Go your own way
Catering to the rise of solo travellers
This may come as a surprise – it appears our ambitions to travel don’t always match up with reality. After surveying 20,500 global travellers, recent research by Booking.com found that, while the majority of people are keen to push their limits, experience new cultures and try local delicacies, they’re actually being held back by anxieties over language barriers, struggling to find accommodations and being in unfamiliar situations when travelling.
This is where tour operators can come in with the antidote, providing travellers with perks like local guides in the destination who speak the language, arranging logistics like hotels and the comfort and safety of being part of an organized tour. According to the newly released Solo Travel Trends Report compiled by Just You and Solo Traveler, which surveyed over 1,000 people, this is exactly why solo travellers are opting for escorted holidays.
The results found that, “I can travel to destinations that I wouldn’t be confident to book myself; Local guides help me to really understand the history and the culture of the destination; I can relax and enjoy, as I know everything is taken care of by the tour manager; Travel in the safety of a group” and “It takes the hassle out of planning,” were the top factors motivating solo travellers to embark on group tours over vacationing on their own.
Also important to note, the results revealed a significant portion of bookings were coming in through direct bookings with tour operators and through travel agents. And it’s not just the younger generation travelling solo – the study found that the majority of solo travellers were actually 55 and up.
What’s also good news for business is when asked how many trips they were planning to take in the next 12 months, 36.41% said two; 24.02% said three, 21.85% said four or more; while 16.20% said one.
Here’s a look at how some tour operators are catering to this growing segment:
Going solo with Transat
Tailored to single travellers, Transat first launched its Solo Collection for winter 2015. Along with no single supplement, benefits include free WiFi and room service, as well as optional access to communal dining tables for solo travellers who wish to chat and mingle with fellow solo travellers.
“The first thing and the most interesting is that there is no single supplement, which is a great thing when you are travelling to an all-inclusive, usually you have to pay for the single supplement,” Debbie Cabana, marketing director, social media and public relations for Transat, tells Travel Courier. “There’s also free room service, which is cool too because when you’re alone you don’t necessarily want to go to the dining room with all the families or the couples; and for some of the hotels that we are offering, we also have some sharing tables for other solo travellers travelling with Transat or welcoming happy hours and drinks for the Transat group.”
Some of the 19 Sun destinations in the Solo Collection include San Andres Island, Colombia; Jaco Beach and Liberia, Costa Rica; Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Samana, Dominican Republic; Playa Blanca, Panama; San Salvador, El Salvador; Roatan, Honduras, as well as locations in Jamaica, Mexico, and Cuba.
“When you read about it, you can see that it’s mostly women that are doing more and more solo travel,” she says. “With this collection, we are not looking specifically to women because when you talk about the all-inclusive product, which is what we are selling, it could be a group of girls travelling together, but who want their own rooms, not to share a room, or even if you are a family and you are travelling with grandma or grandpa, an uncle or an aunt, and they just really don’t want to share the same suite, these are considered as solo travellers when you look at the collection.”
Over the years, the collection, which has won a Solo Travel Award in the Vacation Packages category for the second consecutive year, has grown from 17 resorts across 10 destinations in seven countries to 39 resorts across 19 destinations in 10 countries.
“There’s a great increase, which is not a surprise when you are following the trends in the travel industry because it’s been for the past few years a real trend seeing people travelling solo,” she says, noting that accommodations range from 3.5 stars to 5 star resorts. “Depending on your budget, depending on your destination, where you want to go, with a choice of 39 hotels, there’s a lot for everybody to choose from.”
As for some of the factors driving the trend, she says there’s been a real democratization of travel, with as many different types of travellers out there as there are hotels.
“I think basically this could explain the reason why there’s a huge tendency to solo travel,” she says. “I know there’s a trend to solo travel in Europe, and this is, of course, something completely different, but even if you just want to rest in an all-inclusive or again just don’t want to share the room, have a bit of your intimacy, this is something we see a lot of. People are travelling more and more, sometimes with their families, sometimes with their plus one, or sometimes alone, discovering a destination alone.”
After noting nearly 50% of its travellers were booking trips alone, Intrepid Travel first launched a range of Solo Travel trips in 2017.
“At the same time, an August 2017 Statistics Canada census found more Canadians are living alone than ever before. Intrepid Travel also conducted a research study, commissioned by OnePoll, in 2017, which found 71% of Canadians are more comfortable travelling alone than they were 10 years ago,” says Darshika Jones, Intrepid Travel’s director of North America. “It was increasingly apparent that we were in line with a growing consumer trend: Canadians and global customers are comfortable experiencing life alone – and that includes travelling alone.”
The dedicated Solo Travel trips were so well-received – with nearly sold-out tours in India, Bali, Morocco, Vietnam, Mexico and Peru in 2018 – that Intrepid not only added more departures for 2019, but also added a brand-new range of For-Solo-Parent trips in Costa Rica, Egypt, Morocco, Northern India, and Thailand.
“We expected a high demand for the trips given that we diligently analyzed Intrepid’s solo bookings prior to launching the range and saw that they were clearly on a quick, upward trajectory – one we knew would have continuous growth,” she says. “All of the Solo Travel trips are marketed to the ‘non-nuclear’ traveller or parent, who is looking to explore the world solo, but not alone.”
Some of the top-selling destinations for the Solo Travel trips are Morocco, Vietnam and Bali. As for the appeal, she says it’s for travellers who wanted to travel solo to some of the world’s most remote areas, but in the safety of a small group.
“Whether travellers want to visit Peru’s floating reed islands on the world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, where they will spend the night with a local family, or to float over Jaipur on a balloon safari in India, they find comfort knowing they’re with a group of 12 travellers in the same situation, led by a leader who knows the destination,” she says. “The purpose of this product is to give solo travellers reassurance that they’re going to be connected with a small group of other solo travellers, while being locally-led through destinations like Bali, Morocco or India. Most importantly, the trips have no additional costs and are the same itineraries we offer to all travellers, just marketed for the growing number of solo travellers.”
Beyond the Solo Travel range, she points out that Intrepid Travel doesn’t charge extra for solo travellers on any of its 1,500 trips around the world.
“Now, travellers who are strapped on holiday time – with friends or family who don’t have the same holiday time as they do – but are actively wanting to experience different cultures around the globe, are able to comfortably venture into the world alone,” she says. “We believe the trend comes from social changes, as well as more options for customers booking solo trips.”
Having travelled herself as a solo female for over 12 years – and embarking on 10 trips with Intrepid before joining the company – Jones says venturing to destinations like Egypt, Iran and Kilimanjaro would never have been as as experiential, or comforting, without being surrounded by like-minded travellers and having a local leader.
“I found comfort in the group setting when navigating busy streets and translating food orders, while the free time allowed me to venture through Wadi Rum in Jordan, or marvel at the Egyptian pyramids by myself, in wonderment at how I could be standing there alone,” she says. “These solo, but not alone experiences have been life-changing, they have shown me parts of the world I dreamed of visiting, but never thought were possible.”
It’s all about you with Just You
While some tour operators have options for solo travellers, Just You is dedicated exclusively to them.
“With these tours, they’re group tours where everyone is a solo traveller, so you’re with like-minded people on the itinerary the whole time,” explains Nick Roberti, national sales manager for Just You. “Our tours are built that way as well, so we have some meals that are family style, it’s a very inclusive, fun, social atmosphere where people can mix, mingle and make new friends – they’re not sitting on a coach filled with couples or on itineraries built for those types of travellers. Everything that we’re doing is for solo travellers.”
Although the product has been in the market in the UK for over a decade, it started making a splash in Canada after being purchased by Bruce Poon Tip with G Adventures two years ago, and now has preferred partnerships with the likes of Ensemble Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Merit Travel, TRAVELSAVERS, and TTAND.
“We’ve just been in the marketplace now for over a year with the full staff, and it’s actually performed so much better than we thought. Our bookings have been going through the roof, we’ve had to add a few people to our team,” he says. “The trade has accepted the product so well. It’s something that’s so unique and niche, and now they’re finally able to offer something to their clients who have been complaining for so many years about the single supplement and not having a product for solo travellers. They understand the trends, how it is really the fastest-growing trend in travel. It’s exciting to see the agents wanting to go out there and capitalize on this market.”
Just You tours are open to anybody above the age of 18, with the average traveller being 63 years old. According to Roberti, about 80% of its travellers are female.
In terms of the most popular destinations for Canadian travellers to date, Italy and Croatia rank high. Although Just You launched in Canada with its Europe offer, since the end of September it expanded to offer options in India, Sri Lanka, Peru, and beyond.
“When we rebranded, we listened to what the trade wanted, and they wanted more tours, and more diversity from Europe,” he says. “We’re doing five continents, and we’re expecting to see some of those more exotic destinations getting a lot of traction.”
Along with no single supplements, every Just You traveller gets their own hotel room.
“We cater our itineraries to what the solo travellers want, we give them the freedom to be free, try new things, and explore,” he says. “We build our itineraries that way, with our itineraries being come and go as you please. It’s really nice because solo travellers have so many things that they want to do and don’t really want to be bound to an itinerary.
Go your own way with Exodus
At Exodus Travels, marketing and PR manager Robin Brooks says 66% of its travellers are flying solo.
Catering to this segment, the adventure tour operator offers no single supplement for those who room with a fellow traveller of the same sex, with the option of opting for a single room for as little as $10 a night.
According to Brooks, the advantages of travelling solo with a tour operator such as Exodus includes safety and security, and making the most of every moment.
“You have the freedom, flexibility and peace of mind when you travel with a tour operator as opposed to doing it on your own. We have limited vacation time, so you want to make the most of every single moment, see the highlights you want to see and have those cultural encounters,” she says. “When you are looking at places as big as Sri Lanka and you only have two weeks, or with as much to offer as Costa Rica, you really want to make sure you’re going to get a chance to see the hot springs, to do a volcano trek, to try out surfing, and for one person to coordinate on their own, it not only is costly, but it’s time consuming, and you don’t have any one who is responsible for it in the back end.”
Another option for those looking to travel on their own is Exodus’ self-guided tours, which launched last year with 100 walking, cycling, hiking and trekking options throughout Europe.
“On the self-guided itineraries, we take care of all the planning and all the mapping, and accommodations with lovely small four-star boutique properties,” she says. “You get the chance to stay in castles, vineyards, medieval abbeys, that sort of thing, charming B&Bs, you’re met when you arrive by a local representative who takes you through the route that you will take each day.”
A major perk of the self-guided itineraries: travellers don’t need to carry all their gear with them, because Exodus transfers the luggage to the various stops along the way.
“You have a map that shows you the best walks past vineyards, restaurant recommendations, how to get from point to point, as well as you have the safety and security of working with a tour operator who knows where you’re supposed to be every single night, your hotel is booked, and your luggage is waiting there for you,” she says. “You don’t need to carry it all, you can just have a quick little day pack.”
In general, she says travel has become more accessible and people are more inspired to travel than ever before, which results in more solo trips.
“I travel by myself all the time. Sometimes you want the safety and security,” she says, adding that Exodus groups are made up of travellers from the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
In total, there are over 600 itineraries to choose from ranging from a scenic tour of the Amalfi Coast to a more active Kilimanjaro trek.
“You want to ensure that you are going to have a great travel experience,” she says. “We work hard for our vacations, and it’s important, whether you’re going to find peace of mind, escape the every day, do some soul searching, have an adventure, take great photos to share with people back home, or simply sun and sand, everybody has a reason to travel, and we can help ensure that.”