BOSTON - Kara O'Toole, CEO of Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), the leader in small groups on the road less traveled, reported an increase in the percentage of travelers aged 50 and older who are booking trips as solos, regardless of marital status. Last year, 44% of OAT travelers booked as solo travelers-up from 35% in 2013 and 27% in 2007.
"We're seeing a sea change in the way many boomers and seniors are traveling," said O'Toole. "Married couples no longer feel the need to take every trip with their spouse or partner, and this frees them to explore parts of the world that might interest them, but not necessarily their significant other. At the same time, single travelers are embracing the advantages of group travel, especially when they're not penalized for traveling alone, and have become a critical presence on all of our tours."
In 2014, 44% of OAT's 45,909 travelers, or 20,288 people, booked their trips as solo travelers. In 2013, 35%, or 14,820 of OAT's 40,130 travelers booked as solo, while 27% did in 2007. Eight in 10 solo travelers are women.
"We're not surprised that so many of our solo travelers are women, although we can't entirely explain such a high percentage," said O'Toole. "About two-thirds of our overall travelers are women, so we know they like to travel in small groups, both for the camaraderie that intimate groups foster and the access to local people, cultures and communities that a small group size provides. An aging U.S. population, with a majority of women, clearly has something to do with our having more female solo travelers. We also know that many older Americans have long bucket lists of destinations they wish to see, and that when you take steps to make it easy and affordable for them, there's really no stopping them."
To encourage and serve solos, OAT has created a comprehensive solo-friendly program, which includes: Free Single Supplements on all 44 OAT adventures and hundreds of optional pre-and-post trip extensions; a Free Online Travel Companions program; a Free Matching Roommate service; and a Solo Traveler Challenge. If a solo traveler finds a lower price on a comparable international trip, OAT will match that price, and deduct an additional $500.
In addition, OAT's more than 900 Trip Leaders (guides) are trained to integrate solo travelers from the start of their adventure. For example, Trip Leaders ensure that solo travelers have someone to share meals with, especially during the first few days of a trip, and that they have people to explore with (if they choose) during their free time. A few days before a trip begins, Trip Leaders personally contact every traveler (by phone or e-mail) to welcome them and answer any last-minute questions.
According to the AARP, this year, the 50+ population will make up 45% of the U.S. population, while the Population Reference Bureau reported 76.4 million Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) in the U.S. [April 2013]. The Administration on Aging's 2013 Profile on Aging reported that Americans 65 and older, known as the "older U.S. population", numbered 43.1 million in 2012, an increase of 7.6 million or 21% since 2002. Older women (24.3 million) outnumbered older men (18.8 million), who were much more likely to be married than older women-71% of men vs. 45% of women, including 36% widows in 2013. According to the Travel Industry Association, an estimated 32 million single American women traveled at least once in the last year, and about three in 10 traveled five or more times.
Photo caption: A solo traveler with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) shares a dance in Birethanti, Nepal. Today, 44 per cent of OAT travelers book solo, despite marital status, up from 35% in 2013. Eight in 10 solo travelers are women. (PRNewsFoto/Overseas Adventure Travel).