“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David ThoreauIf the statistics are any indicator, many travelers agree with Thoreau. In increasing numbers, individuals are traveling alone rather than just waiting for others to join them.Solo travelers in the recent past have totaled 21 million in just the US and UK combined. According to a New York Times article in Nov. 2012, Internet searches for “solo travel packages” were up 60% over the prior year. The US Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (“OTTI”) reported that a staggering 42% of U.S. citizens/residents that went abroad in 2011 traveled alone. Of those individual travelers, 38% traveled for leisure or to visit friends & relatives (“VFR”) and 66% for business. Similarly, inbound solo travelers from abroad totaled 36.2%. Of those, 23.6% were on leisure trips and and 62.2% for work. This business and lifestyle phenomenon has been growing exponentially.Who are solo travelers?Solo travelers are a much broader group than just the single population. They may be:• Two-career couples on business travel or “DINK’S” (Dual Income No Kids).• Those with relatives or friends abroad.• Family members pursuing separate sports/hobbies overseas.Abercrombie & Kent’s Jill Fawcett has described their solo travelers as: “often… married or have partners, but the spouses don’t share the same interest… They want to travel with like-minded people and the small group gives them some interaction. Then they go back to the privacy of their own room… 25% of people who opt for our Extreme Adventure series are (also) solo travelers,” she said. “People feel a little more secure in a group if the destination is intimidating or there’s a language barrier.” Solo Travel Is Growing at a Rapid Rate | Phil Hoffman travel blog, 10/25/11.According to Grand Circle Corp chairman Alan Lewis, “Women are a growing force in the solo travel market… where the solo market has grown from about 20% to 25% of [Grand Circle's] overall bookings during the past five years.”Single travelers do still continue to play an active role in solo travel. Their growth is clear in Europe and North America where people are marrying later and may be divorced, widowed or never married. According to a March 19, 2013 article entitled “The Growing Solo Travel Market”, http://tourismintelligence.ca, average single households total as follows:• 35% of all households in developed countries• 40% in Finland and Norway (2011)• 37% in the Netherlands (2011)• 27% in the US (2010), 29% in the UK (2011) and 28% in Canada (2011).How do solos travel?Solo travel may not necessarily mean traveling as a “group of one”. Individuals may choose1. Escorted group tours2. Independent tours3. Travel alone and select their own hotels/toursWhat Issues Confront Those Traveling Alone?There are two main challenges for individual travelers.• Attractive pricing: Lodging, tours and cruises are priced routinely on double occupancy. Most cruises and tours require a single supplement for those traveling alone. Although this is not necessarily 2X, the price differential can be substantial. This is most pronounced in tour packages, particularly cruises that have “2-for-the-price of 1″ early booking promotionals. As a result, those traveling alone may pay 3-4X couples/pairs.• Top quality access and service: In a busy holiday or tourist season, the unaccompanied traveler may be given less desirable accommodations or tables in restaurants. In fact, even 5 star hotels may be unwilling to take a dinner reservation for one even when the individual traveler is a guest of the hotel. This is particularly true on Saturday nights and holidays. The alternative may be sitting at the bar for dinner notwithstanding that the dining room has vacant tables. On cruises/river cruises or other tours with “open seating”, tables are typically set up for even numbers. The result? These travelers are faced with a “standup” buffet or engaging in sleuthing to find an available seat.What is The Business Opportunity?This travel phenomenon is growing exponentially and still represents an underserved niche. The opportunity for the industry is substantial, prioritized as follows:Leisure travelers: They are the largest percentage of industry revenues. However, a smaller percentage go alone for leisure trips. The beneficiaries: airlines, hotels, tours, car and concierge services.Business travelers: Although a small portion of revenues, a greater percentage are on business. Moreover, they may have a larger budget than an individual on vacation. The same industry segments would benefit with the exception of tours except as potential additions to an international trip.VFR: Those visiting friends and relatives may be met at the airport and have access to local transportation. While staying in a private residence, meals may not be taken out as frequently as hotel guests. Accordingly, such travelers will continue to generate new revenue primarily for airlines but are unlikely to augment the existing market for other travel services.This sector represents a largely untapped market. Given the sheer numbers of affluent professionals and business executives, with the right mix of well-priced, top quality offerings, both sides benefit. The travel industry will increase their existing revenues while those traveling alone will achieve more competitive pricing and access to higher quality. It is a market whose time has come.
There are many personal reasons that web visitors are returning to independent and personal travel agents, however, two reasons, are fairly common and can be found in major forums, blogs and message boards.The number one reason travelers are returning to travel agents is because of the horrify stories that are found online. Usually the story goes like this; Web visitor sees a good deal, reads most of the travel information about the travel package, takes out his credit card and books the vacation. Only to find out once they reach their destination, that the room that was to be ocean side is actually in the corner of the hotel and does not have a full view of the ocean at all. Individual goes to the front desk to inquiry about the ocean front accommodations and is told that the hotel is booked, and a room change is NOT possible.In an effort to save his/her vacation they return to their room and make the best of the accommodations which were given to them.Except when this traveler is ready to book his/her travel in the future, they seek out a travel professional, rather than a web site. Plus, they share their story online, with friends and family, and of course the neighbors, who then also think hard and long before a major vacation without the help of a travel professional.The second major group of travelers which are moving towards travel professionals never really left the travel agents in the first place. This is the group who want to take a cruise and are not sure of all of the particulars when booking a cruise.This group of travelers often look for the online deals and then call their travel agent to see if the deals can be matched. And many times, they cannot. Why, because the large travel sites purchase in bulk and can discount cruises in ways that smaller agencies can not.Regardless of the money saved, when travelers are putting out $2,500 for two, for a 10 day cruise, they don’t mind paying a little extra for in order to avoid confusion when booking a cruise, which is very easy to do, especially if you aren’t familiar with the ship.The third reason, that many travelers are not aware of, for booking with a travel professional is the most important reason to book with a travel agent. Can you say payment plan? The online sites don’t usually offer this option. It is pay the entire cost, right now, or forget it. Not so when booking with a travel professional. You can put a minimum down and pay the balance 90 or 60 days before departure in most cases. (Plus you can get the early bird booking specials and upgrades)Monthly payments, especially when taking a major cruise, are not only acceptable, but encouraged. And now that the cruise industry has added land value tours in conjunction with the cruises, you can tour half of Europe before departing on a cruise for the Turkey, the Holy Land and Egypt, or Greece.And of all the reasons given, the automatic payment plan that an experienced travel professional can provide to you, is in my opinion, is one of the best reasons to use a travel professional when booking major travel. It’s called monetary options. (The exception to the above suggestions is, the cheapest airfares can usually be found online)