One of the hottest topics this year has been solo travel.
Agents can expect to see not only a continued rise in the demand from solo travelers, but also a dramatic uptick in the supply of products catering to this market, with flashy price incentives that sharply reduce or eliminate the single supplements that have dogged solo travelers for far too long.
Unpredictability or spontaneity are also factors: Solo travelers look for more flexibility while traveling, letting factors like the weather or their mood influence their choices upon arrival at a destination.
According to data from Solo Traveler, which is commandeered by Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt, the number of solo travelers is growing. For example, subscribers to their newsletter for solo travelers grew from 33,000 this time last year to over 50,000 at time of press.
According to research by Klook, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) effect among solo travelers as a strong motivating force. While travelers share their travel experiences through social media channels, they trigger wanderlust and FOMO from their peers. Experiences deemed as “insta-worthy activities” dominated Solo Traveler’s platform.
How tour operators are reacting
Tour operators are taking notice. Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions said: “We have noticed an upward trend for individuals booking solo trips, particularly for travel during the summer months. Many of our escorted experiences throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Persian Gulf have been popular for solo vacationers, as it allows individuals to travel within a group of passengers instead of experiencing these destinations alone.”
Travel Impressions is waiving single supplement surcharges for bookings at select AMResorts properties, including Secrets, Dreams, and Breathless Resorts & Spas, for travel Aug. 18 – Dec. 22, 2019, and Aug. 16 – Dec. 22, 2020.
At Tauck, Single supplements have been sharply reduced by up to $600 on 175 departures of 56 tours visiting five continents — or as is the case with its Category 1 riverboat cabins, has been completely eliminated.
“Solo travel is and has been an important part of our business, and we cater to/motivate/attract solo travelers each year with a number of itineraries and trips where we reduce the normal single supplement, or eliminate the supplement entirely,” offered Tom Armstrong at Tauck.
Derek Banks, managing director of European Waterways, said the luxury hotel barge company has seen a 50% increase in solo travelers in the past two years, a trend that inspired the company to waive the single supplement fee on more than 40 hotel barge departures in 2019 across Europe.
“Solo travel is growing in popularity and is a significant part of our business for several brands under The Travel Corporation, and we expect that the number of solo travelers with our brands will continue to grow,” said Guy Young, chief engagement officer, The Travel Corporation USA.
For Contiki, shared accommodations are the norm, which helps provide tremendous value and is all part of the experience. Deciding how many people will share a room depends on the region, travel style, and type of accommodation. Sharing a twin or quad room with the same gender is typical for most solo travelers, with a few exceptions, such as accommodations at festivals.
Additionally, Trafalgar and Insight Vacations also offer room-sharing options. If a client is traveling alone and chooses this option, he or she will be matched with someone of the same gender — and avoids paying the single supplement fee. More recently, and in response to the growing trend in solo travel, both Trafalgar and Insight have introduced waived or reduced single supplements on select departures, which are listed on the brands’ websites.
“I would encourage agents to look for these departures, because this presents tremendous value for their clients,” added Young.
Within the Travel Corporation, Uniworld has been offering waived single supplements for several years, and solo travelers now make up an important part of Uniworld’s business.
A spokesperson at Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) said that small group escorted travel is a natural fit for solo travelers. Guests can confidently travel to places where cultural or language differences might make them hesitant to explore on their own.
A&K has been reaching this market through its small group escorted travel products. All are sold with solo discounts that can save travelers 50% on the single supplement on select departures, points out Stefanie Schmudde, vice president for product development & operations.
“Surprisingly, the majority of solo guests are married, but their partner may not be interested in the destination — or is unable to travel due to business or family commitments,” said Schmudde.
Among the most popular solo traveler choices are safaris in East or Southern Africa. Guest feedback indicates they appreciate the “me time” between scheduled morning and afternoon game drives, so they can be pampered at the spa, or read a book by the pool, but it’s not a solitary experience.
The Luxury Expedition Cruises also tend to attract solo travelers, and appeal to those interested in photography and the history of exploration.
More than half of the people taking trips with Intrepid Travel, about 75,000 people a year, are now going solo. Overseas Adventure Travel, which caters to people over 50 through small group itineraries, added an additional 2,000 solo slots to its 2019 inventory. About 27 percent of its passengers in 2010 were solo travelers; by 2017, that number rose to 46 percent.
A newcomer to the market is Elle Voyage, a travel company that caters to women who long to have an adventure and travel to diverse destinations, but not alone. Owner Dawn Simone actively encourages solo travelers to participate in group travel experiences.
“Traveling around the globe to exotic locations can be a very difficult decision to make, especially if we can’t find anyone to go with,” Simone said. “Many of us might be too nervous to go on holiday with a group of people we’ve never met before. But, it’s time to step out of our comfort zones and discover the benefits of group travel.”
Among the five benefits of group travel that Simone cites are:
1. With the support of other travelers, clients are more likely to step out of their comfort zones.
2. Traveling in a group opens the options to make new friends and find travel buddies.
3. With group travel, there is no stress of organizing details.
4. Sharing the experience is more fun.
5. Group travel is much more cost effective than going it alone.