Special interest tourism (SIT) is on the rise, and for good reason. It provides travelers the chance to explore their passions and gives you the opportunity to curate a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Special interest tourism focuses on providing leisure and adventure activities that cater to the needs of a specific audience. Tapping into your special interest niche will connect you to a smaller, yet highly-devoted audience. Think quality over quantity.
In a sector that celebrates individuality and personalization, there is something for everyone. Special interest tourism examples range from spiritual, adventure, and food tourism to military, nostalgia, and lighthouse tourism. These are just a few examples from the long list of special interest tourism options – you just have to find the niche that works for you and your audience!
What does SIT look like in 2022? The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a shift in consciousness that has changed the way that travelers want to explore their destinations. In the summer of 2020, Booking.com conducted a global survey with 60 percent of respondents saying they would use an app or website that recommended itineraries where tours would have a positive impact on locals. Special interest tourism concepts and cases have shifted as travelers are increasingly concerned about the impact of their travels on the climate and local community.
Top Types of Special Interest Tourism
As sustainability remains a chief driver in SIT, environmental tourism has emerged as a dominant niche. Often referred to as ecotourism, sustainable tourism and responsible tourism, environmental tourism focuses on activities that don’t compromise the needs of future generations. Environmental tourism is at the forefront of special interest tourism trends and will continue to grow in demand.
In its 2025 Megatrends prediction report, Skift reveals how this is already influencing travel decisions. In a global survey, 51 percent of respondents claimed they would change their chosen travel destination and head instead to a less-popular one if that decision would have less of an adverse environmental impact.
Some online travel agencies and tour operators now offer guests the option of dedicating a day or two of their trip to activities like helping to construct a local water purification system or planting trees along shorelines devastated by hurricanes.
According to Future Market Insights, adventure tourism is resilient and supports local economies by attracting high-value customers. With an increasing number of Millennial and Gen-Z travelers who prefer adventure sports, adventure tourism is creating a lucrative scope for expansion in the activities segment. Adventure tourism activities vary in risk and difficulty and can include hiking, backpacking, climbing, mountain biking and snowshoeing.
Wellness tourism is a growing industry, supported by travelers actively seeking ways to enhance their well-being. Dating back to the ancient baths in Rome, traveling for the purpose of improving our well-being has always been a priority, and now there are seemingly endless ways to provide customers with a wellness-centered experience. Whether it’s nutrient-rich food, a trip to a natural hot spring, or meditation and yoga, wellness tourism is an attractive niche for travelers because the desire for self-improvement is part of being human.
Finding your special interest niche
What is unique about your tours that makes you stand out? What values do you share with your customers? These are things to consider when choosing your niche. For example, female-run Travel Insights offers “Wander Women” tours. These all-female trips are centered around local women’s businesses and achievements, focusing on those who work within their communities to sustain their culture, heritage and the planet’s future. This is brilliant for a number of reasons: it ties into the growing desire for sustainable tourism, while allowing female travelers to develop lasting relationships with other like-minded women. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we all need connection in our lives.
You know your audience better than anyone, so why not consider personalizing your tour packages? According to Think With Google, nearly 57% of travelers are in favor of personalizing their buying experiences based on their personal preferences. It might be wise to think of ways that you can offer flexible packages and tailor them to suit the traveler’s needs. There is a rising demand for personalization, and it will aid in the expansion of the market in the coming years.
We see this happening in Kenya, which is home to over 3000 tour operators offering safari excursions. This has led many operators to begin incorporating unique features to meet their customer’s needs. On top of seeing wildlife, a customer might be passionate about food, so they might consider pairing their tour with culinary lunches and dinners. Or perhaps they value wellness, so an operator might pair their tour with yoga classes. The possibilities are endless!
Another great way to find your niche is to focus on your local area. Consider the heritage sites, national parks, or landmarks in your region that make it special. Are there any sites in your area that have been formally recognized? A popular destination in adventure tourism is the hike across the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim trail, which was made even more popular in 2019 when it was declared an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Awards like this are worth noting because they increase tourist popularity and attract people based on the title alone. Chances are you’re already aware of how amazing your area is, and it’s already accessible to you, so think of the ways that you like to enjoy it, and build your niche around makes you passionate about where you live.
Reaching the right audience
With special interest tourism, you’re not providing an experience for the masses and your marketing should reflect that. You want your messaging to reach those who will appreciate what you have to offer and get excited to book with you. In order to target your audience, you need to know who they are. Consider factors like their budget, age, gender, values and interests. The great thing about having a niche is that it allows you to become an expert in that area, and with expertise comes credibility.
Once you have chosen your niche, you can focus your research to pinpoint exactly what your audience is looking for and market to them accordingly. If you are a smaller business, consider moving to an online booking system rather than booking over the phone or in person. Online analytics can give you the data you need to make a big impact even with a small marketing budget.
Social media is also a great way for small businesses to market to their audience. Not only is it relatively inexpensive, but content is also targeted towards users based on their tastes and preferences. There are a number of ways to promote your tour on social media. With the right strategy and audience information, you’ll attract business organically.
Making special interest tourism work for you
The beauty of special interest tourism is that you can focus all your attention on one thing and really excel in a specific area. Lasting relationships are formed with your customers because you understand their needs and interests. You’ll gain credibility by having a clear mission and executing it well. The importance of special interest tourism is that it gives travelers the chance to bond with like-minded people and form genuine connections, and in a disconnected world, that is invaluable.