Demand for solo travel is soaring, so what do you need to know to tap into the trend? Katie McGonagle reports
When you hear the occasional whisper of an uplift in bookings, you might take note of the trend and keep an eye on it in future. But when an entire industry is united in reporting record rises across multiple demographics, it’s time to stop watching and start taking action. That’s exactly what escorted tour operators are saying about solo travel, which – after years of steady growth – has been super-charged by the upturn in demand post-pandemic.
More clients are throwing caution to the wind to fulfil their travel goals, regardless of whether friends or family want to come along for the ride. Touring and adventure aggregator Tourhub and sister brand TourHound, which features more than 700 suppliers worldwide, have seen solo bookings increase to 46% of transactions this year, compared with just over a third in 2022.
And it’s not just a numbers game – the data shows that solo travellers are more likely to be repeat bookers, more interested in long-haul or niche tours, and bring in more revenue per passenger than standard bookings. There’s no doubting that solo travel is on the up, but which destinations are most popular, how can you reach this growing market and what pitfalls should you avoid along the way?
Who’s going solo?
Solo travellers are a significant market for group tours, with most key trade-facing operators saying they represent anything from a fifth to three-quarters of customers. Some offer solo-specific ranges or dedicated departures, while specialists such as Solos, Just You and Friendship Travel are aimed exclusively at single travellers.
Women account for most solo bookings across all ages, with Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Exodus Adventure Travels and Explore saying they make up between 66% and 69% of solo travellers. Saga’s 2023 travel trends report, meanwhile, found women over 50 were twice as likely to want to travel alone than their male counterparts.
Joanna Reeve, head of business development and partnerships for Intrepid Travel, says: “About half of our UK customers are solo travellers, and 67% of our solo travellers are women. Women often choose a small-group adventure because it gives them the safety net of a local guide and a ready-made group of friends.
“Half our UK customers travelling solo are 21-40. But we’re seeing a rise in the number of solo travellers aged 50-plus. The pandemic spurred people to get out and see the world and not let anything hold them back.”
Women over 50 were twice as likely to want to travel alone than their male counterparts
As demand for solo travel rises, so does the number of solo tours, as operators target this lucrative market. Newmarket Holidays released a Solo Traveller Collection this year featuring 25 trips. This included 20 classic tours with no-single-supplement departures and five solo-only itineraries, in Sicily, Scotland, Croatia, Kenya and India.
Riviera Travel has expanded its solos programme from 30 dedicated departures this year to 50 in 2024, adding Helsinki, Tallinn & Riga and Ecuador & the Galapagos itineraries.
Wendy Wu Tours added dates for solo tours to Japan, China and the Mekong after posting a 48% increase in solo bookings from January to August compared with the same period in 2019. Tours to off-the-beaten-track destinations also sell well with this market, especially areas that are challenging to explore independently.
Intrepid’s Pakistan Expedition and Jules Verne’s Peaks & Petroglyphs trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are among new, solo-friendly trips for 2024.
Destinations that prove popular with solo travellers are similar to those in the mainstream touring world: India, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam in Asia; Peru, Costa Rica and Ecuador in Latin America; and Italy, Spain and rising stars such as Jordan and Morocco closer to home. Solos Holidays’ latest additions include summer trips to Italy’s Lake Orta and the Greek isles, plus walking tours in Portugal, the Czech Republic and the Norwegian fjords.
Fellow solo-only operator Friendship Travel has seen a rise in bookings since the pandemic, with a 15% year-on-year increase in sales of active trips. Exodus Adventure Travels reports that its walking and culture-focused trips are the biggest hit with single travellers, while Explore says its walking and cycling tours account for 40% of solo traveller bookings.
Many operators offer room-share options with same-sex guests to avoid single supplements, but some are targeting solo travellers by dropping or reducing these surcharges. Cosmos is waiving single supplements on selected tours in Europe and North America next year for bookings made by July 31, including the itineraries that are most popular among solos.
With trips tailored to those going it alone, touring is set to benefit from this spike in demand – and if you aren’t tapping into this market already, it’s time to get involved.
In numbers: Solo travel
- So far in 2023, 73% of Contiki customers have travelled solo, with women accounting for nearly two-thirds.
- 55% of G Adventures’ solo travellers are between 18 and 34, but older demographics are rising: this year, 35-54-year-olds make up 29% of solos, with 55-69-year-olds accounting for 13% (both up on 2019 figures).
- The average value for Jules Verne’s solo travel bookings has increased by 30% this year compared with 2019, and 23% against 2022, as solos seek longer, more-adventurous trips.
- Journey Latin America reports a “marked increase” in demand from solo travellers, particularly on group tours, where they now make up more than 35% of customers.
PICTURES: Steve Photography/Exodus Adventure Travels; G Adventures; Contiki
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