Targeting Your Niche: Single Travel

Tour operators, agents finding success in catering to the solo market

By: Theresa Norton Masek and Lisa Jennings

To agent Monika Heigh, single people are often treated like the stepchildren of the travel industry.

Most of the time, solo travelers must pay a hefty single supplement, sometimes twice the price of a double-occupancy fare. Or they must endure traveling in groups in which everyone else has a partner. And too many trips designed for “singles” involve inappropriate matchmaking games.

Heigh, owner of Sea and Shores Travel in West Hills, Calif., organizes special group cruises for singles, along with a roommate-finding option for those who want to save money.

Heigh is among a growing number of travel professionals, including tour operators and cruise lines, who are honing in on the lucrative niche of singles travel.

Single travelers are not all lonely-heart types looking for love; some may be married to someone who won’t or can’t travel, they may be divorced, widowed, singles traveling with a goal of being alone, or simply seeking to meet like-minded people.

Heigh’s first singles group cruise was in mid-June, when about 90 people booked a three-night cruise on the Monarch of the Seas out of Los Angeles.

Heigh promoted the cruise through a singles’ Web site, by networking with groups she belongs to, and with an ad in the Los Angeles Times. She created a flyer that she distributed wherever she could.

She also set up roommates for those who wanted to pay the lower double-occupancy fares.

It was such a success, Heigh has scheduled two more three-night weekend cruises out of Los Angeles this year. She’s also planning an eight-night Feb. 14 Caribbean cruise out of New Orleans and exploring the possibility of renting a villa in Tuscany for a group next summer.

Amid growing interest, many tour operators have begun to offer guaranteed-share options that allow singles to share a room with same-sex travelers to avoid paying a supplement. If the tour operator can’t find a match, the single ends up with the room alone without paying extra.

Others will waive singles supplements on certain trips, or as a special promotion to help fill a trip. And yet others negotiate special deals to draw singles specifically.

General Tours (, for example, is waiving the single supplement on its “It’s Time to Go! Galapagos,” a seven-day cruise tour available through March 2004. Singles can enjoy private suites on the all-suite Galapagos Explorer II.

“We’re always on the lookout for things we can do for singles,” said Anne MacIntyre, General Tours director of public relations. “When we can cut a deal like this one, we do.”

Tauck World Discovery is also planning to negotiate significantly reduced singles supplement fees on certain tours throughout the season next year to draw more solo travelers, said spokeswoman Kendra St. John.

This year Beaches Resorts designated certain “Single Parent Months” throughout the year when single supplement fees are waived.

Travel Bound offers FIT travelers single rooms in London, Paris, and other European cities without charging a supplement.

Sceptre Ireland this year created a “Sights & Sounds Tour” for solo travelers. The Nov. 3 trip includes airfare, four nights hotel in Galway and Dublin, some meals and motorcoach transportation with an Irish driver/guide. Prices start at $799, single-occupancy, from Los Angeles.

Singles Travel International (, a tour operator also offering guaranteed-share options, organizes a number of cruise and land trips every year, many with themes such as Murder Mystery Dive trip to Roatan, Honduras, or an Impressionistic Art and Wine river cruise in France.

And Berkeley, Calif.-based tour operator Backroads ( offers active, luxury vacations with specific departures for solo travelers. Backroads offers guaranteed share options for those who book at least 60 days ahead.

One resource for single travelers is Connecting: Solo Travel Network, which was created by former travel agent Diane Redfern in Vancouver.

In the mid-1980s, Redfern left her work as a travel agent and spent a year exploring the world as a travel writer by herself.

Redfern found a world of like-minded souls. She brings them together online (, where members can exchange ideas and find travel companions.

Redfern also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter with information on single travel, tours and cruises. And she offers a Single-Friendly Travel Directory, free to members, listing about 260 suppliers.

Singles travel opportunities have grown tremendously since she started the newsletter in 1990, said Redfern.

“When I started, I might find one or two trips each month, and a lot of them failed because people wouldn’t go,” she said.

Now her 20-page newsletter devotes five to six pages to vacation listings alone.

Sadly, she said, higher fees are inevitable for many single travelers as long as U.S. hotels and cruise lines continue to remain committed to offering only double or quad-share rooms.

Said Redfern: “They’re ignoring one-third of the population.”