Antique hunters. Minor league baseball enthusiasts. Geocachers. Japanese fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Sounds like a random list. But these labels have one thing in common: they are all niche travel markets. Each category reflects a discrete group of travelers who are interested in a very particular set of attractions and activities. And, each of these groups is being successfully targeted by small communities in the Midwest. Here are some general approaches to reaching niche travel markets:
- Market your existing assets to specific niche markets. This simply means marketing the unique tourism assets that your community already has to an audience that is attracted to these types of assets. The small community of Pepin, Wis., is an artist community on the Mississippi River and the birthplace of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pepin has found success by marketing their community to “Little House on the Prairie” fans from all over the world, including overseas public relations efforts to Japan, where the pioneer tale is widely read and quite revered.
- Enhance your existing assets and market them to reach new niche markets. A great example of this is the tiny town of Hazel, Ky. In terms of reaching the antique hunter travel market, Hazel takes the prize. This community of only 440 residents in eastern Kentucky helped grow its antique store offerings from a few stores to nearly a dozen by creating its own Antique District. In addition, the businesses of Hazel keep regular daily hours, making the town a dependable stop for antique enthusiasts. Hazel’s singular focus on attracting antique hunters and building up the asset over time has paid enormous dividends.
- Create an entirely new asset to reach a new niche market. A well-known example is Dyersville, Iowa, home of the “Field of Dreams.” Just like the memorable line in the movie, “If you build it, they will come,” baseball enthusiasts from around the world now visit this baseball field in Iowa each year. The casinos that dot Wisconsin and the Midwest, for better or worse, are another example of this approach. However, be warned—creating an entirely new asset takes a relatively large investment and entails significant risks.
- Discovering hidden niche markets and then strategically growing them. Often, a destination is attracting a particular niche market that is flying under the radar. Once identified, the niche groups can be grown through a strategic marketing plan that both enhances the existing assets and attracts more travelers.
Targeting niche markets takes a lot of careful strategizing. But for small destinations, niche marketing can be one of the most powerful ways to generate new tourism revenues.