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What is a Tourist Trap?

The entrance to a Chinatown, a location often considered to be a tourist trap.
Amusement parks can be tourist traps.
Locations that cater to tourists may provide information in more than one language.
Niagara Falls is all about tourism.
Marilyn Monroe's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The area is very popular with tourists.
The Las Vegas Strip is an area of the city designed for tourists.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Guillaume Baviere, n/a, Guillaume Baviere, Karlsson_Photo, n/a, Elnur
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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A tourist trap is a business or group of businesses that aim to gain money from people visiting a specific area. The term may be used negatively, though occasionally visiting a tourist trap can be very desirable. If one wishes to buy mementos of one’s trip for example, the tourist trap may offer sweatshirts, mugs, or refrigerator magnets that seem perfect.

Residents of an area where a tourist trap may exist often use the term tourist trap negatively. For example, San Franciscans may deplore certain areas of the city as tourist trap areas. Such areas include Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39, as well as parts of Chinatown. Since these areas include numerous retail and dining establishments, they do bring income to the city via taxes. However, San Franciscans tend to prefer visiting areas that are not awash with tourists.

Some areas have few residents and are really designed for tourists, like Niagara Falls. Whole sections of both Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada are meant for people visiting. Often these tourist trap areas offer a high mark-up on souvenir items and food. The big casinos, for example, are generally not known for the best food. Locals in both areas may be disinclined to point to the best local restaurants and shops because then these too might become tourist traps.

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Other tourist trap candidates are amusement parks, monuments, museums, and historical sites. However, local residents may enjoy these as well, depending upon whether the cost of going to such a place is reasonable.

Many savvy tourists enjoy an authentic experience of the places they visit, so they tend to avoid overtly tourist trap environments. One can also note considerable mark-up of prices for services around tourist areas. For example, near the large hotels and docks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, it costs about 20 US dollars (USD) to take a taxi to the middle of town. However, if one walks about three to four blocks away from such an area, the cost of a ride is usually halved.

Another form of tourist trap that is common, particularly in tropical areas, is the timeshare trap. One will see booths lined up and down the main streets of towns that offer jeep rentals, or special outings for a minimal price. In order to actually rent a car, or attend an outing, one may lose hours of their vacation listening to a pitch about available timeshares. One can avoid this by arranging outings or rentals of cars prior to visiting an area.

To avoid the retail and dining tourist traps, it is advisable to get a good guidebook of an area or read blogs written by locals to determine places to visit. Several food and travel TV shows are also devoted to finding good value places to eat, to stay, or to finding unique activities. In this way, one may visit a place and not pay the high mark-ups and low quality goods generally accorded to tourists.

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