Just who ‘travels’ anyway? The Internet and the growth of specialised tourism

The rise in trends like volunteer travelling makes it clear that travel now comes with a purpose.
Image Source: AWF

Feel like every second person you know is running off to participate in some sort of volunteer tourism? Or a culinary tour? Adventure travel? Maybe even a photography trip?

Specialised tourism has grown as the travel industry has become increasingly segmented in an attempt to capture new and more profitable markets, according to Marina Novelli, editor of Niche Tourism (2012), who also believes specialised or niche tourism offers travellers a connection with their “tourist dreams, desires, imaginings and experience”.

Pounding the Himalayan trail has become increasingly popular with modern day explorers.
Image Source: Nepal Treks

Novelli’s argument also buys into the idea of tourism with a purpose. Rather than sitting on a beach or rushing through the sights of Europe in two weeks, specialist or niche travellers are more likely to be thrill seeking in New Zealand, trekking through Nepal, volunteering in South East Asia or even following a food and wine trail on a bicycle through Italy.

Other explorers are keen to experience the culinary trail across the Mediterranean.
Image Source: Florence Tasting

So, just how is the Internet supporting niche tourism and the travellers keen to get involved?

A study of the adventure tourism market by George Washington University found that the majority of travellers are getting their information about adventure tourism from either the websites of adventure tourism operators, blogs or social media.

This helps explain why the Internet is practically overflowing with specialist travel operators offering everything from rock climbing holidays in South America to news articles on the best ways to get involved with volunteer tourism in Africa.

The Australian has even recently reported on the growth of specialised tour operators for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. While the group Gay Globe has partnerships with more than 50 travel agents in Australia, a huge amount of its traffic is also coming through online at gayglobe.com.au.

Let’s also not forget that the Internet is also a way for people to get interested in specialist forms of travel, even if they might not have been looking for it. For example, a Google search on the best spots to see an elephant in Thailand not only brings up good places for a touristy photo opportunity, but information on how you can volunteer at a rescue and rehabilitation centre.

There has also been significant work done into the role online discussion forums and blogs play in connecting people who are considering specialised volunteer tourism with those who have already ‘been there and done that’ before them.

Habitat for Humanity helps makes travelling not just about the self but about giving back as well.
Image Source: Habitat For Humanity

Sydney teacher Maryanne McNally, who recently completed a three week trip to Cambodia to build a home for the poor with Habitat for Humanity says the Internet and readily available information on the types of Habitat for Humanity ‘builds’ available to join were central to her decision to book the trip.

“I could research the trip options, ask questions of the organisers and book my trip all through the one website,” Maryanne said. “Being able to basically communicate in real time and connect with other people going on my ‘build’ through the online forums made me confident about what I was signing up for.”

“If I didn’t have the Internet and was solely relying on out of date guide books or even a travel agent, I don’t know whether I would have actually had the guts to book the trip.”

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