The old term “go big or go home” may still apply to some business sectors. But when it comes to the travel industry, being a small fish in a big pond can present opportunities for niche marketing success. Niche tourism is one of the fastest growing areas within the travel sector and as the competition grows for visitors and their vacation or group meeting dollars, savvy DMOs are identifying niche opportunities and pinpointing new streams of travelers. From whiskey tours to genealogy trips the options are almost endless, but some common threads to consider keying in on for niche marketing success are a traveler’s passions, sense of pride or zeal to explore. Let’s take a look at one of many niche tourism markets – Voluntourism.
Voluntourism on the rise
According to a recent United Nations report, the idea of combining vacations with volunteering has been increasing in popularity over the past decade. And in 2013, Conde Nast Traveler listed voluntourism as one of the year’s top travel trends.
Almost 12 years ago I experienced “voluntourism” first hand when attending a trade association marketing convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was just months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, and the association that sponsored the conference invited attendees to join volunteer teams for two days before the conference opened. We donned jeans, work boots and hard hats and boarded buses for several job sites around the city, helping to repair and rebuild some of the homes and buildings that were damaged by the hurricane. Three attendees from my firm and almost one-quarter of the conference attendees participated – nearly 2,000 people arrived early with helping hands! Not only was the city getting some help rebuilding, but it also meant 1,000s of additional room nights, meals out and bar tabs for the volunteers – a needed boost to the struggling New Orleans economy. While this example technically fits into niche tourism: voluntourism, your destination should not wait for (or hopefully have to endure) the devastation that New Orleans did to begin identifying voluntourism opportunities. But my experience was a prime example of passionate people doing meaningful work while extending a trip and helped me to truly understand the economic and emotional power of voluntourism. It was a great experience, and I’m glad I did it.
Reaching the volunteer market
Volunteering is an admirable way to spend part of your vacation, and more and more travelers out there today are seeking this kind of experience. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by Marriott Rewards Credit Card, 51% of Boomers, 68% of Xers and 84% of Millennials said they were more likely to travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities. But how do you begin the process of tapping the voluntourism market for your DMO? Here are a few thoughts to help you get started:
- Identify a champion already within or associated with your organization that is passionate about volunteer service and has a grasp of what it could mean to your destination.
- Identify unique opportunities for your destination. This is of the utmost importance. If you have unique opportunities in your destination, then you have already removed competition and identified differentiation. The opportunity to participate in a one-of-a-kind or a once-in-a-lifetime experience is exactly what voluntourists are seeking. Consider challenging your champion (see above) to dig into your community’s non-profit organizations to uncover potentially unique voluntourism opportunities. Then meet with these non-profits to discuss partnering with them to develop and market voluntourism programs in your destination. Explain the economic development benefits of increased visitation to your destination and how this program could benefit them – suppling volunteers and possibly connecting participating non-profits to long-term supporters of their organization.
Today, travelers young and old are extending their leisure or business trips to help others in greater numbers than ever before. This growing interest in voluntourism presents DMOs with an opportunity to help those doing good in their communities, get positive destination exposure, provide unique visitor experiences all while developing new revenue streams. And just THINK of all the social media content that will be crowdsourced into the countless social feeds of these visitors – as I am certain all of these voluntourists will want to share their volunteer efforts along with their destination experience. And your destination could even begin featuring a voluntourist-of-the-month in your own social channels.
Check out these destinations that are taking voluntourism seriously and have a dedicated section on their websites:
- Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, AL
- Tucson, AZ
- Raleigh, NC
- Philadelphia, PA
- New Orleans, LA
- Monterey, CA
- Seattle, WA
So get busy! Craft voluntourism niche offerings to truly benefit your community and refine them lure new travelers or extend the average length of stay for existing target audiences. If you would like help developing niche marketing programs to possibly include voluntourism, the development of a Marketing Action Planning (MAP) is a great exercise that can help identify niche opportunities for your destination by taking a deep dive into the visitor target groups identified for your destination.
And stay tuned to StampDestinationMarketing.com, where we will be digging deeper in coming months into the concept of niche tourism by also examining how Agritourism, Food Tourism, Ecotourism, and Retail Tourism can also benefit your destination.