design of the tour packages are shaped by the financial goals, operating constraints, geophysical limitations and the unique Chinese tour operator industry. As an outcome, the packages are very similar, distributing tourists to many of the same destinations resulting in increasing levels of tourist congestion.

The findings were established after substantial interviews with senior management teams in major Chinese tour operators and Chinese Destination Marketing Organisations. It provides nuanced insights into how to promote UK destinations and help to diversify the existing package tour itineraries to the UK, eventually alleviating tourist congestion.

crowd in Oxford

This work was supported by the British Academy’s partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Sino- British Fellowship Trust [No. SRG1819\190033, 2019-2021].

“Over the last few years, we’d produced research showing that to reduce city centre congestion - meaning traffic and overcrowding at the major sights - economic interests needed to be aligned with the political agenda and tourism funding. Since the pandemic, overcrowding has become an even more pressing concern. For a city like Oxford to continue to benefit from tourism, it needs to understand how to manage issues of overcrowding - not least for public health reasons - and how to disperse tourists, develop ‘staycations’ and promote new attractions.”

Dr Kate Mingjie Ji, Oxford Brookes Business School

Research report

Spatial pattern of Chinese package tours to the UK and Northern Ireland and their implication on tourist congestion.

photo of research report cover

Key findings

  • The spatial pattern of all Chinese package tours to the UK and NI shows two main types of routes: close circle and open linear. They are much determined by the locations of the UK airports used. The attractions covered in the itineraries are roughly the same with intensive land use in South East England and Scotland. Only one itinerary covers Wales. The statistical test shows that the itinerary patterns appear different in duration of days to travel and driving distance but with no significant difference in number of attractions visited.
  • The Chinese package tour itineraries have remained unchanged ever since they were created 30 years ago. The interviews expose some of operational difficulties, the financial risks in organising international tours and the lack of up-to-date knowledge regarding foreign destinations. These challenges have forced the major tour operators to collaborate with smaller operators who are prepared to sell their itineraries because they do not have the knowledge and financial resource to develop their own international tours. As a result, the entire travel industry in China has been selling the same UK travel itineraries. Far from incorporating consumers’ preferences, the package tour designs in China are largely led by operation feasibilities.
  • As all the itineraries are the same, they distribute tourists to the same attractions and same cities, consequently causing tourist congestion. The hotspots created by Chinese package tours in some areas are different from UK’s other international destinations, such as tourists from USA, Australia and European cities.

group of tourists

Practical implications

  • It is not enough to manage tourist congestion once it has formed, as is the common approach. It is far more important to manage the package tour products that are available to consumers in their home country.
  • Redesigning package tour itineraries appears the quickest way to redistribute tourist flows at destinations.
  • The most effective way for the UK Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) to promote new destinations lies in direct collaboration with the major Chinese tour operators. The Chinese consumers have little access to independent travel information and they rely on the tour operators, particularly the mainstream ones, to advise and make decision.
  • The spatial patterns and travel corridors, especially the Hotspots analysis, reveals immediate opportunities for DMOs to add adjacent attractions and cities to the existing itineraries.
  • As the existing tour itineraries have been established to meet operating feasibility, UK DMOs can develop brand new itineraries along different patterns for the Chinese tour operators to sell.
  • As Chinese are keen on other European destinations, UK can be promoted jointly with another European city to increase its appeal.
  • Incentives or travel vouchers can be introduced for the Chinese tour operators to include new attractions
  • The airport location is detrimental in determining the coverage of a tour itinerary. It is worth exploring the opportunity of encouraging the Chinese tour operators to use other UK airports.

crowd on a street

“The cliché of Chinese tourists disembarking from buses for short visits to photograph well-known sights is based on a shocking reality - the itineraries of travel companies are largely the same because only a few players are informing the choices.”

Dr Kate Mingjie Ji, Oxford Brookes Business School

Team

photo of Kate Mingjie

Dr Kate Mingjie Ji, Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes Business School, Oxford Brookes University

Kate specialises in tourist behavioural modelling, embodied experience and tourist mobility. She led a project funded by ESRC to investigate tourist congestion in the City of Oxford. She has also participated in a consultancy project to assess the capacity of conference centres and event venues in Oxfordshire. She has attended radio interviews to advise on key tourism management issues and her work appears in leading tourism and hospitality journals. Dr Ji's research has been welcomed by tourism and hospitality practitioners to whom she has given several seminars. 

photo of Jonathan Reynolds

Dr Jonathan Reynolds, Associate Professor at Said Business School, University of Oxford

Jonathan’s teaching and research focus primarily on the retail sector. He is particularly recognised for his scholarship and expertise in the areas of electronic commerce and omni-channel retailing, innovation and entrepreneurship in retailing, retail productivity and skills, and the role of place in marketing and retailing. His views are sought after by businesses, policy makers and the media. He is heavily committed to knowledge exchange, actively seeking to ensure that his research can be widely disseminated amongst policy-makers and practitioners. 

photo of Zhihao Chen

Mr Zhihao Chen, Research Assistant of Managing Tourist Congestion for Sustainable Destination Recovery Post-COVID-19, PhD student in Tourism Management at Oxford Brookes Business School

Zhihao's research interests are tourists’ spatial behaviour and big data analysis. He participated in collecting package tour itinerary data and contacting interviewees throughout the entire project.