February 26, 2010 / 2:07 PM / 9 years ago

Affinity travel: The broad trend in niche tours

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - What’s your passion?

Whether it’s Zumba or food, wine tasting or volley ball, exotic locales or family reunions, there’s likely a vacation that caters to it.

Travel industry experts say these so-called affinity tours are as fast growing as they are far flung.

“It’s really a specialized week that we offer to customers,” said Kate Moeller of Club Med. “I would say if we compare an affinity week to the week prior and after we generally see a 25 to 50 percent increase in that week.”

Moeller said among the global resort group’s offerings are a food and wine experience in the Dominican Republic, a volley ball clinic in Florida and a Zumba fitness and music festival in Mexico.

Most of Club Med’s affinity weeks take place during the industry’s slower, or shoulder, seasons of spring and fall.

“We do it when people are less apt to travel,” Moeller said. “It’s also when consumers can get the best deals.”

It seems no interest is too niche to be ignored. A recent week in Mexico was devoted to food bloggers.

“People who signed up for this were able to meet with different food bloggers and take seminars,” Moeller said.

“We have relatively small properties so we’re able to cater to individual needs. Our resorts typically only have about 300 rooms,” she explained.

Terry L. Dale, president of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) an association of cruise lines, says affinity cruises are part of a rising trend in group travel.

“Multigenerational travel, food and wine cruises, destination weddings/honeymoons are all popular,” Dale said. “In the case of small ships, it is not uncommon for an affinity group of some sort to charter the entire vessel and plan a customized itinerary.”

Margie Jordan, CEO of ASAP Travel, said her Florida-based company is changing to accommodate the growing market.

“This is an area near and dear to my heart,” Jordan said. “By the end of the second quarter of 2010, my agency will deal primarily with affinity groups.”

She believes it is suited to the economy and a less expensive way to travel.

“You pretty much nail down your expenses before you leave home. And when you’re going to a country where the dollar is strong you pay for the trip up front with a great exchange rate.”

Jordan defines the affinity experience broadly to include a wedding in the Dominican Republic or senior citizens seeking safety in numbers.

“They get to see the world and they’re escorted,” said Jordan, who has group trips to South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania in the works.

But she admits affinity tours are not for everyone.

“If you’re the type who prefers to have your privacy and you want to do off-beat travel, this probably would not be the best opportunity for you,” she said.

Moeller agrees: “Not everybody wants to participate with pro volley ball players in clinics, not everyone wants to go to a food blogger camp.”

Or maybe they just haven’t found their niche.

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