While many suppliers have taken steps to accommodate the growing numbers of solo travelers, agents say the industry hasn’t gone far enough––especially when it comes to often-costly single supplements.
“The industry is recognizing that there are a lot of single travelers out there, so they’re making a small effort to provide for them. But I think they need to be more generous,” said Lisa Silvestri, of Silvestri Travel, a NEST member in Sarasota, Fla.
Agents said they were relieved that suppliers are starting to cater to singles.
They applauded moves by tour and cruise companies to reduce single supplements significantly or, in some cases, waive them altogether––usually for designated sailings or tours as departure dates near.
As a result of such initiatives, singles “usually don’t have to pay 200%,” said Patricia Klippel, CTA, a travel advisor for Cardoza Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Palo Alto, Calif.
In Klippel’s experience, higher-end cruise and tour companies are most generous to single travelers, charging singles 125% to 150% of the per person double occupancy fare, rather than the traditional 200%. Some suppliers have lowered their standard single supplements even further.
Agents also noted the introduction by cruise lines of single cabins as well as initiatives by tour firms to set aside specific departures for single travelers.
But some cruise and tour suppliers still levy the higher single supplements, and that stings, agents said. Cruise lines also charge double NCFs for single travelers, they noted.
“Solo travelers are getting tired of getting killed by the single supplement,” said Ilene Koenig, CTC, an independent travel consultant at Let’s Travel in Los Angeles, a division of Signature member Plaza Travel.
Explaining the costs
The single supplements can come as a surprise to first-time solo travelers, putting agents in the position of having to explain the additional cost.
Klippel recalled a phone call she received in early November from a woman who said, “‘My children are all doing something for Thanksgiving. Can you get me a trip to Hawaii?’
“I had to explain the single supplement,” Klippel said.
Her approach is to point out to customers that if they were staying alone at a hotel, the hotel wouldn’t cut the room rate in half. “That’s the easiest way to explain it,” she said.
Eats into budgets
Not all clients are able––or willing––to pay the additional costs that come with traveling solo.
“I have clients that love to travel; they like traveling on their own, meeting new friends. But it really takes a bite out of their budgets to have to pay double the price,” Silvestri said.
Silvestri said one of her wealthy clients who prefers five-star and six-star accommodations would travel alone more often were it not for the extra charges levied on solo travelers.
“She doesn’t want to throw her money away. So she has to come up with a distant relative to take on a trip with her to have the kind of experience she wants.”
So when a supplier like Silversea Cruises waives the single supplement on select sailings, as Silversea did recently, Silvestri makes it a point to let her client know about the offers.
A modest proposal
Silvestri would like to see cruise and tour companies make it standard policy to set aside a certain number of cabins and seats for singles on all departures and waive the single supplements on them altogether.
The suppliers could offer the single rates on a first-come, first-served basis, and set a booking deadline, after which they would revert to the per person double rate, she suggested.
That might cost suppliers in the short-term, she acknowledged, but “with the goodwill they would foster, I think they’d get more and more single people willing to travel.”
More generous policies would open up the market to a “potentially huge demographic,” including younger travelers, many of whom like to travel solo but stay away from traditional tours because of the extra costs imposed on singles, Silvestri said.
The issue of affordable travel for single travelers “has been gnawing at the single market since I started 20 years ago,” said Tammy Weiler, founder and president of Singles Travel International (STI), a Boca Raton, Fla., firm affiliated with MAST.
STI offers a fast-growing membership-based program that operates group trips for baby boomers. Rather than work with major tour operators, STI deals with local tour companies and with hotels, local transportation companies and other vendors that accommodate singles.
“Tour operators have limits on single occupancy,” Weiler explained. “They allow about 10% of the group to have single accommodations at a single supplement rate. That doesn’t always work.”
Among cruise lines, Weiler singled out Norwegian, saying its Studio cabins for singles “sell like crazy.”
In step with the times
Suppliers that are taking steps to be more accommodating to solo travelers recognize a growing opportunity, one that agents recognize as well.
“The industry is seeing that there’s a big market that’s untapped,” said Koenig of Let’s Travel.
“The bottom line is that we’re definitely getting requests from singles, and slowly the industry is starting to respond to it,” Koenig said.