Niche tourism is a term that I hear a lot these days. But what is niche tourism? Well, the truth is that it isn’t any one tourism type, rather it is a collective term used to group a number of types of tourism. It is an umbrella term.
Confused? Don’t be! It’s actually very simple, and in this article I will explain why….
What does the term ‘niche’ mean?
Before we can understand what niche tourism is, we first need to understand what is meant by the word ‘niche’.
Niche (pronounced NEE-SH in the UK and NITCH in the US), refers to an area or position that is suitable for a small group of people.
As an adjective, niche can refer to a number of things, including:
What is niche tourism?
In the context of tourism, niche is referring to products, services or interests that are shared by a small group of people.
Niche tourism is the umbrella term covering a range of types of tourism. Niche tourism products and services serve a specialised segment of the tourism industry.
Other terms that identify similar, small market segments include alternative tourism and special interest tourism.
Macro and micro niche tourism
Essentially, niche tourism identifies forms of micro (small) tourism.
As demonstrated in the diagram below, niche tourism itself can be categorised as a macro (i.e. big) type of tourism. Within this, a number of smaller tourism types can be identified. These are micro forms of tourism.
The list of micro tourism forms listed here is not exhaustive. For a more comprehensive list, take a look at my article on the different types of tourism.
Niche tourism definitions
The term niche tourism hasn’t been around that long. In fact, before the 1990s niche was most commonly used to describe marketing (Robinson & Novelli, 2005).
Definitions have evolved from the concept of niche marketing, so I think that it is useful to look first at how the term niche marketing is defined.
According to Toften and Hammervoll (2009), niche marketing can be understood as a focus on a limited market, which is generally considered to be appropriate for small or specialised businesses.
Stanton, Etzel, and Walker (1991) define niche marketing as ‘a method that meets customer needs by developing products and services especially suited to small markets’.
And Kotler (2003) describes niche marketing as a focus on clients who demonstrate a specific set of needs, available to pay a higher price to companies best suited to supply their demand for goods and services.
The most comprehensive text on the niche tourism phenomena was published in 2007 by Robinson and Novelli (2007). This book introduced us to the concept, outlining the notions of macro and micro tourism that I outlined earlier. In their book Robinson and Novelli outline a variety of different examples of niche tourism. Whilst, more than twenty years have passed since this publication, it still remains largely valid and useful, although there are now a wider range of tourism forms than there were at the time of writing.
More recently, in 2005, Novelli described niche tourists as independent travellers choose specialised activities to engage with social life and to become cosmopolitans.
Taking all of this into consideration, niche tourism can be defined as ‘an umbrella tourism form, which identifies macro and micro tourism segments appealing to a specific group of travellers’.
Why has niche tourism become popular?
Niche tourism has grown in popularity a lot in recent years.
This growth is owed to the way that we have changed as consumers. People have become more sophisticated in their wants and needs. We know what we want and that’s what we want. The ‘one size fits all’ traditional package tourism model no longer suits.
Around the globe people have become more globalised and more educated. We want more than a nice pool and some evening cocktails from our holidays.
People want education and culture and adventure. And we can access these things through niche tourism provision….
I would love to share some figures with you to demonstrate this, but studies tend to focus on the macro or micro tourism forms, as opposed to niche tourism as a group. But hopefully you’ll take my word on that one!
Advantages of niche tourism
Niche tourism is often viewed as being a more positive form of tourism than mass tourism. This is because it generally involves smaller numbers of tourists who (usually) leave less of a footprint. In fact, it is often associated by sustainable tourism and responsible tourism (rightly or wrongly).
Some of the advantages of niche tourism are:
- It is less damaging on the environment
- Tourists come in smaller numbers
- Tourists tend to be more courteous and respectful
- Niche tourists often pay more than mass tourists
- There is a genuine interest in the local area and people
Of course, these advantages are not a given. It is impossible to generalise such a broad group of tourism types!
Disadvantages of niche tourism
There are also disadvantages of niche tourism. The main issue is the small size of businesses and an inherent over reliance on tourism.
Some of the main problems commonly noted are:
- A lack of alternative revenue streams
- Too many visitors are attracted
- Niche businesses take business away from elsewhere
- Some niches are not environmentally friendly, such as golf tourism.
- Small visitor numbers means that the economic benefits are limited
- Niche tourism activities can come in and out of ‘fashion’ and popularity
Ultimately, it is careful tourism planning and sustainable tourism management that will reduce any negative impacts of tourism. Therefore, it is actually a misconception that niche tourism is better than mass tourism. This statement is unfounded and is totally depends on the type of tourism that is in question.
Examples of niche tourism
There are many examples of niche tourism around the world.
Below I have listed some of the most common types of niche tourism. I’ve written in depth articles about many of these- click on the links to learn more!
- Adventure tourism
- Ancestry tourism
- Cruise tourism
- Cultural tourism
- Dark tourism
- Disaster tourism
- Educational tourism
- Enclave tourism
- Food tourism
- Health tourism
- Homestay tourism
- Insta tourism
- Pro-poor tourism
- Rural tourism
- Sex tourism
- Slow tourism
- Smart tourism
- Space tourism
- Sustainable tourism
- Volunteer tourism
- Virtual tourism
If you are interested in learning more about this important industry, I recommend the two texts outlined below.
Niche Tourism: Contemporary Issues, Trends and Cases- provides an integrated picture of speciality/niche tourism as a whole looking at both the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ niche area. It has a comprehensive theoretical framework, and discusses initiatives, policies and strategies adopted internationally. With an emphasis on linking theory to practice, it is underpinned by up-to-date international case studies from around the world.
The Long Tail of Tourism: Holiday Niches and their Impact on Mainstream– The ‘long tail’ of holiday offerings implies dramatic shifts in the sector’s concentration levels and its competitive dynamics. In order to examine the applicability and validity of this scenario, a number of key holiday niches are examined in terms of their demand development, supplier landscapes, operational challenges and future potential.