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September 18, 2009


Chris Vaughan

Who knew that being single was an "alternative lifestyle"? I feel so hedonistic now!

I don't know a lot about the target demographics of tour companies. Are tours a 'value' proposition compared to other travel choices? Generally, we SINKs (Single Income No Kids) have more disposable cash than people having a brood to feed, clothe and keep in orthodontia.

Still, I've come to accept that I have to pay more to boldly go solo. My biggest current irritant is in the fair housing laws that say single people cannot choose to live in apartments/condos/neighborhoods with just other singles until we reach retirement age. Kids have pulled the fire alarms in my building three times this month already.


I love to cruise and probably would go on at least one a year if they didn't charge the single supplement. I understand about maximizing space but single people are becoming an economic force that will eventually need to be reconciled with. The travel industry really needs to reexamine how they deal with solo travellers.


This is a real pet peeve of mine. I love to cruise and would probably go once a year if they didn't charge the single supplement. Single people are becoming a real economic force here in Canada as well and the travel industry is being short sighted when they ignore this potential source of income.


Chris - you alternative lifestyle person you! - I'm guessing that senior housing can't restrict to singles but seems to be able to limit by age, which eliminates the kids and fire alarm thing.

Shari - I'm still waiting for the travel industry to recognize solo travelers. The hotel and cruise industries seem to be the culprits, specifically.

The hotels give a free ride to a second person in a room. Solo travelers pay for it in the form of a single supplement when on a group trip. (Most people don't complain that they're paying extra when they book their own hotel room because it's not called a single supplement. It's called the room price. But you're still paying twice, per person, what the two people sharing the next room are paying.)


I don't cruise (yet) but I'm told this is where the single supplement is the worst - solo travelers sometimes pay more than twice what couples pay.


Ellen, I've only cruised once but it seems to me it would be the perfect solo vacation. As long as you don't mind being the odd person out at a table in the dining room (usually filled with other couples or families) there are plenty of opportunities to meet people, do things or spend time alone in a safe environment with no transportation hassles.



I don't think I'd mind doing a cruise once or twice but I really like being in foreign places and grappling with the "difficulties" of getting around.
I found New Zealand too "easy" if anyone understands that. I like having to deal with different money, language, culture etc. Leads to all sorts of adventures...


Singles may indeed be an up and coming economic force, but currently we're not enough of an economic force to provide anything like a compelling case for the travel industry to change a long-established successful business model.

When the leisure travel industry developed their double-occupancy business model, it reflected the overwhelming preferences of their customers. Nearly everyone took vacations as couples and families, and singles were unheard of. Although demographics have significantly changed since then, tour and cruise operators and hotels continue to fill their buses, cabins, and rooms with couples, families, and (increasingly) groups. I'd further suspect that most singles remain "invisible" because they conform themselves to the double-occupancy model, usually by traveling with one of more friends. And most of those who don't travel with friends also conform themselves to the double-occupancy model, by either letting the organizer provide the "friend" or by paying a nonconformance penalty of the operator's choosing (i.e., the "supplement"). Singles unable or unwilling to employ one of those options either travel independently (and pay the same room rate as a couple) or they stay home.

Thus, from the perspective of travel industry executives, the few people who choose to spend their time whining and moaning about the "unfairness" of the double-occupancy business model rather than networking to find travel companions are just a handful of anti-social malcontents who aren't even worth listening to. As long as their established, proven, traditional business model continues to serve their shareholders, there's no reason to even consider changing anything.

There are a few exceptions to that generalization. There are outfits that can offer somehow tours and cruises for seniors with a low or nonexistent "supplement." I suspect that's because the number of well-heeled widows who want to continue enjoying the trips they took with their late husbands is sufficient to make it economically viable. There are also a few British companies that offer holiday packages based on single occupancy. I have no idea how successful or profitable they are, but I suspect that the culture in Britain is different enough from the US to encourage those companies to think outside the box and regard singles as a potentially valuable market rather than a troublesome nonconformance. Those companies might make a good subject for a travel article.


Cruises represent the extreme version of the double-occupancy business model. The tempting advertised (double-occupancy) fare is effectively a loss-leader. The cruise line makes their real money from all the extras they expect passengers to buy, including shore excursions, spa treatments, photos, shopping, and gambling. So they rely on packing cabins as full as possible with people who will open their wallets at every proffered opportunity.

In industry jargon, a cabin occupied by only one person creates "spoilage." So the business model requires a "supplement" that not only covers the second person in the cabin, but also the ancillary revenue that missing person would have generated. That most often means a 200% "supplement," plus two sets of "non-commissionable fees." That usually means paying double, but sometimes it's more than double because a couple would be eligible for a special discount fare that isn't available for a single person.

Because of the "price to fill" business model, cruises will probably remain raw deals for singles even if the rest of the industry changes to become friendlier. But there are always exceptions. I'm told the luxury lines charge relatively low supplements, again because of the large number of wealthy widows who want to continue cruising. They even have "gentlemen hosts" to serve as dance partners for them.




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