Group travel agencies are increasingly welcoming solo travelers, looking for companionship - and someone else to handle the complexities of travel during the pandemic.
After the death of Sheila Katz 's husband from a degenerative nervous system disease in April, elknew he had to run away. But her husband had been her traveling companion, and without him she was reluctant to travel alone. The pandemic's ever-changing travel rules were also intimidating. So Ms. Katz, 45, did something she had never done before: she joined a group tour.
" I wanted not to be totally alone, but also to be able to do my own thing whenever I wanted, "she said. So in July, she joined a group of 17 fully vaccinated travelers heading to Belize with EF Go Ahead Tours , making friends while snorkeling, visiting Mayan ruins and having chocolate - and tortilla-making class.
Travelerssolo travelers like Ms. Katz are joining tours at unprecedented rates, tour operators say, with some companies reporting single bookings up 300% from couples, families or groups of friends . The majority of these solo travelers have never taken a group trip before. After years of planning their own trips and traveling solo or with a partner, the pandemic - with its months of isolation and Byzantine travel rules for testing, masks and vaccination - has prompted them to change. their habits.
Ms. Katz, a sociology professor at the University of Houston, had just gone through the tenure review process while facing her grief. She was exhausted and had no interest in analyzing regulations or insisting on potential exposure to the coronavirus. For his trip to Belize, teveryone in the group had to be vaccinated, which took away a proverbial weight.
"If there had not been pandemic, I probably would have been lying on a Caribbean beach for seven days "she said.
"Even solo travelers want to travel with people sometimes '
The National Tour Association, a professional organization for tour operators, said the group travel industry as a whole has yet to recover from the pandemic at its business. "Half of our tour operators do not expect for their company to outperform 2019 metrics by 2023 "said Bob Rouse, NTA vice president of communications.
But even before pandemic, group travel was gaining a foothold among two key demographic groups: women andt millennials. Women-specific travel agencies have grown 230% over the past six years, while a flurry of new travel start-ups including AvantStay and TRIPS by the Culture Trip , developed through marketing to people born after 1980.
Women's interest in group travel is perhaps most notable. Katalina Mayorga, General Manager of El Camino Travel , which offers tours in small groups forr women, says sales for the fourth quarter of 2021 are 200% higher than the same period in 2019, and 65% of bookings do so as solo travelers. Contiki customers are biased 60 percent of women. Allison Scola, founder of Experience Sicily , says solo women on his tours now represent 66% of guests, while they are Indus Travels , 80% of customers booking seats on solo traveler tours are now women. This year 90% of Indus customers book for the first time.
"Even solo travelers sometimes want to travel with people, especially people they have something in common. with, ”said Amanda Black, founder of The Solo Female Traveler Network , where women can book individual tickets for group trips around the world. Ms Black, 35, resumed touring in May after shutting down at the start of the pandemic, and said bookings were steadily increasing.
After months of isolation, it seems a lot of women fail to socialize.
"I live alone so it's been a lot of time alone" , said Jes Maxfield, 34, a service customer in Boston who booked a trip to Greece with FTLO Travel in August The group consisted of eight women and one man, and the man broke the walked the second day and had to fly home. By the end of the trip, a brotherhood had emerged. "It was really nice to meet so many like-minded people, like witty women, and share a beautiful place with them," she said.
The idea of number security also plays a role. Drinking by myself isn't exactly the safest thing to do," said Emily Cardona, 36, a New Yorker who has taken outdoor group trips in the past 18 months with Outer There , a New York-based travel agency. Travel has been a refuge, she said, from the stress of her two jobs as a senior care manager and mental health therapist.
The Millennium Connection
"It 's almost as if the difficulties of traveling during the pandemic had helped millennials overcome the idea that this group touring is not cool, "said Tara Cappel, Founder and CEO of FTLO Travel , where bookings for 2022 are up 225% from 2019. FTLO caters to 20- and 30-year-olds and over, and new customers - many of whom join solo - now represent 82% of those bookings ; 75%of travelers booking for 2022 are women.
In many cases, the shift to millennial-focused marketing is redefining the idea of what it means to travel on a tour in the first place.
"It was really intimate, and we kind of looked like traveling friends " said Autumn Lewis, a lawyer from Los Angeles who made her very first group tour, a trip to Greece organized by Tripsha , in July. "It's not like you have an experience where you just follow the guy with the umbrella.
The trend of solo travel from the pandemic is not limited to tourist groups. Solo air bookings are on the rise overall, with Orbitz reporting that round-trip tickets were up 200% from last year last Labor Day weekend. In previous years, it was unclear whether these tickets indicated single leisure travelers or single business travelers, but with business travel still slow, 2021 is an exception, said Mel Dohmen, senior brand manager for Orbitz.
And while there is no definitive way to track how many of these solo travelers are joining groups at their destinations, tour operators are reporting significant growth in their destinations abroad.
To Devour Tours , which organizes culinary tours across Europe, 22% of bookings this summer were for one person, more than double what 'it was at the same time in 2019.
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) , which offers small-group tours for travelers aged 50 and over, has seen a 7% increase in the percentage of solo bookings since the start of the pandemic. travelers are women.
The new attraction of organized travel
"If there's one thing the pandemic has shown us, it's that the value of tour operators has increased tenfold," said Terry Dale, Ident President and CEO from Association of Tour Operators of the United States .
Like travel agents, who are also enjoying a renewed popularity , a big part of this value comes when a traveler can delegate the pandemic mental load: which vaccination card is valid? What day should I take my PCR test?
But after months of isolation, the strongest attraction of the group tour is perhaps the most obvious: It comes with an integrated community.
"The women who booked tours with us certainly did so because they want someone who can navigate the restrictions Covid. But there are a number of other motivations, "said Meg Jerrard, co-founder of Solo Female Travelers , which runs small group tours for the women. Safety is a major concern, she said, and "the stigma of being alone is another key motivator.
Ms. Katz, the widow from Texas, had expected that for some meals on her tour, people would go and do their own thing. She was wrong.
"Our tour guides had to go out of their way because we all wanted to have all of our meals together " she said declared. "I think we were all so thankful that we weren't in our living rooms staring at the wall.
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