The narrow focus of specialised travel can be a scary prospect if your purpose is to win as much business as possible, regardless of the time of year and traveller type. But the concept of niche has been surreptitiously nailing its colours to the mast of international travel and is now starting to assertively direct tourism to its future. Your products are as they are, where they are – what can you do to carve yourself a slice of the niche tourism trend? Give generic the boot and show your target market how you service their needs, exclusively and expertly.

What’s in a niche

Essentially a niche is a great differentiator among travellers, a way to select who purchases your products, who associates and connects with your brand in a rather personal way. It’s a way to address specific traveller types and interests/hobbies/passions and specialise in those tourism segments.

For modern travellers seeking out those immersive travel experiences, it’s about identifying their needs, developing unique, rare, even obscure activities in a destination that feel meaningful, educational, even life-changing.

Niche tourism is about well-defined holistic travel experiences that make clients or guests feel like all their needs have been met, their problems solved and interests fully catered to in a way that feels so exclusive, it’s a luxury. And presenting a niche tourism product to the world requires targeted, audience-specific marketing that leaves no confusion in the mind of what the traveller can expect.

The great thing about niche tourism is that the products that match the segment need not be location-specific and can be hosted in any number of destinations, while some are destination-specific. The latter only serves to make the experience all the more unique and sought after, while the former suggests correctly that certain activities can be easily replicated as value adds in other destinations.

It’s the extension of the traveller’s hobby, lifestyle or special interest away from home. By definition, the niche has this special interest at its core, but that does not exclude complementary activities to add variety to the experience.

By way of example, let’s take the nature lover whose desire to disconnect from the stress of routine life and the rat race has them searching for wellness products in a natural setting. The travel brand that is ideally positioned to offer an escape to a peaceful place of natural beauty and fresh air could create spaces for solitude, outdoor naps, Internet-free zones, long walks/hikes or horse riding (guided or self-guided), provide opportunities to learn meditation, practise yoga, enjoy spa/health treatments and toiletries, and of course offer healthy dietary options..

Selling the niche requires storytelling that reaches right into the soul of the person who craves that escape.

Add reassurance that the logistical nuisance of getting from one place to another or booking this activity or that excursion has all been taken care of.

It’s an all-in-one source from which to enjoy that full experience.

And the travel brand that invests itself in the concept, fills all those blanks and makes it work, is the one that will stand out in the memory well enough to earn some quality referrals and repeat business.

What’s in it for the destination

There are 3 major opportunities in store for your destination, starting with the fact that niche tourism by definition focuses on smaller, controlled numbers. I think of it as the antidote to mass tourism. Some niches are already quite popular and have the potential to consistently draw visitors to a destination (African wildebeest migration is an annual draw card for wildlife and safari lovers, guaranteed albeit seasonal) but you might consider the doom tourists whose fascination with disappearing locations and attractions might find interest in a particular asset in your destination that is rare and risks fading into obsolescence.

Niches enable controlled streams of visitors to experience an endangered spot, channel some of their spend towards the protection of said spot (the traveller would be willing to contribute), and give something sustainable back to your destination.

This necessitates partnering with conservation entities and other local service providers, ground handlers, tourism bodies and destination management companies, as well as members of the local community – the second major benefit of the niche is the way partnerships are built around it and the local economy is supported. And also the way the destination is marketed – this is the third major benefit: the unique character of the destination and its assets are communicated in a very focused way, learnt and appreciated by a passionate audience, who then share their experience with the world.

What’s in it for the trade

When you sell your passion, it’s easier to secure market share within communities that share your passion. Focusing on a speciality means less competition for the same business. In the generic, generalistic space you’re yet another voice in the cluttered tourism trade, screaming to be noticed online, selling the same experience as so many others.

Niche sets you apart, makes you more noticeable, and attracts better quality leads that are looking specifically for brands like yours. In fact, the perfect scenario would be where all travel brands choose niches to specialise in so that more valuable experiences are created for travellers of all tastes and types. That way nobody ends up disappointed because they’ve paid for services and been provided with unnecessary add-on’s they really didn’t want.

Determining a niche market strategy will be fundamental for the success for any profit-oriented company

Daniel Füglister, GM of Intercontinental Davos

What makes niches special is the way stronger relationships develop among trade partners that provide the ancillary products or services that constitute the whole experience. Whether you choose to involve other tourism suppliers that specialise in products that complement your niche offering or collaborate with local service providers, community members and professionals in relevant fields, it amounts to a sharing of knowledge and skills.

The overall effect is a deeper, holistic experience with all logistics covered and relevant combinations matched together for variation. You and your partners also benefit from integrated marketing campaigns to cement your common vested interest in a strong brand association with the niche.

What’s in it for your brand

Simple. You convey the impression of expertise, which instills trust and confidence in the traveller that you know your stuff. This is a powerful basis on which to build a loyal travel community around the tourism niche, then once you’ve mastered it, repeat the exercise with different niches. You could develop a niche within a niche with a very narrow focus – obscure is good, is rare, and is a bonus especially to sophisticated, seasoned travellers who are willing to pay more for the right experience and preferential treatment.

Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.

Seth Godin

Take a look around you: those assets are already in existence, waiting to be moulded and shaped into niche tourism products. The craft beer distillery nearby, mountain biking trails through the forest or on the mountain, farmers’ markets and local eateries that pride themselves in their authentic foodie experiences..

Unused areas on your premises that can be repurposed as a zen garden for yoga and meditation or quiet, Internet-free zones, bohemian neighbourhoods with artsy cafes, bars, galleries and craft workshops, even nearby ruins with its interesting history and a local professor who knows all about it..

You need to create very little from scratch because it’s all there and it wants to be seen, appreciated and well-represented. With your content storytelling so targeted and narrow, it means you don’t waste time addressing the wrong audience; instead you have a group of more engaged clients and prospects who are more than happy to share their discovery of your brand with members of their community.

How to add a little niche to your brand

Gems lie hidden everywhere. Travellers are always looking for the ‘real’ in every destination; so start by identifying those natural, unique assets in your destination that you feel passionate about. Latch onto local events and festivals, identify specific demographics like millennials, families, adrenaline junkies, LGBT travellers to identify your niche market(s). Develop your products with a special interest or hobby in mind and take the traveller out of their usual environment to pursue their interest or lifestyle in your destination.

Engage with your local community and source experts in the field you’re specialising in, like local teachers, NGOs, community project leaders, students, entrepreneurs who sell the equipment your clients will need to do their hobby, restaurants, etc. More detail means better differentiation, so drill down as deeply as you can to fill in all the blanks and leave the client with very little to do other than see your offering online, book it and enjoy. In a nutshell, you’ve got an almost endless supply of niches to choose from and diverse clientele in terms of nationality and age to target.

As you narrow your focus, marketing is more targeted, your products more noticeable and easier for the relevant travellers to find online. The right SEO keywords, content strategy and re-marketing on partner websites or social media platforms hit the mark.

I’m talking theme-based expert information, guides, jargon, imagery that features similar traveller types engaging in your experiences, and special offers, front and centre wherever you have an online presence.

Your passion is your best selling point: identify it, harness it and develop your niche market from it. There are groups of individuals and even communities that share your passion and desire related experiences when they travel. They will trawl the Internet for tourism products that match their interests and with the right story, your brand can surf its way to the top of the search pile. Form the right partnerships, acquire the skills and knowledge you need to be the expert your clients want you to be. Mastering that tourism segment means cornering the market, and from there, you can look forward to having your brand associated with specialist expertise, exclusive service, unique experience – a brand designed for the future of tourism.

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