A New Global Trend
By Eric K. Williams
New York – As the Spring, and soon-to-come Summer season kicks-in up in the Northern Hemisphere, so, too, does the travel and tourist season. It is that time of year that normally brings a large surge of travelers on vacation to far off places. What is different this time around is the continuing growth of the go-it-alone vacationer, a trend that has noticeably climbed in recent years say those in the travel industry. From tour guides, travel agents to booking firms, even in the popular press, the rise of the single traveler has gained wider notice.
There has been a 35 per cent rise in single travelers in Great Britain, according to a report published last year in The Daily Telegraph. Such was the case for much of 2015 where the percentage of solo travelers out of Britain climbed to 38 percent by the end of the year end, according to spokesmen from various Holiday companies and Tour firms. That represents a ten cent jump to 2014, according to the newspaper. In 2016 that number is expected to rise even further, to around 40 per cent, with several firms such as Cox and Kings, Journey Latin America and, Caribtours informing the newspaper of the continued growth. Yet, Great Britain is not alone in this growing trend.
The solo traveler is now a trend across the Atlantic in both the U.S. and Canada. In a notable twist, at least one British company, Solo Holidays, has moved into the U.S. market through Solo Vacations, a recently created arm of that company, reports The New York Times. And why not? Solo Holidays is somewhat of an expert on the solo traveler, having been around since 1982, specializing in those who go-it-alone.
Yet, it depends on which countries one looks at regarding this trend. What is becoming the norm in Britain has now slowly spread to other corners of Europe, where travel is usually confined within the continent for European solo travelers. Yet, according to the Association of British Travel Agents, Britons have taken on the world when choosing to go-it-alone, offering a top ten list of likely destinations. Greece and Portugal rank number one and two, respectively, as the countries of first choice. They are followed by St. Lucia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the USA, Costa Rica, and Vietnam among the destinations of choice.
Speaking of the Asia-Pacific region, and principally the land DOWN UNDER, both Australians and New Zealanders are also part of the global go-it-alone trend among solo travelers. Yet, for the moment, together, they mimic their continental European counterparts with more emphasis on domestic travel, according to the New Zealand Travel Forum, an Auckland-based web site. Comments and questions over their travel plans come largely from outside the region, with those making inquiries from as far away as Scandinavia and the USA.
Who makes up the typical solo traveler? More to the point…. Who Are They?
This new breed of traveler comes from a broad range of nationalities and backgrounds, but the latest available statistics suggest that for now, most are among the aging Baby Boomer generation, with the average median age of 54. Such is the case for those who visit Great Britain. But that does not tell the whole story of this new trend, with younger travelers, principally the so-called ‘millennial generation’ showing keen interest in traveling alone, says the Daily Mail newspaper. Most solo travelers are women, says the newspaper, quoting Cathy Winston, a noted award winning travel writer, connected to ‘101 Holidays,’ a British-based web site. That site conducted an analysis of over 100,000 holiday bookings in both 2014 and 2015, launching a new web site, ‘101 Single Holidays,’ to meet the demand of ever changing data.
For the Baby Boomers who travel alone it is not taking on a journey in search for love, Winston told the newspaper. Nor is solo travel “limited to the 18 to 30-year-old backpacker age group” who would tend to feel more confident traveling alone, Winston explained. In her further analysis of the data coming out of the survey, Winston also said that “not everyone (traveling) alone is single, with more women leaving husbands and partners at home as they tick-off their ‘bucket lists.’ The new figures also reflect changing demographics (inside the UK) with a growing population that is older, healthier and wealthier.”
Yet, fear and very real concerns for safety remain a focus for many women in the millennial generation where solo travel is considered. A recent article in the Yale Daily News under the headline, ‘A World of One’s Own,’ brought many of these concerns to light. There was the harrowing story of a murder in February of this year, of two young female twentysomething Argentine women, traveling alone in Montanita, Ecuador. Sofia Braunstein is the author of the Yale Daily News piece. She wrote that her mother had brought the grisly affair to her attention with a news article on the very day she was set to buy a plane ticket to Quito, Ecuador’s capital. It is there where she still plans to spend the Summer months. Her fears of facing possible danger traveling solo in Latin America were suppressed for months, she wrote, but had re-emerged yet again with details of the Montanita incident.
There are other concerns, as well, for the woman traveling solo that run the gamut from hotel accommodations, and being shunted to the rear of the buildings where they are housed, to overall culture shock when hitting the ground in a new setting. Yet, the thrill of going alone unhampered with the whims of others tagging along has many benefits in the grand scheme of a journey. For many it is pure adventure.
Cathy Cole, 42, a British national who runs a fund raising consultancy business in London, told the New York Times that “being self-employed, I often get holiday time at late notice and many of my friends can’t be flexible, so whether I’m in a relationship or not, I still consider (traveling) solos. It is not the dating scene everyone who hasn’t been thinks it is. Sure, some people get together, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about independent travelers, not dating holidays.”
The same can be said for the millennials who travel solo. In the Summer of 2015, Delaney Herndon, 17, had traveled to Morocco for a Yale University study-abroad program. On a free weekend, she had found her way alone from Paris’ 16 arrondissement to a museum close to the city center. “I felt very empowered figuring out a city on my own,” she told the Yale Daily News.
And then there are people like Kim Francois, a 53-year-old retired flight attendant and building designer, recently divorced, who decided to take a look at the world in a different way. She has traveled frequently of late, telling the Canadian-based CTV Network that she “needed to shake things up,” and that she “wasn’t ready for a rocking chair, (that) I wanted to inspire my granddaughter and make her proud. So my motto became ‘challenge yourself.”
Many people are indeed challenging themselves, with the travel industry taking full notice. Both Ms. Francois and, Ms. Cole, are among countless women who travel by themselves. Overseas Adventure Travel, a web site, say that a whopping 80 percent of solo travelers who visit their site are women.
According to the U.S. based AARP, more than 80 per cent of people 45 years of age, and up, who have taken solo trips have plans to do so again within the next 12 months of their journey. Visa, the credit card company, has supporting research that shows solo travel has more than doubled over the past four years.
As a trend, solo travel is one that is being taken more seriously by the travel industry, with both the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations leading the charge in a global movement that has yet to plateau.