I’m one of those shameless introverts who rest best when I’m by myself. So naturally, I’ve always been really drawn to the idea of getting away from London’s buzz, and doing it alone. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed during my once-a-month travels, it’s that solos are growing in strength and are finally ready to explore the world on their own terms.
Solo travel has become a real buzzword. A quick Google search turns up hundreds of articles, with some interesting numbers – 25% of millennials plan solo travel within the next 2 years, and 40% of baby boomers have taken a solo trip in the last year. Instagram now shows almost 3 million posts with #solotravel hashtag. And the number of mobile apps focused on tackling the needs of solo travellers have risen dramatically in the recent years. Travel brands are starting to notice the trend too. REI Adventures noted a 60% growth in the number of solo female consumers since 2010, which opened up an opportunity to cater to this growing market. Meanwhile, Saga Cruises is already building vessels that fill the needs of more than a fifth of their users, with plans to launch ships with 109 solo cabins next year.
The massive growth of solo travel shows it’s something companies really need to take on board. Because despite a few new players focusing specifically on solos, the big travel brands are still far from catering to their key needs. This is slowly starting to change, with, for instance, TUI and SAGA now helping travellers to find holidays with single-occupancy rooms. But the choice is limited and the room size leaves much to be desired (on the bright side, it takes just one step to reach your bathroom from the bed!). And – beyond suggesting a tiny single room – little is done to cater to what solos really want from the trip. There is a strong need for solo customer-focused research, that clearly defines behavioural triggers and uncovers opportunities to solve some of the main pain points experienced when going solo.
Me, myself, and I: Why do travellers go solo?
Despite a common ‘want to travel, but have no one to go with’ assumption that many brands seem to have, the reality is many travellers choose to go solo for completely different reasons. In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of companies offering tours for solo travellers. But the majority of them focus on organising group adventures for like-minded singles (which makes the whole experience not so ‘solo’ anymore). What about those who go solo because they want to stay solo?
I travel solo not because I have no one to go with, but because for me it has some seriously strong recharging powers – and makes planning and experiencing the trip so much more pleasurable. I can build each detail of the trip to please myself, choose my own pace, and spend every single minute doing what I want. There are of course more experience-led reasons too. Surrounded by nature, going solo gets you to notice more, have more meaningful and empowering adventures, and help you feel like... a local. At least for a week or two. Sounds like a cliche? Maybe. But for someone who is not afraid to spend time on their own, this is the best way to experience different cultures, get off the beaten track and discover the truly local culture, with no distractions.
So how can travel brands capitalise on solo travel and cater to guests’ needs?
Travelling solo is not just about backpacking South-East Asia. City breaks or longer trips in countries just a short flight away are a frequent choice too. It’s close, it’s safe, the culture is familiar. The needs of the target markets will differ based on a brand’s core offerings, so running a holistic analysis of consumers’ current needs, pain points and psychological drivers behind solo travel is key. Pre-planning support could involve helping with destination discovery using predictive analytics and personalisation, suggesting a relevant set of hotels and/or package holidays that are solo traveller-friendly.
Resolve pain points with digital tools
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest barriers to solo travel is safety. Indeed, for a twenty/thirty-something female, travelling solo may seem like a rather daunting experience. But with the prevalence of smartphones and high levels of connectivity even in the most remote destinations, the ‘fear factor’ is diminished. Nonetheless, there is potential to deliver tools that will break the fear barriers and form a long-lasting brand-traveller relationship. Enabling solos to raise the alarm and share their current location on an app, or mark a safe return following a day-long excursion could help to provide an additional level of support and deepen loyalty.
Cost is another big barrier, and perhaps one of the biggest pain points of all. Most package holidays are designed for couples or groups – so solos are often forced to pay double. The same applies to accommodation (unless we count a wardrobe-size room as one worthy consideration). Although the number of offerings designed for solos are growing, mainstream operators still have a long way to go to deliver best-in-class experiences at cost.
Among all segments craving the ‘off-the-beaten-track’ experiences, it’s solo travel that plays the biggest part. Solo travellers have a strong appetite for discovering cultures, learning new skills and finding hidden gems. Delivering tools that enable travellers to walk in the footsteps of local people, whether alone or with fellow solo travellers, will help to make the experience much more meaningful while increasing NPS.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a massive surge of solo travellers. But it’s the smaller travel players that have responded to the trend, and big travel incumbents are still left behind. Why should big travel brands care? Solo travellers are frequent travellers, so the earning potential is big. If a brand can reach this market and deliver the support that others failed to deliver, the chances are the traveller will stay with the brand for longer – whether travelling solo – or when we’ve finally given in and set off with family and friends.