Whether you’re a single traveller by choice or circumstance, you don’t want to be penalised for it. Having to pay more for holidays has long been an issue for solo travellers, but there may be better times ahead.
Travel companies are recognising that not everyone has a convenient other half they want to travel with, and the dreaded ‘single supplement’ surcharge is getting sliced and diced to make single travel more affordable. Many holiday deals released over recent months have included reduced or waived single supplements and there have been some tailor-made packages aimed at single travellers. And while some of the generosity can be attributed to a competitive market, the growing ranks of single travellers will force travel providers to give the issue more thought.
Travel.com.au general manager brand Lisa Ferrari says solo travel is one of the leading trends for Australian travellers. The company’s research shows that 35 per cent of Australians prefer to travel alone, rather than with family or friends. “Twenty-eight per cent are single female travellers, who are after a self-empowering journey,” Ferrari says.
Many tour operators report that solo travellers now make up between a quarter and half of all their passengers, so it is a market to be reckoned with. And while it is easy to assume solo travellers belong to defined groups such as young singles or older widows, it is a trend showing up in all demographics. At one end of the market, adventure tour operator GAP Adventures says more than 60 per cent of its passengers are solo travellers, while at the other end, luxury tour operator The Captain’s Choice Tour says single travellers make up between 30 and 50 per cent of its passengers.
Ferrari says there are numerous types of solo traveller, including those who haven’t found the right travel companion, those who have reached a stage of their life where they are ready to travel alone and those who are taking part in self-improvement journeys such as volunteer trips.
When you look at the issue from the industry’s point of view, it is easy to understand why single supplements have been the ‘accepted’ norm. Providing a room per traveller rather than a room for every two travellers makes a huge difference to cost – and sometimes there just aren’t enough rooms to go around. Most operators offer to pair up single travellers to share a room with a member of the same sex but not everybody is willing to share their personal space with a stranger.
Grand Pacific Tours, which operates coach tours in New Zealand, says single travellers can also feel uncomfortable about travelling with couples, prompting it to rethink how it caters for the market. The introduction of dedicated single traveller departures in its 2009-2010 season has proved an “outstanding success”, with many travel agents and passengers declaring it long overdue. (Those taking the single traveller tours have the choice of being paired up with another passenger or paying a single supplement for their own room.)
Australian tour operator APT has introduced a ‘solo traveller club’ where members receive special offers such as reduced or waived single supplements on selected tours.
One of the best opportunities for solo travellers is cruising, with agencies such as Ecruising.travel and Cruiseabout regularly advertising surcharge-free cruises. Cruise West, for example, has waived all single supplements for the remainder of 2010, with options including Europe, the Americas, the South Pacific, the Mediterranean and Alaska. Australian operator Coral Princess Cruises has dropped single supplements on its Barrier Reef cruises – equating to a saving of more than $700 on a seven-night cruise – and small ship operator Island Escape Cruises has set aside single traveller cabins on all of its Vanuatu and New Zealand cruises, waiving the usual 50 per cent surcharge applied to solo travellers.
Other cruise lines, including Captain Cook Cruises and Azamara, have reduced their single supplement to 25 per cent. Captain Cook says solo cruisers have traditionally paid the same amount as a couple, representing a 100 per cent increase on the twin-share price.
For many solo travellers, dining alone is one of the worst elements, leaving them feeling like a social outcast – or on the receiving end of unwanted attention. Introducing the ‘dining pod’ concept, where you can slip on a pair of headphones and tune in to a personal television screen while you sit down to a restaurant meal and a glass of wine.
The Novotel hotel group has been rolling out the concept in its United Kingdom hotels and has just introduced it in Christchurch, New Zealand. The company says it saves solo travellers from feeling they have to stay “locked up in their rooms”.
This article first appeared in Jane E. Fraser’s weekly travel column in The Sun Herald, Sydney