Who first comes to mind when you think of a typical solo traveller? A 20-something backpacker on a gap year? A ‘flashpacker’ on a career break? What about a middle-aged professional wanting to be more adventurous with their holiday time, or a widowed retiree? With solo travel on the up, businesses might be missing a trick by wrongly casting this travel type.
Adventure companies such as Intrepid have long catered to the solo market with group tours that allow travellers to join a clan of ready-made companions. Lauren Ellis, Intrepid’s PR Manager for EMEA, tells me that the company has seen a 40 per cent increase in solo bookings over the past five years, leading them to launch tours specifically for solo travellers in 2017. Solo travel increases in popularity as more people “are looking to make the most of their time off”, Ellis theorises.
UK-based travel company Steppes Travel report that around 15 per cent of their clients are solo travellers. Most of these people travel on group departures, opting for expert-led trips to remote and unusual destinations, “seeking value in the economies of scale that a group tour offers”, explains Lara Paxton, who heads up Steppes’ expert-led tours programme.
“[Solo travellers] don’t fall into a particular category”, continues Paxton. “However, we have established that they are generally very adventurous.” Steppes find these guests need little ‘hand-holding’, and are usually frequent travellers who “have experienced a variety of cultures the world over.”
However, Paxton adds that they sometimes “like the added security that travelling with a group provides, and are looking for like-minded travellers with whom they can share their travel experiences.”
Carina Hibbitt, product manager at Natural World Safaris, agrees: “We find our solo travellers may not be quite comfortable enough to travel alone and are therefore looking for a small group of like-minded explorers, while ensuring the resulting experience is not too regimented.”
Hibbitt reveals that Natural World Safaris’ solo travellers are between 45 and 60 years old with an even gender divide. “[They] are passionate about off-piste, challenging adventures, such as swimming with orca in Norway, or seeking out jaguar in Brazil”, says Hibbitt.
Both Natural World Safaris and Steppes aim to cater to solo travellers by reducing the single supplements that can make holidays very expensive. At Natural World Safaris, solo travellers can often join group trips without a single-supplement charge if they are prepared to share a room. For African safaris, they might advise solo clients to travel in low or shoulder seasons, and will suggest camps that levy the single- charge.
Steppes have developed a series of tours that do not have a single-person supplement, and though they don’t currently run a solo-only departure, Paxton says they are considering it due to high demand.
Many safari lodges and camps are already perfectly set up for solo travellers, offering a hosted experience and communal dining that removes any awkwardness that people may feel when alone, particularly in what can be considered a romantic setting. Hotels – especially those that see a lot of business travellers – could get ahead of the game by mimicking this, providing guests with a choice of dining at communal, perhaps hosted, tables or by themselves.
It’s clear that solo travel is no longer only for backpackers, the young and the brave, but also for those who want adventure with some structure and companionship, or for those who want to travel luxuriously, but aren’t, for whatever reason, travelling with friends, a partner or family. The ‘bleisure’ trend – the practice of adding leisure time to business trips – also accounts for more solo travellers.
Smart travel companies of all types should be thinking about catering to this growing market. As travel becomes easier and more accessible and people seize the opportunity to explore at any age, solo travelling is only going to increase in popularity.