Amid the loneliness crisis, people are looking to the travel industry to help them meet new people and build lasting connections.
Travel companies are playing matchmaker amid the ongoing rise in loneliness and isolation.
More vacation choices are being made to meet new people. “We get a lot of people who write back to us and tell us ‘One of the reasons I liked [the trip] is I didn’t have to pay for a single supplement [room meant for two], so I was going to share a room with someone who ended up becoming one of my great friends’, ” said Yves Marceau, G Adventures vice president of product.
About 66% of Hostelworld’s guests travel solo to meet people to hang out with, said Gary Morrison, Hostelworld CEO and executive director at Skift Global Forum, in September. The online travel agency has been giving its hostel partners more tools to facilitate events, linkups and activities like yoga sessions. Its next brand will specifically focus on the “loneliness segment,” said Morrison.
In its marketing toward solo travelers, Intrepid Travel shares success stories of marriages and friendships that came from their trips.
WeRoad lets its travel coordinators (other travelers approved to be trip group leaders by the tour operator) use its brand and create community pages on Instagram to organize hiking trips or other activities. “We don’t monetize. We don’t control that, but we see that events are very popular,” said WeRoad CEO Andrea D’Amico.
Travelers want people on their trips to connect with. “Fundamentally, the real prevalent need in this category is to help find people to hang out with,” said Hostelworld’s Morrison.
This has been due in part to the rise in loneliness. The loneliness and social isolation epidemic has become an “underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
About 24% of adults worldwide feel lonely, according to a Gallup survey of over 1,000 people. People between the ages of 19 and 29 reported higher levels of loneliness compared to adults over 65.
Since the rise of remote and hybrid work, individuals have found it harder to build relationships at work. About 53% of Americans who work some hybrid hours report having a hard time connecting with coworkers, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Many people now remotely don’t even go to the office and don’t even connect with other colleagues,” said WeRoad’s D’Amico. “It’s more and more important to find situations where they are able to connect with others.
Solo travel has become its own market for small group tour operators, having grown faster since the pandemic. G Adventures Yves Marcaeu says Just You, its UK brand focused on older solo travelers, has posted “phenomenal” booking numbers.
“Once Covid was over we got a big boost,” said WeRoad’s D’Amico. He attributed it to people spending so much “time at home disconnected from others.”
In the first six months of 2023, 62% of overseas travelers came to the U.S. by themselves, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. That’s up from 60% from 2019.
Hotels, online travel agencies, cruise lines, and tour operators will invest in facilitating successful relationships, especially as solo travel continues to grow.
Unique itineraries that allow travelers to connect with locals will be more popular. Tour operators that not only sell trips but communities that stay in touch daily will have an advantage, said WeRoad’s D’Amico.
More tours will revolve around shared passions and interests and age will be less important. “It’s not age that makes people connect, it’s interests, passions,” said Marceau. “You could have a 20-year old that has the same passions as a 50-year old, and you know what? They may want to go on that same trip together.”
In the years ahead, AI will supercharge traveler connections, said Hostelworld’s Morrison. Using deep learning, AI can potentially recommend to users the travelers they will have the most fun to hang out with or activities they will enjoy based on their trip dates, the destination choice and activity interests.
“Based on how we understand people are connecting, with some review system, these are the people you’d conceivably like to hang out with,” he said.
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