Savannah Freemantle recently addressed the potential solo traveller boom in Africa, but as someone who is deeply involved in the Namibian Tourism Industry, I have to point out that in Namibia there is still room for improvement before we can say we have fully embraced this trend.
Solo travellers certainly show interest in coming to Namibia, but at this time, the Namibian Hospitality and Tourism industry doesn't actually cater for them in an attractive way. In fact, they are being penalised as solo travellers, and solo travellers with children are often penalised twice by the industry.
The first penalty is usually in the form of a single supplement. This charge is to compensate the lodge or guesthouse for losses incurred because only one person is using the room. Most Namibian packages are put together with the assumption that at least two people will make use of the offering simultaneously. Rates are usually calculated as per person, per night sharing.
The second penalty applies to solo travellers with kids. Keeping the per person, per night sharing pricing model in mind, many Namibian accommodation providers require solo travellers to pay a single supplement for themselves in addition to an unattractive children’s rate. Often only three-year-olds and under stay free and four- to six-year-olds are given 50% off the per person per night sharing rate.
Now consider the main source market for Namibian tourism, which is predominantly the German-speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland followed by Benelux, the United Kingdom, etc. According to the European Statistics Agency, 54% of these travellers are from single households and 26% are single households with children.
This is a huge market that we as the Namibian tourism industry don't correctly address, even though there is a huge opportunity to attract a completely new clientele.
It is important to note, however, that this (often young) clientele are not making use of the traditional retail travel agencies, but rather look for a digital experience. In 2012, Google published the five stages of travel. It describes the traveller’s mental model, starting with dreaming, followed by planning, booking and then experiencing and sharing (creating content for others to start dreaming). If they can't find what they need in the digital space, you, and we as a destination, already lost their business.
I have personally been addressing solo travellers’ penalties in the Namibian tourism industry since 2010. As the General Marketing & IT Manager at OL & Leisure (Mokuti Etosha Lodge, Midgard Country Estate, Strand Hotel Swakopmund, Chobe Water Villas), I helped establish a very successful ‘single with children’ policy. To solve the single supplement problem, we waived the single supplement for solo travellers with a child. We further changed the child policy to allow children up to five years old, sharing, to stay free of charge and six- to 15-year-olds sharing to pay only 50% of the rack rate.
Internationally, the rise in solo travellers has caused tour operators and resorts to work to meet the growth. While some hotels and cruise lines have introduced industry-first ‘studio staterooms’, certain tour operators offer “reduced or waived single supplements, single staterooms or shared accommodations that team up like-minded travellers,” said Terry Dale, CEO of the US Tour Operators Association. After all, keep in mind that the internationally acclaimed Contiki Tours started as an initiative for solo travellers.
Addressing this market, much like any other market, starts with research. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that solo means single. Based on research done in the US, as much as 40% of solo travellers embarked on a specific tour because their partner didn’t share their interest, or scheduling conflicts prevented their partner from accompanying them. 25% of these travellers did so to pursue something like wildlife photography or archaeology. These days, travellers find it quite exciting to travel on their own. With a group, such as a tour group, they have the extra advantage of travelling on their own, but never being alone.
Combine knowledge and understanding of the market and, more importantly your customers and what they need, with a solution to solo travellers’ single supplement problems and you already have a winning formula for pleasing them. Your only challenge after that is targeting them and you already have a competitive advantage if you have a strong online presence and superior marketing strategy. This can especially be helpful in the low season.