Ship comes in for solo travelers, industry says

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - If you’re fancy free and love to wander, the price might finally be right to travel solo.

The cruise ship from Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Musica dwarfs Via Garibald as it arrives in Venice May 4, 2009. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Instead of punishing travelers who prefer to go alone with hefty surcharges, the travel industry is starting to woo them with deals that tickle their wanderlust without ravaging their wallets.

“The tour industry is making way for the single traveler,” said Margie Jordan, spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Agents. “This is nothing that’s going to go away. The single traveler is going to have as many opportunities as anyone else.”

For years most travel deals were based on two people traveling together.

“Single travelers would see a price on line and we’ve had to break the news that if you’re going by yourself, it’s 150 to 200 percent more,” said Jordan, CEO of ASAP Travel. “They were left high and dry.”

But times are changing and Jordan said cruise lines in particular are stepping up. MSC Cruises is currently offering trips that waive the dreaded single supplement, which accounts for the price hike.

“And Norwegian Cruise Line is introducing ‘Studio’ staterooms built and priced solely for the single traveler,” she added. “It is actually something new in the cruise industry.”

Maria Miller, of Norwegian Cruise Line, said the 4,200-passenger Epic that is due to launch in July, is equipped with 128 studio staterooms designed specifically to give the solo traveler a room of one’s own.

“This is a great opportunity for us to go after the solo traveler market,” she explained. “We’ve tapped into an unmet need.”

With research showing 35 million adults take solo vacations but only five percent opt for cruises, Miller said the potential is huge.

“There’s a sizable market out there, but discontent around the single surcharge,” she explained.

So, solo prices on the Epic will not include a single surcharge.

“And we’re talking solo, not singles,” Miller said, distinguishing solo travelers from the meet-and-mate crowd.

“There certainly is a place for singles cruises, but that’s not what we’re trying here. The solo traveler is independent. They’re not looking for us to create an experience for them.”

Kate Moeller, of Club Med North America, knows a thing or two about changing demographics.

“We used to be really a singles destination, but then we became more family oriented,” she said.

Moeller said Club Med’s Solo Savings program waives the single supplement to accommodate the solo traveler at certain resorts.

“We have these deals in specific theme weeks in specific resorts,” she said. “Recently, we had a Zumba week, food blogger week, food and a wine week.”

Jordan said the cruise industry is likewise sensitive to change.

“Everybody is looking for the newest, most innovative thing. We’ve seen really creative things with cruise ships: bowling, surfing. Now we’re looking for who else we can bring in.”

She added that other cruise lines are waiting on the success of Norwegian’s solo experiment.

“Now when refurbishing in dry dock, they add balcony state rooms. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw Carnival or Royal Caribbean follow suit by introducing studio cabins,” she predicted.

“My guess is that eventually the others will jump on board.”