Tour operators report high demand for solo travel

Solo travel is on an upswing as a number of tour operators report a substantial increase in demand over the past year.

Bookings for individual travel for 2023 have exceeded expectations, operators say, surpassing 2019 levels so far this year. 

EF Go Ahead Tours has seen a 200% increase in solo traveler bookings since the start of the year, compared with the same time period of last year. And those traveling are booking early: In June 2022, solo travel bookings for this year were already up by 120%, compared with the same period of 2018 for 2019 travel. 

“Solo travel within a group is one of the fastest-growing travel styles right now,” said Heidi Durflinger, president of EF Go Ahead Tours. 

Intrepid has seen 2,300 more solo travelers booked in North America this year than last, and about 9,000 more globally, with most solo travelers opting for its more remote destinations. 

“It is interesting to observe the trend in solo travelers from North America gravitating toward more far-flung destinations such as Southeast Asia, Central America, Turkey, India and Nepal and a skew to more adventurous, overland Central America and Africa trips,” said Matt Berna, president and managing director of Intrepid Travel, the Americas, who added that around 65% of the company’s 15-day Everest Base Camp Trek consists of solo travelers. 

“These are generally places and experiences that many people perceive as challenging and difficult for an independent traveler, especially a solo traveler,” he said. 

Women dominate the solo sector

While the reasons more travelers are venturing out on their own vary, tour operators say women are the sector’s biggest patrons. 

“We’ve seen real growth in solo travelers and that’s primarily driven by single women, whether they’re married [or not],” said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands.

Women make up about 75% of Intrepid’s solo travelers in North America, Note64% of whom are over 40. The number of women on EF Go Ahead’s solo tours is 27% higher than on non-solo tours, and are most popular among women over 50. 

The number of women booking travel for themselves with Toni Tours of Levittown, N.Y., has also grown. 

“Solo travel trip requests for me have increased by about 25% since Covid,” said owner Toni Lanotte-Day. “Primarily, they’re single women who used to look to travel with a roommate, but now prefer their personal space. I also have some who are married whose husbands don’t want to do long-distance travel anymore.”

Traveling solo but not alone is the rallying cry of the sector as operators and advisors remind these travelers that they will be among others like them. 

An Intrepid slogan says “Go solo, not alone,” while another from EF Go Ahead Tours says,”Wander solo, but not alone.” They note that, like so many travelers since the pandemic, solo travelers are looking to complete deferred trips, and that going on a tour enables them to see the world without having to wait for a companion’s availability, and still be with other like-minded travelers. 

Operators said that, like other travelers since the pandemic, single travelers are looking to complete deferred trips, and tours enable them to be with like-minded travelers without having to wait for a companion’s availability.

“The benefit of a small group travel company that provides expertise, safety and destination know-how no doubt resonates with these customers,” Berna said. 

Solo travel made affordable

While demand for solo travel has increased, so too has its affordability. 

Solo trips, whether by land or by cruise, are usually more expensive, as single travelers often have to pay for the costs of accommodations that are typically priced for two people. Single supplement rates have long been levied to make up for the shortfall when a guest travels alone. 

“When two people share, the cost of the room is split. When it is a single traveler they need to foot the bill by themselves,” said Lanotte-Day. “Cruise lines prefer to have two people in the room because that also doubles the onboard spend.”

But more suppliers are incentivizing solo trips through promotional deals aimed at enticing budget-conscious travelers, while others are adding more solo-only trips to their portfolios, eliminating single supplements altogether. 

Cosmos, Globus’ more affordable brand, began a single supplement waiver promotion for its 2023 trips after a survey found that 26% of Cosmos travelers planned on traveling solo this year or next year, regardless of their marital status.

“There’s more of that to come in the future,” said Globus’ Born, adding that the promotion has seen great results so far. Additionally, Born said that it was “encouraging solo cruisers to jump ship to Avalon” by offering a single supplement waiver on all Avalon Waterways cruises.”

Tauck waives single supplement fees on all of its European river cruises for solo travelers who book Category 1 cabins, in addition to offering up to $1,000 in savings for solo cruisers who book select cabin categories on certain cruises, pending availability.

Riviera River Cruises offers a number of solo-only river cruises that eliminate the single supplement, making it more affordable for guests to book a top category suite or stateroom as opposed to a selection of dedicated solo cabins.

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