Many solo travellers have been here. You are travelling alone and are obliged to hand over a sizeable single supplement for the privilege of having a room to yourself. Inevitably, this is one of the worst rooms in the place; a poky space not much bigger than a broom cupboard overlooking the rubbish bins in the dank alley alongside the hotel. But you take it on the chin, accepting that this is the unfair price you pay to reap the benefits of solo travel.
Tour operators and hotels justify this extra charge on the grounds that the fixed cost of servicing a room – bed linen, cleaning, utilities, maintenance and so on – is the same, regardless of how many people are occupying it.
However, the tide is turning. According to the annual report of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), almost 15% of people travelled alone in 2018. This number is up a massive three-fold since 2011. The spike in solo bookings is attributed to technology, enabling solo travellers to navigate the world with greater ease and connectivity, and the desire to take time out to explore the world on their own terms.
The travel industry is waking up to the fact that solo travellers are a growing, important and potentially lucrative market and is slowly responding to their needs. More companies are offering appealing single occupancy rates or, better still, dedicated solo group tours or departures where there are no single supplements.
Group tours are an attractive option for many solo travellers. You benefit from a tried and tested itinerary and ready-made travelling companions. If you are nervous about travelling alone, it can be an ideal stepping stone to solo travel water.
So what are group tour operators’ current approaches to the single supplement? This post takes a look at the major players out there, and what their policies are as of October 2018.
Which companies are offering group tours?
There are many companies out there offering global group tours. I have taken a look at how 21 of these cater for the solo traveller and whose itineraries are global … i.e. not restricted to one geographical area.
It is difficult to categorise them as many offer experiences catering to a broad spectrum of budgets and ages. However, broadly speaking, the budget trips are geared toward the younger traveller. Conversely, higher-end offerings are marketed towards the more mature traveller.
Here are the operators I reviewed, ordered roughly from budget to high-end:
Budget to mid-range group tour operators
- Contiki – Group travel for the 18 – 35 year demographic. Group sizes can be up to 52 people.
- Dragoman – Specialises in overland adventures attracting a younger clientele.
- G Adventures – Small group travel. Has dedicated tours for 18-39 year demographic.
- STA Travel – Small group tours aimed squarely at the student and youth market
Mid-range group tour operators
Unless stated otherwise, these operators offer small group tours catering for a broad demographic.
- Imaginative Traveller
- On The Go
- Saga – Catering to those aged 50 and over. Larger group tours.
- Solos – Specialist provider of solo holidays and group tours. Size of groups varies from 15 – 30. Tours stratified by age bands (25-49 years, 50+ years, all ages).
- Voyage Jules Verne (VJV) – Group tours accommodate a maximum of 28 people.
Mid to high-end group tour operators
Both of these companies operate tour groups with larger numbers (up to 52 people)
High-end group tour operators
With the exception of Cox & Kings, group travel with these operators mean that you may be sharing the experience with a larger number of fellow travellers. They attend to attract an older demographic.
How can a group tour operator reduce the cost of solo travel?
There are three main ways that a group tour operator can save you money:
1. By allowing you to share a room
Many tour group operators will pair you up with someone of the same gender. This eliminates the single supplement.
Of course, this option will not suit everyone. Personally, I will not take up this option. For one, I like my own space to retreat to after a busy travelling day. Also, it is too much of a gamble for me. However, I have a friend who always chooses to do this on group tours and rarely experience problems. Conversely, I have another friend for whom this was not a good experience. As the saying goes, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
2. By charging a small single supplement for sole room occupancy
The size of this supplement varies amongst tour operators but often it is relatively modest.
3. By not charging a single supplement for sole occupancy of a hotel room
Yes. That’s right. Some companies have kindly removed the single supplement. However, these are still in the minority and may be available on selected tours and departures only, or be subject to availability.
Let’s now take a look at which of these companies offer these options.
On all trips:
- Dragoman (compulsory)
- G Adventures
- Imaginative Traveller
On most trips
- On The Go
Solos Holidays will offer a discount for those who wish to share a room with a friend on selected holidays.
Group tour operators that charge a single supplement for sole room occupancy
With many of these operators, this supplement is modest. As there is wide variation between operators and within operators, it is tricky to generalise. Typically, the single supplements run at between 20 and 30% of the base cost. But, as I say, there are no hard and fast rules. You will need to interrogate the individual websites.
Picking an example from Exodus Travel, their one-week walking holiday on the Amalfi Coast leaving in April 2019 costs £1279 with a single supplement of £245.
- Cox & Kings
- G Adventures
- Imaginative Traveller (some trips only)
- On The Go
Group tour operators that do not charge a single supplement for sole occupancy
On all tours
On selected tours and/or dates
- Cox & Kings (on dedicated solos itineraries)
- On The Go
- Riviera (on dedicated solos itineraries)
- Saga (on dedicated solos itineraries, subject to availability)
- Trailfinders (on dedicated solos itineraries)
Trafalgar Tours offers a 25-100% discount on their standard single supplements on selected trip departures.
When travelling with A&K, the first four solo places won’t pay any single supplement.
In conclusion …
- One of the key steps in planning a solo travel trip is deciding whether to travel independently or go on an organised group tour
- When selecting a group tour there are a number of factors to consider. Key amongst these are price and group size.
- To keep down your costs you can opt to share a room. All of the budget to mid-range operators offer this option, and with Dragoman this is compulsory.
- Although the vast majority of the high-end operators do not provide this option, they have been more responsive at waiving the single supplement. However, the baseline cost of these group tours is more.
- As the availability of this waiver is limited with some of these companies, it pays to book early.
- Although you can expect high service and accommodation standards with these high-end operators, the group sizes tend to be larger and there is a danger that you will feel like you are being processed through sights.
- Solos Holidays do not charge a single supplement across their range. However, group sizes can be on the large size.
- Saga can have some good solo traveller deals. But bear in mind that their trips are restricted to the over 50’s and group sizes are larger than most.
- It’s worth considering that although the majority of small group tour companies charge a single supplement for sole occupancy, in many cases this is quite modest. Therefore, if your budget won’t stretch to the likes of Cox & Kings, you might want to consider companies like Exodus or Explore where it won’t break the bank to pay a bit extra for a room to yourself. I have travelled with both companies and my preference is Exodus, but there is not much between them.
- Finally, keep an eye out for offers and flash sales. Explore recently ran their annual special offer where those booking a trip by a certain date would not have to pay the single supplement. Sign up to travel companies’ newsletters to be in the know.