Gondolas ≠ Tourists

Post by Steven Dale

Image by flickr user Daniel Sartori.

You want to build an urban gondola transit system in the hopes of attracting millions of tourists from around the world?

Good luck with that.

If you build one, and if you have tourists, you may very well get tourists riding your gondola, but that doesn’t mean tourists arrived because of your gondola. There’s a difference. A big one.

Be careful of any charlatan selling you the idea that gondolas = tourists . . . at least when it comes to urban environments. Natural settings and resorts are a totally different situation.

Let’s be honest: Infrastructure isn’t sexy. Just because you build a Cable Propelled Transit system, doesn’t mean throngs of people are going to visit your particular burg. Tourists just don’t care.

Four exceptions:

1. The gondola acts in service of some other, unrelated event. The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn or London Thames Cable Car, for example.

2. The cable system you build reinforces an existing brand image of revolutionary ideas, innovation and original thinking. Tourists interested in those sorts of things may not come specifically for the gondola, but they’ll be aware of it as one of a set of reasons to visit your city. The Portland Aerial Tram, for example.

3. If the system(s) make it easier for tourists to exist as tourists. They won’t come for the cable, but the fact that the cable system makes their lives easier is likely to influence their decision. The Las Vegas Cable Cars, for example.

4. If you do it right and are the first to pull it off in your part of the world, you’ll likely see an uptake in business/professional tourism. Cities considering doing something similar will flock to you, academics will want to study you. Medellin, for example.

And only one of those exceptions is truly about the gondola and the gondola alone.

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. "Let’s be honest: Infrastructure isn’t sexy. Just because you build a Cable Propelled Transit system, doesn’t mean throngs of people are going to visit your particular burg. Tourists just don’t care." San Francisco cable cars? #1: There are some cities which can have it all and everything will be used - no matter what, it's always working. London is one of those cities. New York surely another. There would be hardly tourists in Koblenz, if it was just for the cable. The city is just too small. #3: I doubt the influence on decision making. Before there were other working forms of transportation and infrastructure. It's not necessary, yeah... but now it's there and nobody minds. #4: "part of your world" - very important. But I doubt the uptake in business/professional tourism. The Medellin Cable for instance is working for the population. Is it really affecting tourism? Some thoughts: Well, I was thinking what would affect tourism in case of CPT. I believe it has to be around a major city - or at least well known for something - and it should be big. Like having no Chinese Wall, but instead an exciting trip over the same area. It's not really necessary either but impressive. So in the end: there are a few cities to which infrastructure and transportation attracts tourists, but that function really isn't about tourists, is it? If it is there is a good chance being assented as "a toy for tourists". I'd rather see a form of transportation as a serious installation and/or out-of-the-box-thought. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/Kalklinbanan-arboga%C3%A5n-E20-panorama.jpg - imagine this somewhere else. Like small densed cities.
  2. LX, 1. I think you're totally right about some cities having it all. It doesn't matter that they have a cable car, people will always visit. 2. When I spoke with Metro Medellin, they told me that they had a huge number of professional tourists arriving to visit and/or study the system. What those exact numbers are, I don't know. 3. I think the San Francisco cable cars are a great "logo" for the city, but are not the reason tourists travel there. I could be wrong, but I think it's much like NYC or London. 4. I love that picture. Isn't that the mining section of the ropeway in Northern Sweden?
  3. "4. I love that picture. Isn’t that the mining section of the ropeway in Northern Sweden?" It is an old limestone cableway that is situated about 120 km west of Stockholm. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsby-K%C3%B6ping_limestone_cableway It really is beautiful!
  4. I think you could sell the view, assuming you had one to sell. Certainly in Pittsburgh, the inclines are a major tourist destination. That probably would be a lot less true if you didn't get great views of the City as you rode up to the top--but you do!
  5. @ Brian, I think the point I'm making is that yes tourists will use the PIttsburgh inclines, but I highly doubt they're coming to Pittsburgh for the inclines. There's a difference. I'd certainly love to see them someday - as well as all the ones that were closed - but there are very few people in the world that are going to travel to a place simply to see them. I like the idea of selling "the view". This is something that cable has start doing. People complain about the "visual pollution" cable may cause, but we forget to look at it from the other perspective . . . a transit mode that provides a beautiful, once in a lifetime view.
  6. "utilitas" is the strongest selling aspect. afterwards venustas has to be fixed. i doubt people being mad about a good working clever installed gondola - unique, driverless, sustainable and maybe even cheaper than any other form of transportation. About the Limestone cableway: what's the difference to other cableways we all know? First: the length makes sense. We can not see where it starts or where it ends. Very much different to all the other systems. Second: it's ground near. It sort of seems it's just the minimum height it has to be. Even the street crossing has some sort of cover in case something would fall onto cars/road. Third: it looks lovable. Like in a fairytale. Inspiring, tiny, useful.
  7. I'm sure few if any people have come to Pittsburgh solely for the inclines. But tourist attractions are additive, and the inclines + view are definitely one of the more marketed tourist attractions in Pittsburgh. So I wouldn't be surprised if they did in fact increase the tourist count on a marginal basis. And perhaps just as importantly, if not more so--they suck a little more money (not much, actually, but a little) out of visitors. The marginal cost of each additional rider is essentially zero, so that is pretty much pure profit for the region. I know the original post was purely about attraction of tourists, but from an economic perspective I'm not sure there is a hard distinction between attracting more tourists and causing the existing tourists to leave a little more cash behind--both results increase tourism in their own way. None of this is to deny that for cities like Pittsburgh, the primary case for urban gondolas should be made on the basis of improving the transportation system for use as actual transportation. But given that as with the inclines, the marginal costs for serving tourists will likely be close to zero, and the view/experience will likely extract a few more dollars per tourist, you don't really need much marginal attraction of additional tourists to allow tourism to help the overall case in a non-negligible way.
  8. Incidentally, I recently took a cruise with my extended family that stopped in Funchal (Madeira). One of the big things to do in Funchal is ride up a gondola to the suburb of Monte (which is on a steep hillside above Funchal), then ride back down toward Funchal along steep city streets in wicker-basket sleds pushed by locals in fun uniforms. Now that is unusual transit! Given that it was a cruise, I think it is fair to say we didn't go to Funchal solely for this purpose. On the other hand, it was certainly one of the things we were most looking forward to doing, and thus it played a role in making this particular cruise our choice for our vacation. And BOY did it extract a lot of extra money from us--the gondola wasn't too bad, but the wicker sled ride was expensive, and it only took you about halfway back to Funchal, so from there we also took a cab back to the port. And to top off this anecdote, this was our second cable transit ride of the trip--we also took an aerial tram up a volcano (Mt. Teide) on Tenerife, which itself was a little expensive and again required a fairly expensive cab ride to get back and forth from the port. And did I mention the London Eye, also part of the same trip? Talk about an expensive ride that is all about the view . . . . Of course I may not be representative of the typical tourist (at one point on the ride up the gondola in Funchal, as I was talking about the system a bit with my brother, my wife actually asked, "So why do you know so much about these things?"). Still, I think this whole cash extraction thing is very serious.
  9. @ Brian, So I think you've just effectively crafted the urban gondola/tourist argument. Effectively, what you're saying is this: A gondola/funicular/cable transit line may not increase tourism, but it will almost certainly increase tourist-spending. That's a great point. However . . . then we get into a conflict. If we build urban systems for tourists, they're going to cost more to ride. If we charge fares equivalent to standard transit fares, it's unlikely to generate a great deal of additional revenue. What we're really looking for, then is a system that is priced standardly for locals, but more expensively for tourists. Any ideas how to pull that one off?
  10. @ LX, I like your idea that it "looks loveable." That's important. People like things that are easy to love. Does the "fairytale" aspect of it, make it too much like Disneyland?
  11. It doesn't because it's useful and seems to be necessary. Like the Wuppertal Schwebebahn (well I don't think it's lovely, but I think the people of Wuppertal kind of fell in love with it, too). And next time I'll be around that city I'm going to have my ride - as a tourist of transportation/infrastructure/architecture and urban design :) There is one very interesting part in what you just said about looking too much like Disneyland: in fact Disney was always looking for things to fascinate people. If you take a look on mono rail installations, other transportation forms and so on Disneyland almost got them all. It's like the movie about future transportation you posted last summer: they were stunning and always one step ahead - showing, impressing.
  12. Why does the system have to be differently priced for tourists than locals? If it is CPT it would be fully integrated into the existing transit system, meaning with transfers and all. This pricing should be the same for tourists, locals, business folks, who ever. So it doesn't make much money. What's wrong with a system being funded by the government? Roads are. They don't make money but anyone can drive on them. In other words they cost the same amount whether they have local cars or tourist cars on them. And all the locals pay taxes whether they have a car or not...
  13. I don't think you actually need different pricing--if marginal costs are very low and tourist demand isn't adding to congestion, you can probably get a nice financial boost with ordinary pricing. But here are some standard tricks to make tourists pay more. One thing you can do is offer substantial discounts to those paying with multitrip cards that are somewhat hard to understand and/or obtain and/or impractical for short visits. Tourists end up paying "full fare" and locals end up paying a discounted fare. Another thing you can do is figure out what else tourists use to access the cable system and overcharge for that instead. I sketched that out above--locals probably didn't use taxis, or not from the same pickup locations, to access the cable systems we were using, and the locale could overcharge us on the taxis rather than the cable systems.
  14. I've been living in Nicaragua for the past 10+ years and have often wondered as to the viability of implementing a Gondola system between the town of Catarina and the Laguna de Apoyo. Apoyo is an ancient volcano crater lake (diameter 5k) and is one of Nicaragua's fastest growing tourist attractions, for its crystal clear waters. Catarina town sits on the western rim of the crater about 1000m above the laguna. It too is one of Nicaragua's top tourist destinations (500k last year) for its flora, fauna, climate and majestic scenery. The opportunity: It takes a taxi ride, three bus rides and a long walk to get from Catarina to the largest hotel/resort on the lake-side. The slope down (on average 45degrees at times sheer drops) and the jungle makes walking down all but impossible. So why not a Gondola system? It would serve local community goods and people transportation. It would allow the laguna and Catarina to become an integrated tourist destination spurring even further growth, and finally, it would offer tourists the unique attraction of cruising through the tree-tops of an ancient tropical forest. Other than having this dream I have no clue about what such a project might take to pursue, e.g. level of investment, construction alternatives etc. At the very least, I'd really appreciate hearing from you experts. You never know, if it could be figured out, maybe we could be the guys to do it. -Thanks check: http://www.lagunadeapoyonicaragua.com/lalaguna/
  15. Hi Justin, This is indeed an interesting idea and definitely worth considering in more detail. If you'd like to discuss more, send us an email, we'd love to hear from you steven@creativeurbanprojects.com nick@creativeurbanprojects.com
  16. I like BH's comments - give locals some discount offerings. And Steven is right, people come to places for all sorts of reasons. In SF, cable cars are an integral part of the "schtick" of SF and it's charm but cities have to live and die based on their good looks, charm, vibe,etc. One specific transit piece only interests people like us! As far as getting money from tourists, this is done in most cities via hotel taxes and car rental taxes and surcharges just to name two. And these can be quite nasty. If SF didn't have tourists to pay a MUCH higher overall tax than the locals they'd be in a world of hurt and probably would have declared bankruptcy long ago.

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