According to a new report, solo travellers are forgoing the expertise of travel advisors. What business might you be missing, and how can you reel it in?
If there's any trend crossing the generational divide, it’s one of self-care and self-interest, whereby people are no longer putting off doing what they want, when they want. Life is short, after all; at least, that’s what many tell themselves when making a deposit on their annual vacation. And now more than ever, the travel industry is seeing this tendency pay off.
According to a May 2018 report from Booking.com, about 40 per cent of Baby Boomers have taken a solo trip in the last year, and a further 21 per cent are planning to take one in the future. The latest Holiday Habits survey from UK-based Abta shows that one in six travellers went solo in the past 12 months, compared to one in nine in 2017.
It’s a flourishing market, undeniably, but the new Solo Travel Trends Report released by tour company Just You, in partnership with online content platform Solo Traveler, suggests that it’s an opportunity largely being missed by travel advisors. In fact, results show that less than 17 per cent of solo travellers speak to a travel advisor when researching their next experience – a figure that drops to 11.68 per cent when it comes to actually booking.
The good news is, it’s not too late to capitalize off the stillgrowing trend. CAA is setting a good example for what other agencies can do to connect with the solo traveller market; CAA Manitoba launched its Solo EsCAApes club in 2014, followed by CAA South Central Ontario’s Extraordinary Explorations Solo Collection, launched in 2016. In Manitoba alone, the club has grown from 150 members in its first year to more than 1,200 in 2018.
“Everyone has their own bucket list when it comes to travel destinations but not everyone has friends or family who want to experience those same places. Solo travel allows people to travel and experience different cultures on their terms while staying active and living life to the fullest,” says Dianne Jackson, director of travel & retail product, CAA. “Creating a solo travel club enables you to serve a group of travellers who tend to be under serviced in the marketplace. It creates options specifically designed for people who are looking for more.”
As for what this specific community looks like, the Solo Travel Trends Report suggests that the vast majority are female, the largest group is aged 65-plus (the second largest is 55-64), and the most in-demand region for these experiences is Europe.
And, just as Jackson suggests, the main reason these folks are travelling solo is that they want to see the world and, quite simply, don’t want to wait for others.
“There are a lot more people, particularly in the 55-plus demographic, who are empty nesters or their partners are no longer with them,” says Tracey Nesbitt of Solo Traveler. “They have the flexibility, the time and the funds to do more travel.”
That said, experts agree that an important distinction to make in this conversation is that “solo” does not always mean “alone.” While many might be quick to think of a Millennial backpacker navigating her way from hostel to hostel and from town to town via local bus systems, it’s clear that that reality is quickly evolving as tour companies cater more to the growing demand.
Just You, which was acquired by G Touring (parent company of G Adventures) in 2017, is the lone operator in the Canadian market exclusively for solo travellers. While many others offer itineraries targeted to solo travellers, Just You’s itineraries are designed to address specific demands – each participant gets his or her own room and there are no single supplements – not otherwise possible without a hefty price tag.
As for sun vacations, Transat introduced its Solo Collection in 2015 in response to popular demand. Free WiFi, no single supplements, free room services and communal tables for sharing meals are among the benefits, depending on availability.
“The initial thinking behind the creation of this collection was for people travelling alone,” says Debbie Cabana, Transat spokesperson. “But we started seeing more and more women and men, travelling with two, three or four friends or family members, that wanted to travel altogether but preferred to have the peace and quiet of their own room at the end of a fun-filled day. This represents a large part of our customers.”
And the proof of success is in the numbers: the collection hosted 62 per cent more guests in 2017 versus the year prior, and as such, it continues to be enhanced with more resorts and destinations offered. Cabana says that of the total number of Transat travellers booking South packages annually, about 8,000 are those who purchase a Solo Collection product.
Cruising – a market infamous for its single supplements – is also catering more to the solo traveller. According to a 2017 release from the Cruise Lines International Association, “Cruise lines now offer a variety of incentives, benefits and experiences designed with single cruise travellers in mind.” For example, some are waiving single supplements and hosting singles-exclusives events and activities for these specific travellers.
And even travel insurance is reaping the rewards. Allianz Global Assistance Canada’s Dan Keon, vice-president of market management, told CT in a recent interview that, “In 2017, 70 per cent of [our] policies purchased were purchased by solo travellers… and that number is up seven per cent over 2015.”
So how can travel advisors begin building their solo travel business?
Roberti suggests beginning with a CAA-style approach of forming a solo traveller club. He also recommends advisors network with local women’s groups and organizations, look into singles meet-ups and organize exclusive departures.
And while he agrees that it’s easy to overlook single travellers because of the amount of work required for a single booking, he’s confident it pays off, especially given the solo traveller’s tendency to take between two and four trips annually.
“The opportunity is endless,” he says.
TAKE 5 WITH DIANNE JACKSON
Director of Travel & Retail Product, CAA
Why did CAA establish its solo travel clubs? What do they involve?
We are continuously reviewing and evolving our travel products to respond to the needs of our members and customers. Over the years, we saw a growing interest in experiences for travellers who did not have a travel companion. We noticed that there were quite a few solo travellers already travelling on our group departures and felt that there was an opportunity there to create something more personalized for them. With solo travel clubs already becoming a niche market, we felt that it was the right time to develop something special.
How did you begin attracting members to become part of the CAA Solo Escapes Club?
Our front line travel associates truly act as trusted partners to CAA members and customers looking to plan their next trip. Once the product was developed, our top priority was to make sure our travel associates were fully trained so they could easily identify when it might be of interest to someone they are working with. We also placed some advertisements to let people know that solo travel was an option to consider.
What makes a trip appealing to solo travellers?
CAA solo travel programs are designed to appeal to people who enjoy travelling but may not have a travel companion and don’t want to travel alone. They are designed with safety, comfort and memorable experiences in mind. It is not just about waiving a single supplement; it is about building trips knowing that each traveller is solo. These trips provide an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals while exploring bucket-list destinations. There is a level of comfort and security when going on a CAA-hosted trip, so travellers know they can see the sights they want to see, in the safety of a group and the peace of mind that all the details are covered.
What destinations (or types of destinations) are appealing to solo travellers, and why?
We are finding that the most compelling solo traveller destinations tend to be the common bucket list destinations where people may not be comfortable travelling alone. Destinations such as Africa, Peru, China and Vietnam are quite popular. Our Christmas Market river cruise has sold out the last two years and we are already getting requests for 2019 details.
What are some “best practices” for travel advisors to employ when working with solo travellers?
The most important thing for travel advisors to do when working with solo travellers or when booking group trips is to understand their client’s past travel experiences and preferences in order to build a trip that appeals to a broader group. Some key questions to ask include: Is this their first trip? Where have they travelled in the past? Do they prefer a full itinerary or a more leisurely pace? Is travelling with a host important to them? It is also important to ensure the solo trip is positioned as a solo trip and not a singles group. They are completely different experiences.