“The first place I ever went on my own was a bus trip to London, and it seems so unadventurous, but I was brought up in Scotland, and I’d never left before,” recalled Alastair Campbell, managing director, G Touring.
READ MORE: Just You launches 7 new itineraries for 2020
“It was an eight-hour—no wait, that’s optimistic, it was probably more like 12 hours—and it cost me just £12 for a return ticket on a stagecoach, and the service ran from Glasgow to London overnight. I got into London at 8 a.m. with nowhere to stay, nothing sorted, and I went ‘okay, so this is London then!’”
Fast-forward to the present, and things are much, much different for solo travellers who are looking to explore every corner of the globe at their own pace, and its largely thanks to the unwavering support and presence of a solo travel specialist, such as Just You Holidays.
PAX caught up with Campbell, who’s currently visiting Toronto from the U.K., alongside national sales manager for Just You Canada, Nick Roberti, for an exclusive chat about how Canadian travel agents can capitalize on the fastest growing trend in today's travel market.
Campbell is currently the managing director for G Touring Limited, a division of G Adventures which operates Just You, following G's acquisition of the solo travel company in 2017. All three brands work harmoniously with one another to offer hundreds of multi-destination, small-group tours to travellers across the globe. Just You, in particular, caters to the solo traveller, with attractive offerings like the guarantee of a private room and no single supplements contributing to a high number of repeat guests, Campbell said.
Just last week, Campbell shared, a Just You customer returned from her 28th trip with the company.
“On average, she’s done two trips with us a year, which is quite staggering,” Campbell said. “Repeat travel is a huge thing for us, but that should be a huge thing for any tour operator, because if you’re genuinely offering an exceptional service, your customers will want to travel with you again.”
According to Campbell, Canada’s lack of a designated solo travel specialist was what initially motivated G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip to purchase the company back in 2017.
“When we started looking more closely at Canada, we realized that there was in fact a void for dedicated solo travel operators,” Campbell said. “Since then, we’ve largely adopted a trade strategy, because there was a gap and a craving for them [travel advisors] to have a dedicated operator.”
There’s no denying that solo travel is a growing trend, despite it being largely misinterpreted as belonging to a B2C consumer marketplace.
So, how do travel advisors take advantage of the solo travel phenomenon? Campbell and Roberti say it’s all about understanding opportunities, dismantling apprehensions, and surpassing expectations in order to secure a client base for life.
Solo doesn’t mean “alone”
One of the most common misconceptions about booking solo travel, Roberti and Campbell agree, is that travellers associate the act of solo travel as doing everything leading up to the trip independently.
From a consumer standpoint, they would be forgiven for thinking that a solo trip means that the person travelling is responsible for booking the airline ticket, selecting the hotel stays, and arranging any activities. But this approach can quickly become overwhelming, and that’s where the expertise of a travel advisor comes in.
“Nobody knows travel like a travel advisor does,” Campbell said. “An agent recognizing an opportunity is one thing, but building the travel agent’s customer base is another,” Campbell said. “All of these potential customers may very well have travelled as a family group or as a couple before; when you understand this, you’re unlocking the potential for an incredible repeat rate.”
“We’re finding that a lot of people are booking everything independently, but it’s largely because consumers are saying that they don’t feel as though the travel industry caters to solo travellers,” Roberti added. “They’re not seeing solo travel on websites, they’re not seeing it in the storefront, and I think that’s a big part of why they feel like they’re all on their own.”
Just You currently represents travellers of any age group, though an older demographic is the company’s bread and butter. Eighty per cent of Just You’s business also stems from solo female travellers, though female-only tours aren’t something the company is looking to do just yet.
“There’s definitely a certain proportion of the market that would be interested in female solo travel, but the overriding feedback that we got was that the variety of individuals who show up on a trip, regardless of gender, are part of the overall experience,” Campbell explained. “The commonality is that they’re all solo travellers who are there to share the journey together.”
Travellers also don’t have to be single to fall into the solo travel market—reasons for seeing the world independently with a solo tour operator range anywhere from having different travel tastes from friends and family, to the appeal of not waiting around on other people's vacation schedules, or simply because their partner can't make the journey with them.
Always in style
Some trends come and go.
But solo travel, Campbell and Roberti predict, is here to stay.
“A lot of agents are trying to switch out their business models and find something new, or something niche, so when we constantly share the information we’ve researched and the stats we've collected on solo travel, it gets them excited, because they realize it’s the fastest growing trend,” Roberti said.
Those who have never travelled solo before might find it intimidating, especially because they never really know who they’ll meet until everyone shows up. If your clients are used to actually being totally independent, it could also be nerve-inducing, as they're letting a tour operator take over.
“There’s an awful lot of nervousness for people who haven’t travelled alone before, or travelled solo before,” Campbell said. “With Just You, you travel solo, but never alone, and that’s the key difference.”
To help travel advisors succeed in selling solo travel, Just You recently launched a Solo Specialist Program. Upon completion of the program, travel advisors get access to special perks, like priority seating on a Just You FAM (for 2020, it’s Croatia and Spain), as well as exclusive access to promotional materials and marketing tools to attract potential solo clients.
Helping agents succeed
The company also recently introduced a new back-to-back booking program, which allows travellers to save money by booking back-to-back tours in order to receive a travel discount. This is a great option for travel advisors who might have clients interested in pre-or-post stays.
For 2020, Just You has added 11 new itineraries, with seven new trips featured in the 2020 brochure.
According to Roberti, many of the new tours were restructured to incorporate better gateways for North American travellers, specifically Canadians, as well as add more centrally-located hotels to deduct travel time and encourage a more culturally-immersive experience.
At the end of the day, Campbell encourages agents to refrain from putting clients in boxes.
"Solo travellers can be looking for a whole variety of different products, and it all comes down to the customer variety and requirements,” Campbell said. “These are people who find themselves, either by circumstance or desire, wanting to travel solo. No matter how much a traveller may be independent, one thing is for sure—they love sharing the stories, the journey, and the experience with like-minded people.”
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