What is special interest tourism and why is it so popular?
15th February, 2023
Special interest tourism is growing, and it’s growing fast! Have you heard the term special interest tourism a lot? And do you wonder why people are choosing special interest tourism more than mass-market? Well here, I will explain the meaning of special interest tourism and why it’s becoming more popular.
- What is specialist interest tourism?
- Characteristics of special interest tourism
- The growth of special interest tourism
- Examples of special interest tourism
- Special interest tourism- further reading
What is specialist interest tourism?
Special interest tourism (also known as specialist tourism or SIT), is a branch of niche tourism and alternative tourism. Essentially, special interest tourism is tourism which is tailored to a specific interest.
There are many tour operators who focus their business on special interest tourism (and this number is growing). There are typically smaller companies that specialise in specific types of package holidays; they are seen as package holidaymakers that are perfectly customising holidays with preferred activities or destinations that the customer chooses as they want their needs and preferences to be met.
There are many different types of special interest holidays. An example would be an active family with teenage boys who are looking to travel somewhere like Australia to take part in adventurous activities like bungee jumping, mountain biking, or zip-lining. Another example would be a couple who are looking to travel for their honeymoon to an exotic romantic destination, like the Maldives.
Characteristics of special interest tourism
Many people would describe special interest tourism as the law of changing nature, meaning people are changing normal everyday items for better-improved items. In other words, people are moving away from the traditional mass tourism model and towards more niche, specialist products that better satisfy their individual desires, interests and needs. This happens in many different ways, from the tourists visiting different destinations, for example by swapping a trip to the beaches in Spain for an adventure across Jordan or by switching their day by the pool for a specialist painting holiday.
Special interest tourism is seen as both tangible (something you can touch, like a hat) and intangible (something you can’t touch, like air); even though when customers are booking their holidays they can’t physically touch their holidays and see what it feels like, however, when they hop on the plane and go to their resort, or when they go to the pools or when they go to the beach, etc – all of those things they can touch, and they can even take stuff with them for memories.
The growth of special interest tourism
There are many reasons for the rapid growth of special interest tourism, the first one being, socioeconomic. The customer’s level of income will dictate the choice of their holiday and the level of service that is wanted. Nowadays there are more people who have more money to spend on their holidays, which increases all tourism, not just special interest tourism!
However, it is the change in consumer attitudes that has really influenced the growth of the special interest tourism market. Many more people nowadays want to experience bungee jumping, line walking, mountain biking, and more fun activities; they want to do something crazy and different from their normal life and mainly to get their mind off their workplace. People want to pursue their hobbies in alternative contexts and to experience culture in a way that they have not previously done.
All of this creates this demand and thus the rise of special interest tourism as more people are now interested in doing something different. This is especially the case since COVID-19, when people developed a true appreciation for the opportunities that are presented to them outside of the confines of their homes.
Another reason for the growth of special interest tourism is due to trends – trends are always changing, which means that special interest tourism has to be updated and developed to follow these trends for their customers. An example of a trend would be the development of technology; which has a high impact as everyone has access to the internet, which leads to everyone having and being on social media and the growth of tourism forms such as Insta tourism, smart tourism and virtual tourism!
Furthermore, social media platforms are used globally with billions of people using them; people can post pictures of themselves, families, places, and their hobbies, and they can comment on our people’s posts (where they are following each other), this has led to people changing and wanting more things; which is caused by some social media influencers (who have a lot of followers who will look up to them); they are paid employees who are working on social media to post pictures and inspire people to try what they are doing; which is good for the companies like travel – because there is a demand and an increase in destinations as these influencers will go to certain places and they will post these amazing catching pictures that will lead to people wanting to travel in that destination).
Examples of special interest tourism
There are over 150 types of tourism that tour operators specialise in. Some of the main types of special interest tourism include:
Health tourism allows customers to go to a destination with a purpose for things like medical treatments, visiting spas, wellnesses, and physical activities (yoga, swimming, fitness) – to ‘clear’ and focus on their mindset and body; most of the destinations seem like relaxing and calm place to go, however, some destinations may be seen as expensive, exotic place to travel (meaning most of the destinations are long haul flights), popular destinations include Asia, Middle East, Indian Ocean and many more.
Adventure Tourism is seen as a fantastic and energetic place with adventure activities, like mountain hikes, snorkeling, skiing, bungee jumping, zip-lining, etc. The holidaymakers will go to places with the most fun things that the customers can do and experience (and can tick off on their bucket list), which includes destinations like Australia, Africa, Thailand, and many more.
Dark tourists will travel to destinations where certain (bad) things have happened. Dark tourism generally means that tourists will visit places where a high amount of death has occurred; some people go to these places to remember their loved ones who were involved and to honour them (to pay their respect) and others go there to learn more about what has happened and see the experience. They can visit places like battlefields, prisons, castles, Chernobyl, Auschwitz, and the 9/11 memorial site.
Food tourism allows tourists to go aboard and do things that involve doing food & beverage testings; to get the authentic experience of trying new things. Some people go to another destination to learn how to cook the country’s famous dishes from the locals and others go aboard just to try the dishes around the world, which includes going to the destinations like: France, Italy, Korea, Middle East, USA, and more (some people will have a sit-down meal, some will try street food, some will share meals with the local people, some will go to the food festivals, some will visit the local food market, etc)
Spiritual/ Religious Tourism
Spiritual/ religious tourists can go abroad and connect with the world (meaning with god and with religions) and even with themselves; meaning spiritual tourism is not always connecting with specific religions, it means that people can also be connecting their bodies, mind, and soul; while religious tourism is to seek blessings from God based on the religious faiths and beliefs; some destinations include: the Middle East, Spain, India, United Kingdom and more – most of the tourists will visit pilgrims, churches, sacred sites, and other will visit places where there are quiet and calm areas; somewhere like at the top of the cliff, Greenland (somewhere with a lot of grass area).
Rural tourists can travel somewhere in the country-side; meaning the tourists can experience the country life, the culture, the beliefs, and religion, and take part in the activities that take place in the country life like farming, hand-picking vegetables, riding tractors to crop the soils, etc; it means that the tourist will not stay in expensive hotels, tourists will likely be spending their nights in a small house that is located in the village with local tourists around, or they will likely be sleeping in tents and camps, the destinations include Poland, Middle East, Philippines and more.
Wildlife tourists can travel abroad to see and interact with animals that they don’t see on the daily basis, it includes visiting places like the zoo, safari, animal shows (although this is very controversial and I do not recommend it). Wildlife tourism destinations include Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, and more.
Sports tourism occurs when tourists travel aboard to watch or take part in sports or sports events. Sporting events include things like the Olympics, Formula One, etc. Sporting activities may include playing football, golf, volleyball, taking part in car races, etc. Popular sport tourism destinations include Germany, Italy, Middle East, Spain, Belgium and more.
Special interest tourism- further reading
If you have enjoyed this article on special interest tourism, I am sure that you will love these too!
- What is adventure tourism and why is it so big?
- What is alternative tourism and why is it growing so fast?
- The fascinating history of tourism
- What is industrial tourism and why is it so popular?