New tools and tours for solo travelers

When it comes to seeing the world, more and more people are seeing it solo — and travel companies are rolling out tools and tours to accommodate them. Some are adding spaces for solo travelers to existing trips. Others are offering more affordable rooms and packages. This year also marked the first ever Solo Travel Awards, designed to recognize companies that effectively serve solo travelers. 

From budget to luxury brands, rental companies to hotels, a number of industry groups have reported double-digit upticks in solo travel over the last few years. Historically, major companies have not catered to solo vacationers the way they do people traveling with partners or spouses and children, but increasingly there are exceptions.  

More than half the people taking trips with Intrepid Travel, about 75,000 people a year, are now going solo. Last year, the company, which has its head office in Australia and specializes in small-group travel, offered its first solo-traveler-only trips. Their popularity led the company to introduce half a dozen new solo-only departures this year, including to Bali (nine days from $1,010), Peru (nine days from $2,200), Morocco (15 days from $1,220), Vietnam (10 days from $1,215), India’s Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (eight days from $709) and Mexico (nine days from $1,781).  

The Morocco trip, for example, includes a tour of the Fez medina, a camel trek through the Sahara and stops at the Todra Gorge area and the village of Aroumd in the High Atlas Mountains, with a night in a Berber house. Solo-traveler-only tours reflect what the company is seeing among its own customers, as well as the results of research that it has commissioned, which show people’s interest in solo vacations. Intrepid says the average trip has about 10 people. There’s an itinerary, but also free time for travelers to be by themselves.  

Overseas Adventure Travel, which caters to people over 50 through small-group itineraries, has long offered solo spaces on its trips, but demand has been so high that in November the company announced that it was adding an additional 2,000 solo slots to its 2018 inventory.  

About 27 percent of people traveling with the company in 2010 were solo travelers. By 2017, that number had risen to 46 percent, and the company estimates that by next year, about half of its travelers will be solo.  

Abercrombie and Kent, the high-end adventure tour company, said it has been attracting more solo luxury travelers, with that number increasing by more than 15 percent over the last two years. Earlier this year, in response to growing demand, it offered discounts for solo travelers across all of its product lines, more than 40 journeys in every continent, for the first time. 

Meanwhile, at sea, the studio staterooms for solo travelers introduced on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic ship in 2010 have been so popular that the company has added the staterooms to its newer ships, including the Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, and the Pride of America when it was refurbished in 2016.  

Its newest ship, Norwegian Bliss, which will begin sailing in 2018, will have new studio staterooms with virtual ocean views, and include key-card access to a shared lounge with refreshments, snacks and television where fellow studio guests can meet. (Some river cruise companies, like American Cruise Lines, also offer single-occupancy rooms.) 

In addition to new tours and slots being made available, the tips and vacation planning site Solo Trekker 4 U has introduced a Solo Travel Pricing Tracker to help travelers find solo-friendly itineraries. The Tracker searches Solo Trekker’s database of more than 900 travel providers for options without fees known as single supplements, or with lower supplements or other deals for people traveling alone. In test searches the Tracker didn’t always pull up what I requested, but it’s a welcome tool and handy for discovering companies that specialize in solo travel or have relevant offerings.  

After all, it’s not necessarily easy to find companies that consider the wants and needs of people traveling solo. For instance, solo travelers have long had to pay a single supplement if they want their own room; the fees can be so hefty that they make certain trips unaffordable for some people. Tour companies and cruise lines have sometimes lowered or waived their supplements, but historically that’s been when it’s convenient for them, not necessarily the solo traveler. It’s also common practice for travel companies to match solo travelers who want to avoid supplements with roommates. But of course rooming with a stranger is hardly every traveler’s idea of a vacation (and a solo one at that).  

There are, however, some companies that routinely offer solo spaces with low or no supplements on certain trips. For example, Road Scholar, which specializes in educational tours, has trips in 2018 and 2019 that offer solo travelers their own rooms with no supplemental charge. 

With more companies recognizing solo travelers, the Solo Traveler website and virtual travel community, created by Janice Waugh in 2009, held its first annual Solo Travel Awards this year. Intrepid Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel were among the winners.  

There were no ocean cruise category winners, though. The awards panel, made up of travel editors and writers, found the cruise industry to be “failing solo travelers so badly there were no nominees,” Waugh wrote. There were no river cruise winners either. The judges said it was difficult to find information for solo travelers on river cruise websites, and that when they found a deal waiving the single supplement, it turned out that couples were receiving a two-for-one deal, resulting in the same price imbalance. “In such a situation, the supplement still exists,” Waugh wrote in an email, “and solo travelers are not impressed.”  

Waugh said one thing the cruise companies could do is offer no-single-supplement specials on specific departures. Beyond cost, there are other things cruise lines could do to embrace solo travelers, like offering welcome receptions for participants to get to know one another. “And they should be aware that some solo travelers cruise to be alone and therefore want their own table in the dining room,” she said, “and others want to be social and are happy to be with others.”  

Nominations for the second annual awards will open March 1, 2018. This time, there will be a Traveler’s Choice award. Other categories will include Tours, Specialty Tours, Vacation Packages, River Cruises and Ocean Cruises.  

Perhaps it’s a chance for cruise lines to make some New Year’s resolutions.

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