Selling Solo Travel

Going it alone in Verona, Italy: One company, Europe Express, says that about 85 percent of its solo customers are women.

Who Is the Solo Traveler?

Kier Matthews, vice president of sales and national accounts of Europe Express, tells Travel Agent that his company’s solo clients are usually around 41 to 47 years old, have an income in the $150,000 range, live in major coastal metropolitan areas, and shop at places such as Banana Republic, J Crew and Nordstrom. Also, about 85 percent are women.

“These travelers tend to be recently divorced and seeking to see things they wanted to see, but did not due to conditions of their marriages,” says Matthews. “This is a great opportunity for agents because these clients have time, money and desire to travel. One travel advisor told me she has a partnership with a very popular divorce attorney in her area and he has referred over 90 percent of her solo traveling clients.”

Daniela Harrison, an advisor with Avenues of the World, tells us that most of her solo traveling clients do about three to four trips a year.

“Solo travelers are very loyal to a brand. If they are well taken care of, it can be challenging to move them to another supplier,” says Harrison. “If they enjoyed their trip, they are more likely to return and won’t mind paying a supplement to do so. It is not so much about cost, but all about the experience, the feeling of being safe and the opportunity to mingle with other like-minded travelers.”

Natural hot springs contribute to Iceland’s appeal to solo travelers, especially adventure seekers.

Andrey Zakharenko of Always Travel says the solo travel market was largely ignored for years, but it has come roaring back because many people are starting families at a later age, “and before that they want to travel and have their own space and paying double is not an option.”

“Divorce, wealth and people living longer are other factors; single, divorced or widowed people travel more and do not want to share a room with a friend or a stranger,” Zakharenko tells Travel Agent.

But perhaps the most important trait of these travelers as far as an operator or advisor goes, according to Matthews, is that he or she values customization above everything else.

“I say all the time, ‘Customization is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity,’” he emphasizes. “By the very nature of [these clients] being solo, they do not want an escorted tour. They want it their way. Because we only sell customized travel to one of the hottest destinations [Europe], we have seen a good bit of this business.”

Catering to the Market

Popular suppliers for the solo traveling market, according to Harrison, are Silversea, A&K, G Adventures, AmaWaterways and Lindblad.

G Adventures offers room share options, which is very attractive to some of my male solo travelers,” she explains, “while Silversea and AmaWaterways wow with high service and special meet-and-greet events to connect solo travelers with one another.” Harrison tells us that she is seeing more solo travelers opt for a cruise over a land tour.

“I think a cruise is just more social overall,” she says. “The variety in shore excursions allows travelers to meet more people over a few days, without seeing the same ones each day. A wide variety of interests and activities onboard as well as on land are crucial, as most of them are very active people.”

“We’ve seen cruise lines courting the solo traveler market more with options that specifically address its needs and desires,” says Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. “Norwegian Cruise Line was the first line to build Studio Staterooms expressly for the solo cruiser; amenities also include a Solo Lounge and singles meet-ups that make it easy for single cruisers to connect and socialize. NCL also offers a reduced single supplement on select cruises for those who want an affordable option on a more spacious stateroom.”

Exclusively for individuals traveling alone, Pleasant Holidays’ 2017 Savings for Solos program waives the single supplement fee on vacations at participating hotels and resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Panama. Featuring 45 all-inclusive AMResorts hotels, vacations include all meals, drinks, activities and more for even greater value. The participating 2017 Savings for Solos hotels include 13 adults-only resorts, 10 of which are LGBT-friendly as well. Pleasant’s Savings for Solos requires no minimum night stay and is valid for select travel through December 22.

Trending Destinations

According to Matthews, some hot destinations right now for the solo traveler include Iceland, London and Barcelona, Spain. Iceland attracts the client who is all about hiking and nightlife, while London is great for those looking for some alone time at the theater or shopping in the Kensington area. In fact, Matthews credits The Kensington Hotel with being the best spot for solo clients to explore London on their own. Barcelona is great for the art  /  hipster scene and has the mild weather and the cheap, yet delicious, wine that a value-conscious solo traveler will love.

Harrison tells us that the Caribbean, Europe and all expedition trips are also in high demand for the solo traveler at the moment.

Solo Adventure Travel

Because of the increase in popularity of solo adventure travel, and the influx of tour operators catering to the niche, destinations such as Iceland (as noted above), Thailand, Peru, India and Costa Rica are also trending in 2017.

Among the leaders in marketing to the go-it-alone set is Abercrombie & Kent, which operates small group journeys in more than 100 countries. A&K calls this “Travel on Your Own – but Never Alone,”  with itineraries ranging from “Kenya & Tanzania Wildlife Safari” and “Climb Kilimanjaro: Summiting the Machame Route” to “Galapagos Wildlife Adventure,” “Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego to Torres del Paine,” and “Peru: Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley” to “Bhutan & Nepal: Heart of the Himalaya.”

For those that prefer larger groups or cruise ships, there are several itineraries for which A&K has waived the single supplement.

Solo travelers need not worry about the intensity of their travels, either. Absolute Travel tailors each of their itineraries; so for those who want to embrace adventure travel but aren’t quite committed to jumping in the deep end, this could be a good stop. A popular Absolute Travel destination is South Africa, where travelers are paired with Dr. Mark Middleton, a renowned surfer, or Shaun Payne, the 2008 South Africa Champion, to find the best local surf spots.

Guests of Lindblad Expeditions - National Geographic, will be privy to education by world-renowned scientists, naturalists, researchers and photographers. while visiting such destinations as the Galápagos, Alaska, Baja’s Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica and Panama, and Vietnam and Cambodia. Hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding and snorkeling are popular off-board excursions among their guests. For the new French Polynesia & South Pacific voyages, diving will be big component of the itinerary.

In order to accommodate its adventurous solo travelers, Lindblad has a “Share Guarantee,” in which guests are paired so they can avoid a supplemental cost — if a roommate cannot be found, travelers would only pay the per-person double rate. Like tour operators, Lindblad creates a sense of group for the solo traveler. They even have an odd number of place settings at the tables for solo adventurers.

Companies such as G Adventures are specifically targeting solo travel. They are reporting solo and female travelers have been increasing over the past 20 years (today, women make up 67 percent of their solo travel business). Like other operators, G Adventures will pair travelers with a roommate for overnights to avoid a single supplement; travelers do, however, have the option of paying for “My Own Room” to allow for more privacy. Men are more likely to make this selection than women, and the 30- to 45-year-old age group books this most often.

For your Millennial and younger clients (18-35), there’s Contiki, which specializes in that demographic. and understand Millennials are on different budgets and have different “bucket lists.” More than 300 tours are available across the globe and these have been broken down by “Ways to Travel,” which includes “High Energy” and “In-Depth Explorer.” There are six others, but these two are best suited for adventurers.

In New Zealand, travelers can go skydiving, zorbing, bungee jumping and jet boating. They can even head north and hit the slopes if that’s more their scene. Nearby, Australia – a popular destination for “High Energy” adventurers – offers some of the best surfing in the world. For clients who wish to trek closer to home, “Western Highlights” includes hot-air balloon rides, a stop at the Grand Canyon, surfing and speedboat rides. In Latin America, adventurers can dive with sharks, rappel and zipline through rainforests.

In addition, Contiki has a roommate-matching system and message boards, so travelers can “meet” before they even get on a plane; options for a single room are available.

Overseas Adventure Travel gives guests the option of on-land excursions or small-ship adventures. Like G Adventures, they report a high number of female travelers (85 percent of their solo travelers). A recommended tour for adventurous souls is the 16-day 2017 Morocco Sahara Odyssey. The itinerary includes stopping in cities, and having meals with locals, with additional tours available.

The good news for you and your adventurous solo-traveling clients:  This demographic among travelers is growing and numerous large and small tour providers are catering to the market. With the peace of mind that the options for adventure travel are virtually limitless, solo travelers’ only worry is picking which to do next.

Selling Travel Insurance

Travel Agent sat down with Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Global Assistance USA, and Kimberly Seay, director of assistance services for Allianz, and learned some valuable tips in selling insurance to the solo traveler. For those headed overseas, Durazo recommends clients select a plan that protects the cost of their trip if they have to cancel for an unforeseen reason, and provides post departure benefits such as emergency medical coverage, emergency medical transportation coverage and coverage for baggage issues and travel delays. 

Allianz’s Classic policy provides $25,000 in emergency medical coverage, $500,000 in medical transportation coverage and coverage for lost or stolen bags, as well as travel delay coverage. For domestic trips, solo travelers can save money by selecting a plan that covers cancellations, but doesn’t cover medical issues as regular health insurance may provide that coverage, advises Durazo.

The Essential plan for Allianz covers unexpected trip cancellations and interruptions, as well as travel delays, at a very affordable price. Both plans include coverage for existing medical conditions, which can be very valuable if you, a family member or a traveling companion suffers from an ongoing ailment.

An additional kind of “insurance” agents can offer solo clients, says Seay, is to advise them to be aware of their surroundings when exploring, listen and obey all safety warnings in the area, avoid wearing flashy jewelry, keep your personal items close to you, and, if using  a purse, make sure that it is one with a long strap to be worn across the body.  Most importantly, she says, “Remember, ‘when in Rome, dress like the Romans’ and try not to stand out as a tourist.”

Seay also says that, when traveling alone, it is essential to make copies of your driver’s license; passport, which you should never carry with you when sightseeing; list of your medications and any past medical history and all health insurance cards. (For more safety tips, see sidebar on page 22.) 

Microsegment: GottaGoSOLOs

One of the trending microsegments identified by MMGY Global in the Executive Summary of its 2016 Portrait of American Travelers is GottaGoSOLOs. These are travelers who are married with children, but vacation alone to reclaim their independence.

A full third of all vacations by GottaGoSOLO travelers are taken alone, while four in 10 are with their children and a quarter with their significant other and no children. GottaGoSOLOs take more vacations than committed family-only travelers, and they reported a 61-point net positive variance in the intent to take more vacations during the upcoming 12 months.

This phenomenon appears to be closely correlated to age — almost three-fourths of GottaGoSOLOs are Millennials, while a third are Gen Xers.

“Trust Your Instincts” And Other Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

With respondents to a recent Travelzoo study ranking terrorism, anti-American sentiment and political unrest as among the top negative factors impacting their travel plans, solo clients hitting the road may benefit from some tips on how to stay safe. We spoke with Joan Morgan, director of analytic personnel at risk management company iJet International, to share some ideas culled from her time working at iJet and her 33 years at the CIA.

“One of the most important things you can do is research,” Morgan says. “A traveler will want to research how to dress, how to comport themselves — the best advice is to meld in with the local population.”

Blending in with the locals can also be helpful for clients concerned about anti-American sentiment abroad, an issue the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) had said many of its member agents had noticed following President Donald Trump’s first travel ban in late January

“A general tip is not to advertise,” Morgan says. “We’re all proud Americans but you don’t want to wear your big New York T-shirt, so you’re not standing out and being that stereotypical traveler with the camera and Hawaiian shirt on.”

What if a client is approached? “Remove yourself from the situation,” says Morgan. “Don’t get defensive — silence is golden. Don’t engage.”

Also before a trip, travelers should be sure to be aware of the local laws and legal system, an issue of particular concern to LGBT travelers, says Morgan. Additionally, travelers should avoid bringing compromising personal information with them on their phone or laptop.

Once they’ve arrived, travelers should have their transportation planned out in advance.

“Particularly as a solo traveler, plan in advance how you are going to get around,” says Morgan. “Will a driver be meeting you at the airport? Will you be taking taxis— if at all possible, don’t hail one on the street unless in some place like London where you know the black cabs are safe. Having your hotel get you a taxi is the safest bet.”

Travelers should also have their visas and passport planned well in advance, and should pay attention to any expiration requirements regarding passports, says Morgan. Health is a big topic to look at, too — travelers should make sure they have insurance coverage while abroad, and should know what hospital coverage looks like in their destination.

Travelers should also make sure their purse and luggage are nondescript, and in the case of purses, Morgan recommends a bag with a heavy strap that is more difficult to slash.

Don’t hail a cab on the street unless it’s somewhere like London, where you know the black cabs are safe.

“Also when packing we say it’s a good idea to put a small amount of cash in a pocket,” says Morgan. “We call it mugger’s money, so if you are approached on the street you can just pull out that little bit of cash and usually a would-be robber is appeased.”

In the hotel, the best rooms to book are between the second and seventh floors, says Morgan. Firefighting equipment often can’t extend beyond the seventh floor, and rooms on the first floor may prove too accessible. Travelers should also familiarize themselves with all evacuation routes and emergency exits, make sure the front desk doesn’t advertise their name or room number out loud. When going out, they should always make sure someone, even if it is just the hotel concierge, knows where they are going and when they expect to return.

While out, travelers should not accept food or drink from strangers, and avoid leaving their drink unattended.

“Trust your instincts,” says Morgan. “If you start to feel uncomfortable in any situation out on the street, seek a safe haven.”

Finally, travelers should make sure they have a working mobile phone, pre-stocked with emergency numbers.

“I think the main tip is to comport yourself, do the research and then when you’re on the street, do your best to fit in,” says Morgan.

Top 10 Safety Tips

For a quick list to share with clients, iJet International has compiled these tips to keep in mind:

1. Minimize time spent in public areas.

2. When entering a building or room, immediately identify all available means for exit and mentally rehearse how to get to them. Avoid areas with large glass panels, walls and ceilings.

3. Gravitate away from incidents and gatherings of all kinds, such as protests.

4. Be alert to sudden increases in security presence and activities.

5. In early stages of an incident, run, or if unable to run, hide.

6. If violent contact is imminent and unavoidable — fight with what’s at hand.

7. Establish a communications plan and consider additional means of messaging capabilities.

8. Carry ID that’s current.

9. Heed the instructions of authorities; remain calm and cooperative if stopped and questioned by authorities.

10. Move to and through security checkpoints as quickly as allowed.

Traveling With Pets

For those solo travelers who don’t want to leave their pets behind, we conducted a Q&A with Glenn A. Polyn, editor-in-chief for Pet Age, and uncovered some valuable tips.

How does a solo traveler bring his / her pet on a plane? “Planes are a tricky subject; it comes down to each individual airline’s policy. For a fee, and depending on the animal’s breed and size, some will allow small dogs and cats in the cabin of the aircraft.

“They also allow pets to be checked or transported with cargo, but its best to check with the U.S. Department of Transportation and each airline for their rules on traveling with pets. Many cruise lines allow pets, but there’s only one that allows pets on its transatlantic cruises, and that would be Cunard and its ship, the Queen Mary 2.

Are there any products that can help find lost pets while traveling? “Wearable tech is a big trend for pets. There are plenty of hi-tech gadgets, such as collars, which incorporate GPS trackers that are connected with your phone via an app. They still don’t replace the microchip, which is injected under the skin. In fact, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has approved and recommended a global standard for microchips, which means ISO standard scanners would be able to read the dog’s microchip.”

What is the best type of hotels for solo travelers with pets? “The number of hotels that allow pets is growing, but many of them charge a fee based on the animal’s size. Every hotel also has its own set of rules regarding pets, and some request that it not be left alone in the room. In that case, the hotel often will supply a list of local pet sitters for the traveler. Of course, you want to think of your pet’s needs when traveling, so be sure to do some research on your destination (some cities are now banning specific dog breeds) and ask hotel staff for the location of nearby parks.”

Advise clients traveling with their dog(s) to ask hotel staff for the location of nearby parks and such.

Incentives and Experiences for Solo Cruisers

Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO of CLIA, notes that the travel industry has seen a growing trend in solo travel “and the cruise industry is responding.” In a written release, D’Aoust said, “Cruise lines now offer a variety of incentives, benefits and experiences designed with single cruise travelers in mind to ensure they also have the chance to discover the amazing benefits of cruise travel.” And when it comes to finding the best cruise for singles, travel agents can truly be matchmakers, helping solo cruisers find the best lines, ships and experiences.

From pricing discounts to specially tailored cruises to events and activities designed specifically for singles, a variety of cruise lines offer benefits, rewards and exclusive programs for solo cruisers. Here, courtesy of CLIA, is a sampling.

* Single Incentives: In an effort to welcome solo travelers, some cruise lines waive the typical single supplement or offer single studio staterooms.

Avalon Waterways offers a select number of rooms without a single supplement for every departure on every European itinerary in 2017.

Tauck has waived the single supplement on all “Category 1” cabins aboard its European riverboats for every departure of every Tauck river cruise itinerary. 

AIDA Cruises lets singles book a stateroom for sole occupancy. A select number of such staterooms are offered on every cruise, in all stateroom categories with a range of discounts.

AmaWaterways is offering nine river cruise itineraries in Europe and Asia for which the single supplement is waived when booked by March 31.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is waiving or reducing the single supplement fee on 30 of its most popular 2017 itineraries.

* Studio Staterooms: Cruise lines also offer studio rooms designed specifically for solo travelers, or for those looking for a private room.

Norwegian Cruise Line, the first to build staterooms and common areas specifically for the single cruiser, offers studio rooms on select cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean International also offers studio staterooms, including those with balconies and virtual balconies (a category unique to the line) — where solo guests only pay a single cruise fare, foregoing additional single supplement costs.

Cunard has long seen demand for single staterooms on its current fleet of Queens, especially since the line has a tradition of offering these accommodations. Over the last few years, Cunard has completed the addition of new single staterooms to each ship: Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and, most recently, on flagship Queen Mary 2 during her remastering last summer.

* Making Connections: Before they set sail, advise clients to join discussions on cruise forums exclusively for solo cruisers for a chance to meet others traveling on the same cruise. For example, many cruise travelers use the forums on Cruise Critic (boards.cruisecritic.com) to make such connections.

* Singles-Exclusive Events, Experiences: Boredom will be far from any single cruiser’s mind as many cruise lines have activities and excursions specifically tailored to solo travelers.

American Cruise Lines, for one, offers singles itineraries to complement needs with onshore excursions and onboard programs conducted in intimate groups to cultivate a bonding experience among guests. The line also hosts nightly cocktail hours where singles can mingle with fellow passengers.