What's Trending in Niche Travel Tours?by Laurie Wilson /
There’s a niche tour and itinerary for every traveler—birdwatching, hiking, heritage, culinary, wine, photography, solo, female, architecture, cheese, wellness, bucket list, polar bears—even sloths. Here is a sampling of some of the most popular tours trending.
Intrepid has always been somewhat niche–it’s known as the world’s largest small-group adventure travel company, and over 65 percent of its travelers are solo females.
“We are seeing a lot of niche travel around climate action and responsible travel with citizen scientist programs,” says Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel President, North America. Intrepid is the only global tour operator with verified science-based carbon reduction targets (a climate scientist is on staff), he says.
“The fragile environment that props up the global tourism industry is facing an existential crisis and travel itself is perpetuating the problem,” says Berna. “To help address this, we have launched our first-ever Citizen Science program in Antarctica.”
Citizen Science is voluntary research collected through public participation—travelers share and contribute data they observe to a variety of projects. There are five programs ranging from the NASA Globe Observer, which observes cloud movements in concert with NASA satellite flyovers to Seabird Survey where travelers record wildlife viewings to help scientists better understand seabird migrations in the Southern Ocean.
“One of our most exciting onboard Citizen Science projects is the Happywhale project,” says Berna. Guests are encouraged to take photos of whale sightings and upload them online, after which scientists can identify them by their unique markings and track them around the globe.
While the five programs will be available on all Intrepid Antarctic sailings, Intrepid will also be running two exclusive departures next year in partnership with WWF Australia, in which travelers will be joined onboard by scientists from WWF and the University of California Santa Cruz. The 14-day WWF Journey to the Circle and the 11-day WWF Giants of Antarctica will host a team of marine biologists conducting scientific research on Antarctica's great whales to better understand their ecology and migration corridors under changing climates. Chris Johnson, Global Lead of WWF’s Protecting Whales & Dolphins Initiative will travel on both of these Intrepid sailings with guest researchers from UCSC, including renowned whale ecologist Dr. Ari Friedlander.
Intrepid also recently relaunched its Real Food Adventures tours. Following a pandemic-induced hiatus, the reimagined tours now include 21 plant-based experiences with favorites like Mexico, India, and Vietnam, as well as newer itineraries in South Korea, The Balkans, Israel, and Palestine.
While the new journeys still feature signature meals with traditional meat and fish dishes, the trips have been redesigned to show the importance of balance and moderation when it comes to making small but significant changes toward a more climate-friendly lifestyle, says Etti.
One example: the South Korea Real Food Adventure, where travelers visit South Korea’s slow food capital in Jeonju, dive deep into seafood in Busan, and experience the labyrinthian Gwangjang Market in Seoul, famously featured in the Netflix series Street Food. On day four, travelers will immerse themselves in the plant-based experience during a temple stay in Gyeongju, which includes a plant-based dinner with chanting meditation and an optional martial arts class.
Heritage culinary travel is popular with travelers wanting to connect with traditional recipes that have been handed down for generations.
Boston-based Oldways is a nonprofit food and nutrition organization, hosts overseas and domestic culinary heritage trips—and there’s always at least one chef traveling along. Upcoming trips include a Naples and Amalfi trip in October, with Chef Michael Lombardi of Boston’s SRV Restaurant. Expect visits to producers of mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, pasta, and limoncello; pizza-making and other cooking demonstrations; winery visits, and town-by-town tours of the Amalfi Coast and Naples.
Trips to Turkey, Costa Rica, and Switzerland are scheduled for next year.
Sustainability, conservation, and rehabilitation are at the heart of Oceania’s 150 Go Green tours worldwide—travelers engage with residents and businesses to learn about their initiatives to help conserve and sustain their environments.
Experiences include visiting a sustainable vineyard in Almeria, Spain; learning aspects of hydroponic farming in the rainforests of St. Kitts; discovering the world of eco-conscious art in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and imbibing zero-emission rum in the world’s only carbon-free distillery in Dartmouth, United Kingdom.
And, then, there’s the unique sloth sanctuary trip in Costa Rica—travelers visit the sanctuary that is a home for sloths, orphaned, injured or displaced because their habitat was lost due to deforestation. Guests have a close-up look at the animals as they are rehabilitated in hopes of returning them to the wild. Deforestation is one of the biggest threats to sloths, so to help their cause, travelers also have an opportunity to plant a tree in a nearby forest reserve.
“Offering niche itineraries that cater to a specific group of people or hobby helps to drive more interest and create an inclusive dynamic for any type of traveler that may want to take a guided vacation,” says Melissa DaSilva, President of Trafalgar, North America. “Beyond religious expeditions or family travel, niche travel experiences can be specific to a demographic or special interests.”
This year, Trafalgar launched 12 women-only trips. It was a decision driven by the rise in women’s travel as a way to empower and lift other women up, says DaSilva. “It was important to make sure we offered ways for women to feel truly comfortable in their travel experience and meet women trailblazers from all over the world that they can relate to and learn from. Our new, women’s only trips have proven to be a success with plans for more women's only departures in 2023."
History lovers immerse themselves in ancient and 20th-century warfare on itineraries in Turkey for insight into the feats of the Ottoman Empire and the ancient battles of the Trojans. Or, for recent historical perspectives, the WWI and WWII Battlefields itinerary brings guests to the frontlines of Europe with battlefield tours through the countryside of Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Trafalgar also satiates insatiable desires for travelers looking for multi-gen tours to the jungles of Costa Rica and foodie and sip indulgences to Cali wine country.