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Although solo travelers have long been an important market for tour operators, they haven't had specific strategies to boost bookings with this group. But the pandemic is forcing tour operators to reevaluate their tactics, including finding ways to make traveling alone less expensive.

Solo travel is poised for a major boom this year as one in four travelers plan to venture solo in the next six months, which is driving travel companies to launch deals to make their offerings more appealing for those in the lucrative market.

Tour operators are among those companies looking to attract more solo travelers, but what steps are they taking to lure even more customers from a group they’ve long welcomed on their trips?

They’re increasingly launching special deals geared toward the segment and waiving or decreasing expensive single supplements to attract more guests from a market that had been growing prior to the pandemic. Google searches for solo travel increased 131 percent from 2016 to 2019.

“Over the last four years, more and more, we’ve been seeing that there’s been a demand for people traveling solo,” said Melissa DaSilva, the U.S. president of Trafalgar Tours, one of the brands affiliated with the Travel Corporation.

“(Also), what we were hearing from our trade partners, the travel agents, is that they were seeing a big demand, and they were telling us we didn’t have the products to meet their needs.”

Solo travelers only comprised between 6 and 8 percent of the guests prior to the pandemic on trips run by TTC’s brands such as Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Costsaver, all of which are geared toward an older demographic. In contrast, 55 percent of guests on TTC’s youth brand Contiki are solo travelers.

While DaSilva said those on Contiki trips are generally willing to share a room with another solo traveler, that’s usually not the case for guests on trips run by other TTC brands. So TTC approached hotels it works with to arrange more rooms for solo travelers as well as reduced its single supplement on average between 45 and 55 percent this January for all of its brands except Contiki. She added the process of entering into new contracts with all the hotels where its guests stay took nine months.

So has the decreased single supplement made a difference in attracting guests? DaSilva acknowledged she’s unable to provide any statistics that reveal a boost in bookings, she said the company is positive feedback from prospective customers.

But Explore Worldwide went even further than the TTC brands earlier this year. The company, spurred by a 27 percent increase in solo bookings it’s made since 2019, launched its Go Solo & Save Sale in February that offered prospective guests free single supplements on hundreds of departures while most others were half off. Explore estimates that customers who booked trips during the sale were able to save up to $850.

Meanwhile, recent trends drove G Adventures‘ to modify offerings to attract solo travelers. “What we’ve found post-pandemic is more people are willing to spend a little bit more to get that privacy of their own room, especially when it’s affordable,” said Vice President of Product Yves Marceau.

While Marceau noted G Adventures has always had a high number of solo travelers, the biggest change in solo travelers he’s seen in recent years is their willingness to buy rooms for themselves. G Adventures would previously provide solo travelers the opportunity to share a room with someone of the same gender as well as give them a single room at no extra cost if there was no suitable match.

But as he acknowledged the company needed to go beyond reducing the single supplement on all of its tours — G Adventures had to secure more single rooms for travelers, which it did on its Galápagos Islands Cruises. As most ships on the Galápagos — due to having a maximum of 16 passengers — are equipped with eight cabins, Marceau said solo travelers wanting a cabin to themselves are forced to pay double the price. So G Adventures had 10 cabins built in its Reina Silvia Voyager vessel that’s taking guests on its Galápagos Islands Cruises, so that solo travelers could get a room for themselves at a reduced rate.

However, Marceau believes attracting more requires more than making trips more affordable, citing having seen solo travelers sometimes feeling left out during trips run by a company he once worked for as couples would often hang out with each other. He said tour operators need to develop a welcoming culture for all of its guests.

“Everything we do on trips is all about creating an inclusive atmosphere for those that are traveling solo, so that they don’t feel like they’re alone at any point.”

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Tags: contiki, g adventures, solo travel, tour operators, travel recovery

Photo credit: Young woman taking selfie on bridge in Florence, Italy Lorenzo Antonucci / Getty Images

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