Solo senior travel is on the rise. The times – they are a-changing. It is a myth that the stereotyped solo senior traveller is single, unattached and looking for romance. It is often the case that the solo senior traveller is married, in a committed relationship and is travelling without their spouse or partner for a variety of reasons.
The solo senior traveller could be widowed, divorced or an adventurous singleton. Many women, and men, like the idea of having an experience on their own, have no qualms about travelling alone to an unusual destination, are not bothered that their partner is disinterested in a particular destination, or they just can’t bear the idea of a golfing or cooking holiday! No matter what the reason is that a person is travelling solo, the fact is that more and more people are solo travellers and form a significant portion of the leisure travel industry.
The one commonality amongst solo travellers is their beef with single supplements. While many travel brands are sitting up and paying attention to this bugbear, there are equally as many travel companies, hotels, B&Bs who are not. Is it justified that the costs of holidays and single rooms are sharply increased when one travels on one’s own?
You’ve Earned It received an email from a YEI reader, Ann Kempen, who decided to voice her opinion about single supplements. This prompted YEI to research the topic and speak to two of our travel industry advertisers about this. It is clear that this is a widespread industry practice, but equally clear that more and more companies are doing away with single supplements.
Ann Kempen had this to say: “Two of us gals, in a group of four gal – pals of many years’ duration, have birthdays in January. We try to do one or two weekends away a year – but do like to have our own rooms. We are very disappointed that most places, when offering specials, don’t think about the single ladies who want their own rooms. Single supplements are exorbitant. We find that we have to try and find a four-bed cottage or 2 x two-bedroom cottages. It’s not easy, I tell you! How nice it would be if these wonderful places would think of these single, intrepid, over-55 adventurous ladies, who after a fun day together, like their privacy in their own single room with a lovely bathroom. Why do only couples have all the fun!”.
Experts in the industry advise that holidays are generally priced on a per person basis, based on two people sharing a room. It does not seem to be an issue of profiteering or exploiting single travellers. It has everything to do with the calculation of hotel and transport costs. The operating costs of a hotel room – things like the cleaning and servicing of the room, utilities and amenities – are the same no matter how many people occupy a room. If a single traveller pays half for the room, the hotel could be running at a loss.
Danie Jansen van Vuuren of Forest Edge, a nature-lovers’ retreat in Knysna had this to say:
“Single Supplements – albeit frustrating – are really just a case of simple business maths. Forest Edge – Nature Lovers’ Retreat has 5 indigenous forest self-catering cottages and to operate them, we incur certain costs, for example staff wages, cleaning materials, cottage equipment, bond repayments, repairs, linen, electricity, etc. When we price a daily cottage rental rate, we take all our costs and we add a profit margin to get to a rack rate that we charge our guests. We base that on a minimum occupancy of 2 people. For example, if our costs are R850 per night + 20% profit margin, then our rate per cottage per night is R1 020, or R510 per person. However, we would not even be able to recover our cost if rented a cottage out at R510 for one person, thus we charge a 100% “single supplement” for a single occupancy. Having said all of that, Forest Edge has a very soft spot for our mature travellers and we are always open to finding a way to meet our guest’s budget, as far as possible, so don’t let single supplements frustrate you or rob you of your well-deserved break, voice your concern with the establishment and let’s “do a deal”.
Fouriesburg Country Tours specializes in senior citizen travel in South Africa, offering local and international tours. Johann Brits of FCT has a different opinion:
“Our view is simple, we don’t like it. We feel that when you book 20 to 25 rooms at an establishment, you should get at least 4 to 5 rooms for single board at a single rate. The hotels can’t afford to give 20 rooms for singles as it greatly affects their turnover, especially in places like Botswana and Namibia where tourists come through on a conveyor belt. SS are, in fairness, still cheaper than the rate for 2 people in a room, although not by much. Single travellers also affect smaller operators more than ones taking larger groups, as we have bargaining power which the smaller operators don’t have, so we can still drive SS down with the numbers we bring. We therefore strongly feel that there should be an allocation system in place. It would be beneficial for hotels and tour operators to standardize this practice”.
If you are planning a holiday or mini-break, here are some thoughts that might avoid or reduce single supplements:
Negotiate with the hotel or tour operator
Use your negotiating and diplomatic skills. Ask the business concerned if they could consider waiving the single supplement. If they are not fully booked, they might go out of their way to get your business.
Book directly with the business, not through a middle man
Contacting the tour operator or hotel directly may put you in a position to negotiate a single room or place without paying the single supplement, or at the very least, to get the best possible rate of the day.
Find a travel partner
It might be easier said than done, but when you consider that there are many people in the same boat as you, it could be very worthwhile financially. If you have no single friends, consider asking your friends if they have single friends who would be interested in teaming up as a travel companion. If you go this route, probably best to try out a weekend together to see if you are compatible travelling companions.
Travel in the off-season
When business is quiet, you may find that there is more of a willingness to give you a better rate for single occupancy. Some cruise companies and tour operators even highlight the quiet months that are reserved for single travellers.
If you are in a position to book at the last minute, there is a possibility you could clinch yourself a good deal. You might need to pay a single supplement, but you could be the recipient of a good discounted price.
At the other end of the spectrum, you might be able to score a good early-bird special. Worth a thought..
How about sharing?
Not ideal for everyone, but some tour operators will offer to assist you and pair you up with another single traveller of the same sex. You never know – you could land up making a new BFF!
Talk to the operators of specialised singles holidays
You do need to do your homework here as operators price in different ways. Having said that, many operators who specialise in singles holidays do not charge supplements, but offer a single or double room for sole occupancy.
Do you have any tips on avoiding single supplements?
What do you think about paying extra as a solo senior traveller?
Have you found supplement-free cruises or tours?
Have you joined a solo senior traveller’s group?
Would you like to see a space on YEI where you could meet up with people sharing similar interests?
Do share your travel experiences with other YEI readers in the comment section below!