Five Tips For Selling Solo Travel

by Harvey Chipkin

A surge of solo travelers means opportunities for agents who can cater to this growing market. According to a study by Visa on the rise in solo travel, one in five individuals has traveled independently on their most recent trip.

Tour operators and cruise lines agree and are working to meet the growth. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, is seeing  a steady increase in solo travel, year over year with a 15% increase in the number of solo travelers in 2016 compared with 2014, said president Phil Otterson, while Uniworld says 7% of guests on its river cruises are solo travelers.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has seen continuous growth in demand since it introduced industry-first studio staterooms aboard Norwegian epic in 2010, said senior vice president of sales Camille Olivere. As a result, the studios have been included on the three new ships since then and retrofitted on an existing ship as well.

At Cox & Kings, meanwhile, new Discovery Group Journeys cater specifically to solo travelers, as “some solo travelers are hesitant to feel ‘odd man out’ if joining a trip with all couples,” said COO Warren Chang.

Many tour operators are offering “reduced or waived single supplements, single staterooms or shared accommodations that team up like-minded travelers,” said Terry Dale, CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association. For example, Intrepid Travel is running three dedicated solo-only trips in 2017, and Contiki offers a pre-trip MeetUp in its travel app that allows guests to connect prior to departure. Solo travel continues to be a growing market for the travel industry.”

Here are five tips for selling solo travel:

1. Book suppliers who cater to solo travelers.
Look for tour operators and cruise lines that go out of their way to accommodate individual travelers.
At Insight Vacations, tour directors focus on solo travelers, helping introduce them to the local culture, said president Phil Cappelli.

Norwegian offers a dedicated Studio Lounge, open morning and night, to meet, mingle and enjoy snacks; AmaWaterways invites solo travelers to a welcome cocktail reception and dinner at the Captain’s Table. At Uniworld, said Ellen Bettridge, CEO, “aside from open seating and the ability to connect with like-minded travelers, we will coordinate a cocktail party if there is a large group of solo travelers onboard a ship.”

2. Ease the pain of single supplements
There are tours and cruises where there is no single supplement, and solo travelers pay the same as any guest traveling with another person. On other trips, the supplements are eliminated or discounted on specific departures.
Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, noted that “solo travelers can avoid paying extra by booking a set departure tour that offers rate structures based on group travel. If clients are flexible with their travel dates our tours can be offered based on availability. Travel agents should also ask what departure dates if any are available without a single supplement.”

Uniworld offers promotions targeted specifically to solo travelers, and has “waived or reduced the single supplement on a generous number of our most popular itineraries,” Bettridge said.

Capelli said Insight Vacations “offers a reasonable single supplement,” can match up single travelers and waive the supplement altogether, and offers reduced or waived supplements on certain tours and departures.

Cruise lines offer similar deals. At Cunard, single travelers no longer pay the single supplement they would when traveling in a double room; they only pay for a single stateroom.  At NCL, Olivere said, the studio staterooms are priced for solo travelers at about 1.5 times what a guest would pay in an inside stateroom if traveling alone.

3. Don’t make assumptions about the market.
“Don’t assume solo travel is only for single clients,” Otterson said. “Based on a survey we did a few years back, nearly 40% of A&K’s solo travelers chose a trip because their partner doesn’t share their interest in the destination, or scheduling conflicts prevented family or friends from joining them. A quarter of them travel alone to pursue a personal passion such as wildlife photography, history or archaeology. What’s surprising is that the majority aren’t single.”

Agreed Cappelli, “Lots of folks in the past wouldn’t travel if their spouse or friend wouldn’t join them. Today travelers of all ages are excited to explore on their own. With a group, they have the best of both worlds—they travel on their own but are never alone.”

Said Olivere, “Keep in mind that a solo traveler is not always single; couples may travel separately due to work schedules or prior commitments. So it is important not to limit yourself to discussing solo cruising with singles.”

4. Look for cruise lines that offer cabins designed for individuals.
Cunard North America now offers single cabins on all three ships—Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary 2, which offers 15 single cabins installed last summer. And each ship “is a destination itself; the atmosphere and activities offered onboard encourage guests to meet and engage with like-minded travelers,” said senior vice president Josh Leibowitz.
“All Abercrombie & Kent’s European River Cruise Journeys offer a single stateroom option; for example: Cruising Holland & Belgium in Bloom is priced from $4,695 per person with a single supplement of just $795,” Otterson said.

5. Choose the right destination and type of trip
Escorted group travel can be appealing for solo travelers, especially first-timers or those who prefer not to be completely on their own, said Dale. “They gain the peace of mind and ease that comes with group travel, while also achieving the sense of freedom of traveling alone.”    

And adventure travel is a natural fit for solo travelers, said Otterson. “The challenges of the adventure, such as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, allow the group to work together and form a bond, in which they encourage each other to succeed.”  A&K has found that once-in-a-lifetime trips, such as Luxury Expedition Cruises and Private Jet Journeys, tend to attract more solo travelers; “I believe this is due to the unique destinations visited on these trips and the length of the programs.”

Other Solo Selling Tips

  • Look for pairing options. At Quark Expeditions, guests can choose the Request-Share program, where solo travelers can share accommodations and save the single supplement. If the line is unable to find a cabin mate for a Request-Share traveler, the single supplement still is waived.
  • Encourage clients to explore a personal passion or something they’ve always wanted to learn more about, such as wine or history, on their own.
  • Make the case that agents are the ideal advisors for solo travel. Said Otterson, “This is where it pays (or saves) for consumers to work with a travel expert, rather than trying to make arrangements on their own. Professional agents are more likely to know which destinations or types of travel offer better solo rates than others, and what special offers are available for solo travelers.”
  • Counter misperceptions. Said Olivere, “It may not occur to someone that they could comfortably afford a cruise on their own. There are many reasons that someone who normally travels as a couple or with family and friends may decide to take a vacation on their own.  Weaving some marketing and scripting around this segment is an opportunity to develop your business and enrich the lives of your customers.”
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