The phenomenon of solo travelers has evolved. It’s no longer just the “single” — unmarried, widowed or divorced. And not only is this market segment growing, but it represents a large, untapped potential.
Solo travelers make up about 23% of all leisure travelers according to the U.S. Travel Association. And almost 40% of total travelers replied they would take a vacation by themselves if they had the opportunity, in a survey by MMGY Global. So who is this new vacationer who is going alone? Men and women. With work schedules more demanding than ever, couples are having a harder time coordinating travel schedules. And in this age of special interest travel, often one member of a couple wants to go on perhaps a wellness holiday or go trekking in Bhutan and the other prefers to go golfing. With the tremendous number of tour offerings, finding a group, a price point and departure that suits, is easier than ever. And then there’s the traditional market of solo travelers — the unmarried, the widowed or divorced. With people marrying later, more getting divorced, and living longer, the numbers in these categories have soared.
All of this has major implications for hotels. As we all know, single supplements are a sore point among this group. What can be done? Why can’t hotels build more single rooms or I can see the potential in a hotel chain just with studio rooms — 3.5 or 4 star? Then there are new challenges in restaurants. As reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “ Your Dream Vacation: a Table for One and a Selfie”, Jason Moskal, vice president of lifestyle brands for InterContinental Hotels group and Hotel Indigo said the number of solo guests has risen by a double digit rate in the past 18 months. He said staffers are paying more attention to being up to date on local hot spots since independent travelers count more on the concierge desk. How about dining? Solo travelers are no longer resigned to just ordering room service because they don’t want to go into a fine restaurant alone. So there also needs to be sensitivity training in how to treat a single diner — some like to engage with wait staff, chatting, and others prefer quiet time .Founding Fathers restaurants in Washington D.C. coaches staff to convey ease to solo diners when they arrive, never pity. “We look for the personality in their eyes — someone who is there to engage will give you those clues,” said Dan Simons, a co-owner. They also sometimes offer free samples of popular appetizers and cocktails, showing they value their business. Bar seating for restaurant meals works well, a personal favorite of mine as you can choose to engage with a fellow diner or not.
There also needs to be sensitivity to language. The word “single” doesn’t work since, as mentioned, many are not “single” in the traditional sense of the word. Tour operators, too, have made changes in wording of promotional literature. Country Walkers avoids using “romantic” to describe its soft adventure trips and the article reported that Norwegian Cruise Line never uses “single” to describe new studio rooms or private lounges to cater to travelers boarding alone.
Finally, speaking about dining, especially interesting is a recent statistic from Open Table the online restaurant reservation service — dinner reservations for one are the fastest growing party size, up 62% in two years. The most dramatic gains are in Dallas, Miami and Denver.
Photo courtesy of www.cyclicx.com