Attracting special interest groups

Dubai Tourism recently welcomed over 450 delegates from China

A little while ago, I attended the first World Halal Travel Summit and Exhibition in Abu Dhabi and spent three days discussing all things halal, travel, and marketing with fellow industry professionals. I participated in a number of panel discussions and listened to several presentations about halal travel marketing and one of the recurring themes was 'What do Halal travellers want and how should we market to them?'

Indeed, I was asked this very question early on the first day of the event. My answer was roughly this: 'I really don’t know. What do German travellers want? Little towels on their sun loungers at 6am in the morning so that nobody else can occupy them? Surely not! There’s simply no such thing as the typical German traveller and, I dare say, there’s also no such thing as the typical halal traveller. In the end, we’re all humans, we’re all individuals, and, if we leave our home to go on a business trip or take a holiday, we’re all travellers.'

The answer raised a few eyebrows and led, unsurprisingly perhaps, to the questions whether we shouldn’t bother marketing to halal travellers.

I’m very passionate about marketing and I can market just about anything to anybody, so my answer to that question is a resounding, 'Of course you should, but you need to do it right! Alas you won’t be doing it right if you think of all halal travellers worldwide as a homogenous mass.'

In other words, there simply is no such thing as a typical traveller. There are, however, what could be called 'special interest travellers and groups' and marketing to them can be potentially very rewarding.

What then is a special interest traveller?

The way I see it, he or she is a traveller who has very specific requirements, which a destination, hotel, attraction, or carrier needs to fulfil in order to capture his or her business. There are many special interest groups of

Take golfers, for example. Any passionate golfer will, when booking a golfing holiday, make the golf course arrangements first and bother about everything else later. He or she will pick a hotel based less on its services, but mostly based on its proximity to the ‘perfect’ golf course.

The same goes for passionate divers, tennis players, history buffs, but also, let’s face it, halal travellers. For the latter, specific requirements often become even more important. It could be argued that if, despite careful planning, a golfer ends up at a less than perfect golf course it’s not a major issue (yes, clearly I do not golf!), whereas if a Muslim traveller ends up in a hotel that does not offer halal food, he or she is facing a far more stressful situation.

Research has shown time and again that special interest travellers, provided they’re happy with a hotel, attraction, or airline, tend to spend more than other travellers. The key to tapping into the power of such audiences lies in authenticity and harnessing electronic word of mouth and online recommendations.

We all know that word of mouth and earned media are excellent marketing tools, but they do go a lot further with special interest travellers. Why? Precisely because of their shared requirements and needs and also, because people who are passionate about something are more likely to tell other, like-minded people about a great experience.

It goes without saying that a recommendation by a passionate diver resonates with others in his social circles, which are likely to contain many like-minded individuals.

Rather than look at special requests and requirements, such as dietary needs, rooming preferences or transportation requirements as a challenge, look at them as an opportunity to increase your return of investment from such travellers.

Try and find out as much as possible about what makes them tick and encourage them to share pictures and videos of their travel experiences with you. Every time they do so, the post will ripple through their social networks, and generate coveted electronic word of mouth and highly regarded recommendations and referrals. 

By Martin Kubler