Being single, it seems, is the most indulgent of 21st-century luxuries, a position of envy, privilege… and expense. Earlier this year Good Housekeeping magazine crunched the numbers and put the cost of being single at an additional £2,049 per year, totting up charges including council tax, insurance, holidays and memberships of anything from Netflix to the gym. Freedom has a price, and it’s around two grand a year.
Depressingly, travel was the expense with the biggest price difference between a single traveller and a couple sharing. A cab to the airport for one, a double room to oneself, the single supplement and unsplit booking fees all mount up.
Depending on the trip, individuals can wind up paying an extra 50 per cent to 80 per cent more than travellers who book as a duo. For couples, this sort of saving makes tolerating even the most tiresome of companions seem worthwhile. For individuals, the price hike can push a trip beyond the budget of the solo traveller.
Despite the recent and well-documented rise of solo travel, we’ve yet to see tour operators and hoteliers respond adequately to this growing demographic.
The biggest single tax within travel, of course, is accommodation. The “single supplement” applied by hotels, booking sites and tour operators that list their prices per person is so poorly worded it might as well be called “lone loser tax”, and the fact that it’s whacked on after you’ve been reeled in by this particular hotel or holiday adds insult to injury.
Of course, it’s not just single people who travel solo. In June, a Travelzoo survey revealed that more than three quarters of Britons have either travelled solo or are considering doing so, and, interestingly, more than half (60 per cent) of those travelling alone were either in a relationship or married.
But despite the fact that travelling solo is no longer a niche pursuit, more than a third of those surveyed said the worst part of travelling by themselves was having to pay single-person supplements. Indeed, when I book a trip alone, it’s hard not to think: “Ah, lovely, I can afford a holiday approximately half as good as the one I could book with my boyfriend.”
We’ve come to the end of Travelzoo’s #SoloSeptember campaign, which saw the travel deals publisher join forces with Cox & Kings Travel, STA Travel and Saga Cruises to offer travellers a month of solo holidays without single supplements and fees.
“More and more people across Britain are choosing to travel on their own, yet we often hear from our members that they feel penalised for making this choice,” said Joel Brandon-Bravo, Travelzoo’s general manager.
“The traditional view of a solo traveller as a 20-something backpacker hopping from hostel to hostel is no longer true. The modern solo traveller is older, wealthier and may be travelling by themselves simply because they and their partner have different interests in a trip abroad.
“It’s time to break down barriers to solo travel, to reduce the cost of travelling alone and to increase the range of experiences that are open to people travelling without partners or families.”
This is exactly the thinking that underlies Telegraph Travel’s own attempts to draw attention to the unfairness of single supplements and to make the abolishment (or drastic reduction) of them one of the 10 demands in its “Safer, fairer, better” campaign for 2018.
So what about solo October and solo November? On top of campaigns like Travelzoo’s, a few other forward-thinking operators and hoteliers are responding to the needs of solo travellers. Escorted tour operator Voyages Jules Verne (vjv.com) has a dedicated “no single supplement tours” category on its website.
High-end adventure travel company Flash Pack (flashpack.com) pairs solo travellers up on group tours so that they share rooms in luxury lodges. Travellers can opt to have their own room, but 80 per cent are happy to share, rather than paying twice as much, or staying in a room half as nice.
Solo travel is no fleeting fad. Hoteliers and tour operators need to start treating solo travellers less like an anomaly, and more like the customer base of the future.