Friday, February 5, 2010

Solo Travelers Getting a Break

The Vancouver Sun

If you're fancy free and love to wander, the price might finally be right to travel solo.

Instead of punishing travellers who prefer to go alone with hefty surcharges, the travel industry is starting to woo them with deals that tickle their wanderlust without ravaging their wallets.

"The tour industry is making way for the single traveller," said Margie Jordan, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents.

"This is nothing that's going to go away. The single traveller is going to have as many opportunities as anyone else."

For years, most travel deals were based on two people travelling together.

"Single travellers would see a price online and we've had to break the news that if you're going by yourself, it's 150 to 200 per cent more," said Jordan, CEO of ASAP Travel. "They were left high and dry."

But times are changing and Jordan said cruise lines in particular are stepping up.

MSC Cruises is currently offering trips that waive the dreaded single supplement, which accounts for the price hike.

"And Norwegian Cruise Line is introducing 'Studio' staterooms built and priced solely for the single traveller," she added. "It is actually something new in the cruise industry."

Maria Miller of Norwegian Cruise Lines said the 4,200-passenger Epic, to launch in July, is equipped with 128 studio staterooms designed to give the solo traveller a room of one's own.

With research showing 35 million adults take solo vacations but only five per cent opt for cruises, Miller said the potential is huge.

"There's a sizable market out there, but discontent around the single surcharge," she explained.

So, solo prices on the Epic will not include a single surcharge.

"And we're talking solo, not singles," Miller said, distinguishing solo travellers from the meet-and-mate crowd.

Kate Moeller of Club Med North America knows a thing or two about changing demographics.

"We used to be really a singles destination, but then we became more family-oriented," she said.

Moeller said Club Med's Solo Savings program waives the single supplement to accommodate the solo traveller at certain resorts.

"We have these deals in specific theme weeks in specific resorts," she said.

Jordan said the cruise industry is likewise sensitive to change.

She added that other cruise lines are waiting on the success of Norwegian's solo experiment.

"Now when refurbishing in dry dock, they add balcony staterooms. But I wouldn't be surprised if you saw Carnival Cruises or Royal Caribbean follow suit by introducing studio cabins," she predicted.

"My guess is that eventually the others will jump on board."