When things like Internet dating, once seen as the desperate act of desperate people, becomes the new norm -- with studies finding that these folks are actually exceptionally social with high levels of self-esteem -- you know there's a movement underfoot. In fact, in 2010 online dating was the fastest-growing e-commerce industry trailing only pornography (alright, some things may never change).
Just as significantly, only half of Americans now recognize marriage and childbearing as required milestones of adulthood. And while views on marriage have evolved over time, the one constant has been a high divorce rate, with almost half of all first marriages now ending in divorce (67% of second and 74% of third marriages!)
Bottom line, we're living in a world filled with singles. And they feel pretty good about it.
Being single is increasingly a legitimate lifestyle choice, not an unfortunate circumstance. And it's occurring at virtually every life stage.
Perhaps most importantly, singles represent $2.2 trillion of annual buying power in the U.S. And the trend has translated to travel. Some 25% of all Americans who travel domestically or abroad do so alone and the 25 million singles age 42 or older spent over $28 billion on travel in 2008.
Women age 42 or older are twice as likely as men to vacation on their own. And more than 80% of Match.com users listed travel as one of their interests.
Astute marketers are now beginning to take advantage of these trends, even as far away as India where travel agents are starting to capitalize on rising divorce rates in their own country by embracing "Divorce Tourism" and creating packages where troubled marriages attempt to work through the issues while on vacation. Perhaps separation and divorce "Healing" (or "Celebration" in some cases) packages aren't far behind.
Realizing that while 20% of Americans have now taken a cruise but only 5% of singles have, Norwegian Cruise Line has so far been one of the few major travel brands to step up and develop a product designed to appeal directly to this burgeoning audience. With the launch of its ship Epic in 2010, NCL created 128 "studio" suites designed primarily to accommodate the single traveler. Along with dropping the dreaded "single supplement," they've created a private Studios Lounge area that serves like a ship within a ship to cater to this audience.
Adventure travel seems to be another area with a distinct appeal for the single traveler. Part of it is the reality that not everyone is surrounded with friends who share the same zest for adventure, and the other is the simple fact that traveling with a guide and a group of like-minded individuals for a once-in-a-lifetime trip often creates its own sense of community and camaraderie. Abercrombie & Kent has designed its "Extreme" adventures to be solo traveler-friendly (including a reduced single supplement of just 15%) and it finds that one in four of its participants are traveling on their own.
Despite these few examples, it seems that travel as a whole has been slow to recognize and embrace the potential of this market. In many ways, the industry's continued use of single supplements and pricing rooms and packages as per person/double occupancy serves to almost discourage this audience.
As travel brands look for ways to attract consumers and become increasingly connected to key market segments -- through social media and other channels -- the numbers alone would seem to call for an increased effort to explore the single market. No doubt the expanding audience of older, later-in-life singles who possess considerable affluence and have the ability to splurge and indulge in things for themselves is ripe for a well-crafted approach. And surely there must be a way to successfully market to the growing number of single parents who consider their situation not a burden, but a positive choice.
As you begin to consider your own approach to reach out to this audience, it's important to avoid anything in your marketing messaging that tries to play to anxieties about finding a partner.
For the single market is all about a conscious and positive choice.
Just as embracing this market might potentially be for your business.