When travel advisors think about destinations like Ethiopia, the Arctic and African safaris, they might not readily target solo females in their mid-60s. But that is exactly the sweet spot for one tour company that has successfully grown its solo clients to constitute nearly half of its sales.
“We’ve seen the solo trend skyrocket in recent years,” said Brian Fitzgerald, COO, Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.), a Boston-based, small-group tour company that targets travelers 55 years of age and older. Currently, 47% of O.A.T. travelers are solo, including people traveling as singles and solos who are sharing accommodations. Some 85% of these travelers are women, with the average age in their mid-60s.
According to Fitzgerald, in 2010, just 27% of O.A.T’s travelers were solo travelers. And it’s not as if this market is dominated by widows. Fitzgerald said that, today, 40% of his clients tell O.A.T. that they are traveling without their spouse.
“Many are women who have a spouse at home who is not interested in traveling, so these women either go solo or choose to bring a girlfriend,” Fitzgerald said. “Traveling solo is growing, but traveling as friends is growing even faster.”
Fitzgerald says his company’s travelers are independent, adventurous, and curious. “They are life-long learners and are often teachers or retired teachers,” Fitzgerald said, urging agents to target similar types of clients. Regionally, the company is particularly popular with travelers from Florida, Texas, and California.
Where and why they travel
AARP reported in its 2019 Boomer Travel Trends study that seniors are expected to take 4-5 leisure trips in 2019, spending more than $6,600. In addition, the study found that nearly half of all Baby Boomers reported interest in authentic/local experiences – specifically, eating or touring with locals – while traveling internationally.
The most popular types of adventure trips O.A.T. offers include itineraries to Sicily and Morocco; and what the company calls its “Ultimate Africa” excursion, including Botswana, Zambia and a Zimbabwe safari.
While solo travelers are adventurous, they appreciate the safety of small-group guided tours, Fitzgerald said. His company finds the ideal size is about 14, but could range anywhere from 8-16 travelers for O.A.T. land adventures and no more than 25 in a group on their small ship adventures.
“Solo travelers want group activities and time to explore on their own, with the freedom to make choices about how they spend their time abroad. They want to meet the people of the communities and the children,” he said.
The company’s Europe trips help travelers revisit countries they have already been to, “but to new corners and off-the-beaten-path places.” Some 30% of O.A.T’s travelers choose to arrive early or stay later to “break away” and explore a destination entirely on their own.
Building on this demand to go further afield, O.A.T in 2020 plans to add expedition cruises to the Arctic; and new itineraries for Ethiopia, France, and Scotland.
“The Arctic is becoming more accessible and it’s a ‘bucket list’ for many people,” Fitzgerald said. O.A.T’s expedition includes 10 days of cruising around the island of Svalbard, including spotting wildlife like polar bears, walruses, narwhals, reindeer and other animals.
“We expect it to continue to grow at a similar rate that we’ve seen these past few years,” he said.
To grow their female solo traveler base, Fitzgerald advises agents to focus on promoting referrals from existing clients. “Our best source of sales, by far, is referrals from current customers,” he said. “We have passionate customers who have traveled with O.A.T. ten, 20 times, or more. They naturally tell their friends and family about their wonderful trips. It’s the best advertising we could hope for.”
O.A.T. is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation's family of travel companies, which also include Grand Circle Cruise Line and Grand Circle Travel.