People travel for a variety of reasons: to escape, to explore, to participate—just to name a few. And today’s traveler has a number of ways to explore the world based on satisfying a particular need or interest. The typical “one size fits all” destination marketing strategy of the past has evolved to DMOs tapping into niche tourism, or specialized corners of the tourism market that are tailored to meet the needs of a particular audience segment.
Today, anyone can indulge their vast “nicheyness” with travel experiences centered around anything from voluntourism to food tourism (which I’ve covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of my Niche Marketing series). The trick is for DMOs to identify and grow the specific niche tourism opportunities that they can offer which will bring a unique stream of visitors – and revenue – to their destination. The development of a Marketing Action Plan (MAP) is a great exercise that can help identify niche opportunities by taking a deep dive into the visitor and other target audiences identified for your destination that will help you succeed.
Ecotourism on the Rise
One of the fastest-growing and most popular niche tourism markets is ecotourism. This particular niche is difficult to define because, in reality, it’s not one type of trip. Instead, it’s any form of tourism that focuses on traveling to destinations that offer a natural environment with a mission to learn about and, in many cases, help protect those environments. According to Sustainable Travel International, roughly 105.3 million U.S. travelers are prioritizing vacations that are dedicated to giving back to the environment just as much – if not more—than they take. One report from the nonprofit (which works with businesses and governments to help protect natural resources in areas affected by tourism) shows that currently, 60% of all leisure travelers in the U.S. are sustainable travelers. Among the fastest-growing subsets of sustainable travelers are eco-travelers who travel to environmentally pristine locations to learn about the area and, in many cases, contribute to their conservation. The United Nations even named 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to work with member states and partners to promote conservation efforts through tourism.
Does Your Destination Have an Ecotourism Offering?
With the demand for ecotourism steadily growing, destinations should be prepared to examine their own potential to take full advantage of any opportunities that exist. The five main principles that DMOs should consider that define successful ecotourism include destinations that:
- Minimize impact on the environment
- Foster environmental awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for visitors and the community
- Ensure direct financial benefits for conservation and the destination
- Promote sensitivity to the destination’s environmental and social climate
When thinking of ecotourism in the U.S., one of the first places that come to mind is Alaska, with its incredible Denali National Park. Not many destinations offer towering granite spires and snowy summits, and I’m sure this is the case with your city. But there are nature-blessed destinations in every corner of the country. And not all travelers who want to experience ecotourism require this to happen in remote destinations. So whether it’s a forest, a river or any unique natural wonder, it’s time for your DMO to get busy offering eco-friendly adventures for environmentally responsible visitors to unearth.