The Solo Travel Awards were announced in April, nominations closed August 1st and then the judging process began.
The Awards are designed to acknowledge companies that are effectively serving solo travelers. The results not only uncover the marketplace trendsetters, they’ve uncovered gaps in some travel segments, including the ocean cruise industry which is failing solo travelers so badly there were no nominees. The river cruise category is also struggling. Three of the five Awards judges chose not to recognize the river cruise nominees as delivering what solo travelers need.
Thank you to Our Sponsor
Jumping in and sponsoring a program in its first year takes foresight and, in this case, an enthusiasm for travel and belief in solo travel. World Nomads has all three. Yes, they are a different kind of insurance company.
We approached World Nomads because they serve solo travelers well. Our analysis of costs and benefits of their insurance offering shows them to be the best value in many situations. You can read my analysis here: Going Alone? Travel Insurance is a Must.
Thank You to Our Judges
We are very proud to have had the support of some very distinguished travel experts who stepped up to act as judges for the Awards showing how important they think the solo travel market is.
Andrew McCarthy is a director, an award-winning travel writer, and—of course—an actor. He made his professional début at 19 in Class and has appeared in dozens of films, including such iconic movies as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Than Zero, and cult favorites Weekend At Bernie’s and Mannequin. He is an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Travel+Leisure, AFAR, Men’s Journal, Bon Appetit, and many others. He has received six Lowell Thomas awards, and been named Travel Journalist of the Year by The Society of American Travel Writers. Read more.
Tracey Nesbitt is the Editor of Solo Traveler, the leading solo travel website, and a writer with a passion for discovering destinations through food and wine. An ardent solo traveler, she loves to write about her discoveries (and sometimes, misadventures) as she explores the world. As Moderator of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook, Tracey facilitates the sharing of tips, advice, and encouragement among the 225,000 community members and has developed a keen understanding of the wants and needs of those who choose to travel alone. Read more.
The Solo Travel Awards Selection Criteria
The selection criteria for the awards included:
- How well companies cater to solo travelers in terms of whether they apply a single supplement and how much is charged.
- Whether prices are published based on double occupancy.
- Whether solo spaces are limited and if so, how many are allocated for solo travelers.
- Whether there are special services for solo travelers before or during trips.
A shortlist of prospective winners was presented to the judges who were free to apply their knowledge of the travel industry when selecting the winner.
The Winners of the First Annual Solo Travel Awards
In two categories there was a tie so we have declared both companies as winners. This is consistent with our goal of recognizing companies that treat solo travelers well.
Tours – Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel is the world’s largest small group (and fully carbon-offset!) adventure travel company. They take over 150,000 travelers on 1,000 itineraries across all 7 continents. Intrepid tours average 10 travelers in each tour and are run by 1,100 local leaders. While all of these tours are single-supplement-free and perfectly suited for solo travelers, in 2017 they unveiled a brand new theme: Solo-only. The Solo-Only tours are the ultimate celebration of solo travel. After a successful pilot in 2016, Intrepid is launching their first solo-only tour range with 6 brand new tours. After seeing 40% growth in solo travel over the past 5 years, and 24% growth so far in 2017, a dedicated tour range was the natural next step in their commitment to the solo-traveler.
Tours – Overseas Adventure Travel
Overseas Adventure Travel offers small group, immersive adventures for travelers aged 50 and older. With its small-scale travel philosophy, OAT limits groups to 10-16 travelers on land and 14-25 by ship (up to 4 groups). On every trip, their travelers engage with local people in schools, farms, homes, and places where locals gather. OAT travelers are curious people (1/3 were/are teachers or educators) and interested in rolling up their sleeves and experiencing what life is like in destinations worldwide. They currently offer 65 small group adventures by land and small ship—up from 35 offerings in 2014. There is no single supplement on 25% of the spaces on their land adventures and hundreds of pre-and-post trip optional extensions. Free or low-cost single supplements are also available on their Small Ship cruises.
Specialty Tours – Encounter Travel
Encounter Travel was founded on a simple idea; that solo travelers could join travel groups with like-minded travelers without being on the fringe of groups made up of couples. Back in 2006, they stepped in to fill the void for solo travelers, launching a travel company dedicated exclusively to solo travelers. They offer tours, cruises, resorts packages and walking tours. Their travel offer includes age-matched groups primarily serving solo travelers 45 years and over but they also have offerings (albeit fewer) for the age group under 45 years. Also, there more recent addition, ‘solos mix’ offers an open age range for all solo travelers.
Packaged Trips – Mistral Singles
A family-owned hotel on the Greek island of Crete that specializes exclusively in sociable holidays for single and independent travelers. Their safe and relaxed environment provides the opportunity for like-minded people to visit their beautiful island, meet new people and make new friends. Their business has been operating successfully in this market for over 22 years now. They serve primarily the British market as well as the American and Canadian but they do also attract guests from all over the world.
Packaged Trips – Transat
The Transat Solo Collection offers resort holidays in the Caribbean with no single supplement. At most resorts, you’ll also enjoy communal tables for sharing meals, free room service and free WiFi. The Solo Collection was designed by experts to provide holiday experiences that are perfectly tailored to vacationers’ needs. This collection has been enhanced in the last two years, featuring more hotels and more destinations. Solo travelers now have a choice among 38 resorts, 16 destinations, and 11 countries. Based in Montreal, the company has 5,000 employees. Transat is firmly committed to sustainable tourism development, as reflected in its multiple corporate responsibility initiatives over the past 10 years, and was awarded Travelife Partner status in 2016.
Travel Companies that Made the Short-List
Naturally, there were a number of companies that were short-listed for the Solo Travel Awards and we certainly want to give them some recognition as well. The judges were given a short-list of five to consider. The four runners-up are, in no particular order:
- Flavors Holidays
- Lelobu Safaris
- Cobblestones & Pomegranates / Her Dream Vacation
- Part-time Wanderlust
The Cruise Industry Needs More Focus on Solo Travelers
The cruise industry continues to be a challenge for solo travelers and we would welcome input from those in the know as to how the industry does or could do better to serve those who choose to travel alone.
No companies stepped up and entered the awards for the ocean cruise category. Despite the fact that there are now multiple ships on the seas with single cabins, the cruise industry as a whole is not sufficiently focused on the solo market. Much can be done beyond the solo cabins.
In the river cruise category judges had two main complaints: it was difficult, and in some cases impossible, to find information for solo travelers without calling the company: and, when a deal was offered waiving the single supplement it was found that couples were receiving a two-for-one deal. Halving the cost of a couple and waiving the single supplement for solos results in the same price imbalance.
Our Thanks to All Who Participated
Launching the Solo Travel Awards was an exciting but also challenging endeavor for our small team here at Solo Traveler. We’re absolutely thrilled with the results, with World Nomads for supporting us, with the judges for lending their knowledge, expertise and time to determine the winners and to all who entered the awards. We already have plans to expand and refine the Awards for 2018. It is our hope that this healthy competition will result in more and better options for solo travelers.