A girl takes photos at the Taj Mahal. // © 2012 Thinkstock
There is no single kind of solo traveler
Here are some trip suggestions for certain types of solo travelers
Tip: Teachers get winter, spring and summer vacations that their friends and family in other professions don’t get, making them frequent solo travelers. If the client’s idea is to take a break from children, then consider options that can offer this experience.
Match: G Adventures is a great fit for young-at-heart adventurers who want immersive, cultural experiences while traveling sustainably.
Client: Recent Widower
Tip: Agents need to be sensitive to the fact that venturing out alone will be a new style of travel and will present challenges. Emotions can be heightened when widowers are alone or surrounded by families and couples celebrating milestones, so recommend that the client travel in an intimate group or with a company that specializes in women’s travel.
Match: The average solo woman traveler on A Woman’s View, a women’s only tour operator that sells exclusively to agents, is divorced, widowed or single and never married. She is affluent, sophisticated, successful and curious and between the ages of 45 and 60.
Client: Young Adult
Tip: Clients in the 18-35 age range are likely to have precious breaks in schooling and work that are perfect for bouts of fun, action-packed travel. They are not going to wait around for their friends or partners, but that doesn’t mean they want to waste time navigating alone or travel with a group of families or couples.
Match: Contiki Vacations has specialized in this group for 50 years, and offers more than 200 itineraries in 26 countries. Groups get to know one another before the tour via Contiki’s social platforms. This age group is familiar and adapted to using social media for social interaction, making the Contiki Community and Discussion Forums as well as the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed popular.
“Contiki clients basically begin with virtual friends and then meet at the start of the tour, turning the beginning of the tour into a reunion,” said Fischbein.
If the last two trips you booked were to Bora Bora, French Polynesia, and a Sandals resort, then you might not be aware that singles are traveling more than ever before.
“Stigmas about being a single traveler are dissipating,” said Nancie Svensen, an independent affiliate of Avoya Travel/American Express. “There was a time when it was assumed that most solo travelers were aged, lonely or looking to meet and mingle with other solo travelers but, nowadays, there are many interesting travel options that attract solo travelers of all ages, tastes and interests. They will find a reason to book the vacation, regardless of having a companion or not.”
Single travelers, defined by how they are traveling rather than their relationship status, are a mixed niche.
“Some are not married. Some are widowed or divorced, traveling either by themselves or with friends. And some are married,” said Guy Young, president of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.
There are many reasons why clients might venture out alone. Perhaps their schedules conflict with their family members, friends or partners or they seek out a trip unique to them. Solo travelers typically have more vacation time and want to use it traveling.
“Sometimes a person just needs to get away, and they can’t always do that with their significant other,” said Camille Olivere, vice president of sales, Americas for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Others appreciate the independence of treading new ground alone and would not travel any other way.
“Solo travelers are able to make their own decisions, control their own schedules and, best of all, they don’t have to share a room and bathroom,” said Svensen. “Often, they are more open to and can more easily make friends and interact with locals. They also have the unique opportunity for reflection and moving at their own pace. After all, when traveling by yourself, you only have to please yourself.”
For agents, the possibility of a life-long client who will come back to book more travel, either solo or with a group, should be enough to make this growing niche attractive.
“Because we’ve already pre-packaged all of the components of a trip, and all components are commissionable, a single traveler booking nets an agent an average of more than $300 per person,” said Steve Born, vice president of sales and marketing for Globus Family of Brands. “Add flights and pre-booked excursions for them and that number grows. There’s just no other travel option that rewards agents at the same level.”
Though not all solo travelers are single, many are and, according to Fortune, singles spend more discretionary dollars than their married counterparts. Fortune reported that singles contribute $1.9 trillion annually to the economy. According to the federal Consumer Expenditure survey, their average per capita annual expenditure was $34,471 in 2010 — more than for married individuals without kids ($28,017) and more than per person in the highest-spending families with children ($23,179).
“This growing sector of single travelers spends more than married travelers, which equates to higher earnings for agents,” said Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa.
Furthermore, the percentage of travelers venturing out independently is significant and growing.
“In the past year, the number of solo travelers on our small-group escorted journeys has increased dramatically, from around 10 percent of our business in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011,” said Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K). “It is still growing and is on track to reach more than 18 percent in 2012.”
Independent travelers are also likely to seek out the advice of a professional.
“According to a 2009 report by the U.K.-based research firm Mintel, there is evidence that singles are more likely than other travelers to seek assistance from travel agents,” said Fuqua. “Agents must acquaint themselves with the needs and demographics of the singles market and the range of supplier products that cater to it in order to match their clients with the best itinerary.”
Touring and Cruising
Some of the companies that average high percentages of solo travelers include Globus Family of Brands (20 percent), G Adventures (40 percent), Contiki Holidays (60 percent) and A Woman’s View (60 percent). According to the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), solo travelers make up anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of a given tour departure.
Companies are courting the demand for solo travel by tackling one of the greatest barriers to traveling alone — the single supplement. Vacation packages, which are typically priced per person, add on the price that the hotel charges for a single occupancy through the supplement.
“Solo travelers often have to pay a higher per person rate because they do not have a companion, so offers that waive or reduce fees for single travelers are always attractive,” said Svensen.
Travcoa has a Single Traveler page on Travcoa.com, which is continuously updated with offers of 50 percent off the single supplement on select trips. A&K offers more than 30 Solo Savings departures, in which the supplement is waived or lowered by as much as 75 percent.
USTOA reports that 60 percent of its tour operators offer room shares for singles. G Adventures, Contiki Holidays and Cosmos tackle the hotel charge by assigning travelers with a roommate of the same sex. Insight Vacations matches singles by sex and smoking preference so that both singles can enjoy the twin rate. If Insight cannot find a match, the tour operator will offer the single client the twin rate.
“A social age group [ages 18-35], the majority of our travelers enjoy the opportunity to room with others, often from another country, as part of the shared experience and cultural mix that typifies a Contiki trip,” said Greg Fischbein, president of Contiki Vacations.
River cruises also offer a range of promotional deals for singles. Svensen regularly matches her single clients with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, AmaWaterways, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.
At Uniworld, supplement deals are offered on select departures, including multigenerational family cruises where the supplement is waived to make family travel more affordable. However, Young warns that because Uniworld’s ships average a capacity of 130 passengers, the line needs to be mindful of the total number of single occupancies on a sailing and limits the number of waived supplements.
Azamara is currently offering singles a discounted supplement on 26 of its 2012 departures. Singles pay 125 percent of the stateroom fare on select sailings to Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, South America and the West Indies. In Europe, Avalon is waiving the single supplement on 14 itineraries, totalling 38 departures in 2012. Regent is offering a 50 percent discount on its single supplement on 15 cruises in 2012 and Silversea is offering supplements that are 5 to 25 percent above the double occupancy fare. The line, which is offering 25 discounted single departures in 2012, hosts a welcome champagne reception exclusively for singles and offers select voyages featuring Gentlemen Hosts, who are available as dance partners and dinner companions. Launching on the Mississippi this year, both Great America Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines will have single staterooms. A&K offers single staterooms on some of its European canal and river barges as well as the Galapagos adventure cruiser, the MV Eclipse.
For those seeking to meet other singles, trips that waive or discount the single supplement or offer guaranteed room matching are a good choice. Because these trips boast a fair price tag, they tend to include more singles, increasing the opportunity for independent travelers to meet like-minded travelers.
“Meeting new people is undoubtedly a big part of the travel experience and our small-group sizes certainly help facilitate new friendships,” said Timothy Chan, public relations manager for G Adventures. “Many of our travelers who met on one of our trips have become lifelong friends.”
Escorted small-group touring and river cruising are ideal modes of travel because they resolve the emotional barriers to exploring solo such as feeling alone, unsafe and overburdened by travel arrangements.
Lynne Adams, of Lynne Adams Travel, an affiliate of TravelXperts Inc., favors Crystal Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Norwegian and escorted tour companies, including A&K and Tauck, for her single clients.
“Escorted tours are a perfect fit for solo travelers,” said Born. “They hit the hot-buttons of ease and convenience — even more valuable if you’re traveling on your own. Couple that with a built-in social network and the safety and security of a tour director and the group, and you’ve found a travel option tailor-made for solo travelers.”
River cruising is also a great match for single travelers. Ships range from 60 to 160 passengers so a single traveler is likely to repeatedly see acquaintances made on a shore excursion or onboard.
“The ambience on a river cruise ship provides single travelers with the option to easily meet like-minded travelers,” said Young. “The included tours are in small group numbers. There is good opportunity for interaction and exploring with other guests but also the opportunity to explore on your own.”
Tour directors, guides and dance hosts are among the staff members on cruises and tours who help bind single travelers to the greater group.
“As long as you select an upscale tour operator or cruise line, you are going to be well taken care of,” said Adams. “Many longer, upscale cruises have dance hosts or ambassador hosts to make the solo traveler feel like part of a group.”
In general, single travelers should not be in any situation in which they may feel like an outsider.
“True ‘a la carte’ trips are a miss for singles,” said Born. “Just because they’re traveling alone doesn’t mean they want to be completely alone on their trip. Stay away from the ordinary independent packages that just combine hotel, flights and sightseeing. They’ll find that experience incomplete.”
Some agents might think that big cruises are a no-no for solos, but Crystal Cruises and Norwegian are appealing to the singles market. Norwegian, for instance, has carved out a special spot for singles, shrinking the price and narrowing the social circle simultaneously.
The Norwegian Epic is the first cruise ship to offer Studio staterooms. The 128 staterooms are small, but functional, and are priced without the single supplement. Each Studio stateroom receives exclusive access to a shared, private two-floor lounge which features a bar, large plasma televisions and a comfortable seating area. A member of the cruise staff meets in the Studio Lounge on a daily basis to host activities so that guests can get to know one another. A white board is also provided, so that guests can share messages and arrange plans with new friends.
“Research showed that 35 million adults take solo trips, but that only five percent opt for cruises, so the growth potential for this market is huge,” said Olivere.
Since launching the Norwegian Epic in July 2010, the Studios are one of the first stateroom categories to sell out — second to the Epic’s suites and villas. The line will include the Studio staterooms in its two new ships — Norwegian Breakaway, in the spring of 2013, and Norwegian Getaway, in the spring of 2014.
Honeymoon destinations and romantic experiences are among the only poor matches for solo travelers.
At Insight, the destinations most popular among singles are Italy, Spain/Portugal and Morocco, Eastern Europe and Russia. For many, the trips that motivate them to travel solo are the ones that they have always dreamed of — typically an exotic destination or experience.
“Perhaps it’s a place where they have always wanted to go, and they’re committed to getting there even if someone isn’t going with them,” said Born.
These are usually trips that are unique but hard to plan and manage alone.
Booking Solo Travel
Of course, traveling solo means that the client is not compromising his wishes with anyone but himself.
“With a single traveler, you are speaking directly with the end user, and you are his advocate,” said Svensen. “With group travel, you have to please the organizer and group leader, as well as the guests. Booking solo clients into pre-established programs can be straight forward, involves less time and can also be very rewarding.”
The various considerations when qualifying other clients is amplified for the solo client. When one person is dictating the price, the destination and the goals of the trip, these requirements become especially important to meet. Also, each case is unique. That client travels the way he/she wants, meaning that there is no one perfect solo trip.
It becomes a more direct task for the agent to match the client with a product and company that best mirrors his/her personality and needs. Figuring out the goal of the trip — relaxation, adventure, a learning experience, a unique immersion or to meet new people — is essential. Specific questions related to traveling alone are also important to consider.
“I would ask three questions,” said Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations. “Where have you traveled to before, have you ever traveled alone before and would you be interested in having us find you a roommate to benefit from a lower rate?”
Since a client booked by a great travel agent should never feel like he/she is actually alone, put yourself in your client’s shoes. Ensure that the fit is comfortable.