A comfortable or suitable position, that’s what defines ‘niche’… In travel it means exclusivity: taking a passion and conjuring up highly personalised tourism offerings to match special traveller needs. It means sitting pretty because you cater to a targeted audience of independent travellers or small groups of any demographic that trust and stay loyal to your brand. Specialise in one, specialise in more, as long as you remember: it’s less about spreading your brand thinly across many tourism segments, and more about laying your golden eggs in one well-defined basket.

The need for niche

Experiential and transformative travel aren’t mythical concepts, not when we realise how the world has caught up to the trend. Travellers seeking meaningful, life-changing travel experiences aren’t finding much to choose from amid the clutter of generalistic offerings.

The need for niche arises from their wanting a selective immersion in a destination, activity or experience to match their hobbies, special interests or particular lifestyle more closely, or even exactly.

It means cutting away the generic and focusing on the specific.

They’re willing to travel to a place (or number of places on one trip) with opportunities to match their passions. For some, it’s about experiencing the familiar in new destinations; for others, it’s about experiencing something new that they want to learn about. In fact, the rarer and more unique, the more exclusive the experience is, the more luxurious it seems and the more desirable.

How frustrating it must be to know what you want and search for it online, only to find scores of travel sites spewing forth the same everything-but-the-kitchen-sink content. It’s equally frustrating for travellers to find elements of what they seek contained in general itineraries that showcase destinations nicely but include other irrelevant experiences.

Niche tourism refers to how a specific tourism product can be tailored to meet the needs of a particular audience or market segment…in response to an increasing number of more sophisticated tourists demanding specialist tourism products..

J.M. Ali-Knight

Think about it: there are people who paint as a hobby or wish they had more time to do it. Their idea of a rewarding break from routine might be to visit somewhere exotic – natural or urban – and be afforded time and opportunity to let their creative juices run. If they could get guidance, even instruction, from an art expert and assistance from a local guide, that would make life easier for them. They might enjoy visiting local galleries, viewing street art, attending arts and crafts workshops; they’d need help shopping for equipment and shipping their artwork or purchases back home.

All these things could be taken care of for them, contained within a packaged tour, either for the independent traveller or a small group of like-minded individuals.

Good for the traveller, good for the trade

It’s a well-known fact that the modern travel consumer is increasingly sensitive to the negative impact of mass tourism on destinations – they would rather contribute to a more sustainable form of tourism. Niche can be the antidote to overtourism with greater focus on the experience in a controlled environment with smaller groups, resulting in a lower tourist influx at one time. Fewer folks crowding their space makes for a higher quality experience. It’s even better that they’re sharing their space with individuals who share their passions.

Eliminate friction during travel by arranging a private concierge to book restaurants and activities, drive them around, behind the obvious tourist scenes, where locals shop, in effect enabling their participation in local life. Using local knowledge adds authenticity, meaning and learning to the visitor’s experience, and is good for the traveller. Using local guides, experts in the destination, history, culture, art, architecture or whatever the special interest, is good for the local economy.

Focusing on a niche helps you identify whom to partner with as you seek out like-minded tourism suppliers to help you create that holistic offering. With the right people on board, you can focus your joint energies on doing things better than the competition; that is to say, whatever competition you might have since niches can be so targeted as to make your offering exclusive and lower the threat of competition.

The nature of niche

A niche is a tourism segment based on an activity or a theme. It can be inspired by events or festivals, hobbies/interests, can be specific to a destination, it can be a niche within a niche. You could design products to suit the traveller or market directly to the traveller suited to your products. Essentially it means specialising in a travel type or demographic or experience.

Tourism segments broadly cover physical activity, learning activity, nature-based activity and lifestyle; from there niches can be carved, such as adventure, heritage, farm or medical tourism (respectively). Within these niches, there are specialities of such variety, you’d never run out! In fact, combining segments that resonate with each other is a great way to flesh out an experience and add variety. Ultimately though, the focus must remain on the traveller needs and whatever activities and value-adds make up their personalised experience.

Focusing on a niche group is a way to build solid relationships and a loyal community around your brand. Special interest groups often participate in online social communities where they share information and experiences – this provides the travel brand ready-made target groups to market to. Niche tourism might seem limiting on the surface but it’s in fact quite versatile.

By definition, niche markets are open to visiting less popular or well-known places.

Niche is precisely positioned in whatever destination adequately meets their interests and needs; so you’re not dependent on any one destination being available. This works nicely around seasonality, social upheaval or natural disaster, and literally opens up a world of possibility.

When a unique experience is researched, designed and presented expertly, it positions the niche travel brand well for repeat and referral business.

How to carve a niche

You can’t please all the travellers all the time. Cracking the code on a niche market opens up better qualified leads for you to convert, as well as high quality referrals because you’re seen as a specialist in a particular need. Knowing your client that well also makes it easier for you to add those special touches and personalise their offering even more. It starts with identifying what you love to do, what gets you excited, and apply that to travel. Harness the power of your passion because that will be your strongest selling point. Now you’ve identified your special interest and the prospective clients it relates to.

Next step is to identify the particular skills needed to help you create and sell the experience – what you don’t know, you can research and learn about, and become the expert. Then you identify who you have in your network of contacts with the skills to support you in your product development – these are the in-destination local tourism suppliers, ground handlers, local service providers, guides/teachers/experts who give shape and context to the experience.

If you’re working with a blank canvas, search for relevant assets in the destination (the more unique, the better) and thread together those interest points. That’s the skeleton of your themed experience, which you now colour in with relevant detail. You can also choose a focal point for your itinerary and develop easy-to-reach points of interests around it like a hub.

Your niche might be possible in some destinations at certain times of the year, some might be possible all year round – this speaks to the potential your niche represents. Identify those places and times, and make those elements part of the appeal.

The value you add to it and sense of exclusivity will lend your offering a feeling of luxury.

The final step in carving your niche is storytelling.

Don’t be afraid to showcase just how different and narrow your focus is – you’ll only be singing to the choir. To them it will sound like heaven.

First prize is to dedicate an entire page on your website (if not the entire website) or a catalogue per niche market. Design your content strategy around product and destination info relevant to the theme, with blog posts, sample itineraries, reviews, expert/influencer views; use targeted keywords and any relevant jargon to signal those in the know that your brand shares their passion. Use your collateral on your Facebook page as ads or boosted content where you can target very specific audiences according to relevant search keywords. More focused content and SEO means less time wasted on pursuing the ‘wrong’ traveller type. The ‘right’ audience, the one you want to attract, will be fully engaged with your content and relate better to your brand.

Whatever partnerships you’ve formed with other tourism brands and suppliers also lend themselves to mutually beneficial marketing, further boosting your credibility within the special interest community you’re marketing to.

The idea is to portray your expertise on the subject that interests the traveller. Similarly, your products can be found more easily in focused online searches.

Deconstructing tourism segments

Out of niche tourism was born special interests based around culture, environment, rural, urban and other segments, which branch off into numerous micro niches that may entail some kind of physical activity, learning, appreciation of nature and/or lifestyle elements.

Interested in lifestyle travel? Develop products around activities like beverage tourism or around a focus group like the LGBT community – that’s the difference between matching the traveller to your product and matching your product to the traveller. Examples of micro niches of beverage tourism include the wine lover, the beer lover, tea aficionado, coffee addict, craft spirits connoisseur (I’m sure there are more). Gear your products towards your LGBT traveller with specialised cruises, festivals, LGBT-friendly accommodation, packaged together in discrimination-free destinations.

There are some weird and wonderful niches to explore, some rather obscure, some growing in popularity: gaming tourism; avitourism; medical tourism; accessible tourism; military heritage tourism; archeology; dark tourism; agritourism; and that’s just scratching the surface of niche travel. Destinations have also started making the shift toward niche tourism markets with a view to attract specific traveller types and move away from the mass tourist influx.

Some niches will bring you business all year round, some are seasonal. Some can be found in many destinations, some are location-specific. Define the niche products that suit your brand and the market you wish to attract. Show your passion and make your brand the one travellers associate first with their own passion.

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