Going it Alone: Solo Travel is Growing

by Mimi Kmet
Going it Alone: Solo Travel is Growing

This is the first of two stories on solo travel.

Solo travel has seen steady growth for many years and now suppliers are taking note. They’re also re-examining their policies on the single supplement that so many solo travelers consider unfair.

Suppliers report varying growth rates in this market, from moderate to explosive. From 2011 to 2014, for example, SITA World Tours’ solo traveler bookings increased by nearly 64%, generating an increase of more than 90% in sales, the company said.

Most suppliers told Travel Market Report the number of solo travelers will continue to increase.

And they are already preparing for the uptick.

Double-digit growth
Tauck, for example, reported its number of solo clients had jumped by double digits this year over 2013. The company has increased by 15% the number of its land tour departures offering reduced single supplements for next year.

Bob Drumm, president of Alexander+Roberts (formerly General Tours), attributes the growth spurt to “sheer demographics. This is the first time in recent history that there are more singles than married people in the U.S.,” he said.

Although the number of solo travelers booking A+R has risen by 23% over the past three years, the company offers discounts to customers who pay in full at the time of booking in lieu of a reduced single supplement or a share program, Drumm said.

“If you book as a single traveler and take advantage of discounts, you’ll have your own private accommodations throughout the tour,” he said.

More single retirees
At Trafalgar, the demand for single travel has doubled over the past eight to 10 years, from 5% to 10% of the company’s business, according to Paul Wiseman, president.

“In the U.S., there are 10,000 Americans retiring every day, and a lot of those people are singles,”  Wiseman explained. “They still love to travel. We have a broad demographic, and half are over 55.”

Trafalgar also is beefing up its solo traveler offerings for 2015. “On 17 of our best-selling European trips, we’re offering single supplement discounts ranging from half price to no single supplement,” Wiseman said.

Female baby boomers
While people from all demographic groups travel solo, most of them appear to be female baby boomers who are seasoned travelers.

A&K, which has a web page dedicated to solo travelers, conducted a survey a few years ago and found that 70% of its solo customers are female, more than half are 55 to 69 years old, and 70% take at least one overseas trip per year.

They’re mainly traveling to exotic destinations and looking for cultural experiences, although some are looking for soft adventure, the survey said.

It also found that reasons for traveling solo include an interest in a destination or trip that a spouse or partner doesn’t share, no travel companion, and the flexibility of traveling independently.

Singles in search of the exotic
“Solo travelers gravitate more toward exotics and off-the-beaten-path Europe, because people want to be in a group environment when going to those types of places,” according to Jennifer Halboth, director of channel marketing for the Globus Family of Brands.

In addition, a solo traveler might also be someone traveling in a group, like a multigenerational family, who wants his or her own room, according to Halboth.

Whatever the reason, solo travelers “will be quite a force over the next five to 10 years,” Halboth said.

Away with single supplements . . .
To meet the growing needs of solo travelers, more cruise lines and tour operators are reducing or waiving single supplements on select departures or, among cruise lines, for select cabin categories.

Some, including Crystal Cruises and Silversea, offer single supplements as low as 110% of the per person, double occupancy fare.

And several of those that have been offering these perks for awhile are broadening the selection.

Among the other cruise lines that waive or reduce single supplements are American Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines, Tauck, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, AmaWaterways, and Azamara Club Cruises.

Some cruise lines encourage early booking to take advantage of single supplement waivers and discounts which are capacity controlled.

But not for all suppliers
Fewer tour operators waive or reduce single supplements primarily because they contract with hotels, most of which don’t offer price breaks for single travelers.

“The cost of the room is the cost of the room,” said Trafalgar’s Wiseman.

“We have to negotiate that room down for single travelers,” he said. “A lot of operators charge couples more to reduce the cost of the singles, but we don’t do that. Ultimately, somebody has to pay for the cost of the hotel room.”

However, many tour operators—including Cosmos, Trafalgar, Mayflower Tours, Wendy Wu Tours, Intrepid Travel, and SITA World Travel—offer share programs in which single travelers can be matched with a same-gender roommate in double-occupancy accommodations.

And in most cases, if a suitable roommate can’t be found, the single traveler who made the request will receive his or her own room without a single supplement.

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