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Will 2024 be the year of the solo cruiser?

Behind the Headlines master image, solo

With lines increasing the number of dedicated cabins for solo travellers while slashing single supplements, could 2024 be the year of the lone cruiser? Will Payne reports

While the thought of cruising alone may be alien to some, stats show that an increasing number of travellers are embarking on solitary voyages, either to take advantage of some much needed ‘me time’ or to foster new relationships with like-minded travellers.

According to research from cruise.co.uk, more individual travellers are opting for a sea escape. A survey of 800 people found that more than 70% would choose a cruise over a land-based break for a solo adventure.

These findings have been bolstered by the fact that lines are beginning to enhance their offering for unaccompanied travellers.

Cruise Trade News recently reported that Cruise Croatia has added single occupancy cabins on every departure this year, while Riviera Travel will offer 15 dedicated solo departures from March to November and Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced more than 1,000 solo staterooms.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, meanwhile, is offering a 100% single supplement for solos across 17 sailings departing until July.

Cruising becoming ‘increasingly popular’ for individual travellers

Tony Andrews, managing director of cruise.co.uk, said cruising is becoming an increasingly popular option for solo travellers, “offering a convenient and safe way” to explore the world.

“Cruises provide so much onboard through their entertainment, spa facilities and restaurant choices,” he added.

“When combined with the ability to see multiple destinations, in the safety and comfort of a cruise ship, it’s clear why a holiday at sea is the preferred choice for individual travel.”

Andrews was echoed by Alison Earnshaw, managing director of World Travel Holdings, who reported “great growth” in solo business across the firm’s brands, which includes Cruise118 and Six Star Cruises.

“We are seeing great growth in solo travellers across all our brands which is not a surprise when you consider how sociable and inclusive cruise is with group dining, excursions and even special events and meetings for solo travellers, it’s a great way to travel on your own but not feel alone,” she said.

However, Earnshaw admitted pricing “can be a barrier” to solo cruisers when lines fail to offer reductions for individual passengers.

“Whenever cruise lines have special, reduced or nil single supplements, it is a hugely popular message and drives increased interest and bookings from these customers,” she continued.

“It’s something we’d like to see more of as we know [solo travellers] are an increasingly large sector of the market and something that cruise is uniquely positioned to deliver outstanding customer experiences for.”

‘Pricing still a problem’ for individual travellers

Robert O’Grady, founder of Wirral-based cruise agency The Cruise Room, shared a similar sentiment, declaring solo pricing “always has been, and remains” a problem.

“The problem for solo cruisers is the price point,” he admitted. “There are decent prices out there from some lines, but overall, it remains restricted.” O’Grady said the firm had seen a “steady flow” of solo cruise customers, but nothing “out of the ordinary”.

“To put people’s minds at ease when selling a solo cruise, we always remind them they are in a safe space,” he continued.

“If they want to meet friends they can, but if not, they don’t have to. But nearly every solo cruiser we send away will come back telling us stories about the people they met, and then book again.”

Meanwhile, Shona Thorne, managing director of Scotland’s Thorne Travel, has seen an uptick in customers looking to take a holiday-at-sea on their own.

“We are having a lot more enquiries for it,” she said, claiming some lines are better than others when it comes to costs. Despite the issues surrounding pricing, Thorne believes the solo cruise trend will continue to grow throughout the year.

“Customers who have lost their partners are now travelling for the first time on their own, and cruise is the perfect option as it is safe and there are plenty of chances to meet like-minded people,” she explained.

‘Still room for growth’ despite rise in solo business

Elsewhere, Janet Whittingham, head of cruise at Travel Counsellors, said although the homeworking agency continues to work closely with operators to support solo travellers, there remains room for growth in the market.

“We’re supporting many of our cruise partners to surface their latest solo offerings, whether that’s a ship dedicated to singles, or adding further solo staterooms,” she said.

“What’s more, many of our customers really appreciate the fact their [agent] is only ever a phone call away throughout their trip, which we find is especially comforting for our solo travellers too.”

According to CLIA, 10% of UK & Ireland cruise passengers sailed on a individual basis in 2022. “I think there’s a growing awareness that cruise is a great holiday option for people who choose to travel solo,” said CLIA UK managing director Andy Harmer.

“As these ships are being built and launched with additional capacity for specific solo travellers, it indicates cruise lines are optimistic they’re attracting more single travellers.”

The makeup of cruise guests has shifted in recent years, with CLIA reporting an uptick in multi-generational cruise bookings. Harmer believes solo cruisers could soon be the industry’s most emergent demographic.

“Cruise offers solo travellers great value for money and it is one of the most inclusive types of holiday,” he added.

Identify customers who would be open to a solo getaway, Harmer advises

He advised agents to identify solo travellers in their databases who traditionally opt for a land-based holiday, and wax lyrical about cruise’s safety and value-for-money propositions to convince them to try an independent trip at sea for the first time.

“[Cruise] is a naturally sociable place if people want that, but I also think cruise ships are built in such an amazing way that if people want that solitude, they can,” Harmer said.

Hayley Moore, UK and Europe sales director for Princess Cruises, said the brand can “play strongly” in the solo cruising market with its accommodation options. The line’s latest vessel, Sun Princess, will have four solo cabins when it launches – a first for Princess.

Augustus Lonsdale, head of sales UK for Windstar Cruises, said solo cruising is “really important” to the small-ship operator, but admitted that as these kinds of fares increase, it’s becoming harder for guests to travel alone without paying high single supplements.

“We’ve dedicated a range of sailings with less than 50% supplements across our cruises, including a number with 0% single supplement,” he added.

Lonsdale explained how the line organises special diners for solo guests so they can meet like-minded travellers. “For our winter in the Mediterranean season, both for late sailings and the new season next year, we’ve seen a very positive reaction to the 0% solo supplements particularly, as it’s something they are not accustomed to seeing with a luxury cruise line,” he added.

While some cruisers will inevitably be put off by the higher prices associated with individual travel, consumers’ appetites for taking to the high seas independently continues to grow.

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