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    A little company: Singles enjoy travelling in groups

2006-03-18 07:22

KIEL, Germany: Vacation time the most anticipated part of the year is often a source of annoyance for singles. Couples only have to pick a destination together. Single people have to either scrounge up a travelling partner, or reconcile themselves to flying solo.

Recognizing this problem, trip organizers in Germany, a nation renowned for its well-travelled populace, have responded with specialized tours focusing on smaller groups in the hope that the small group of strangers might form friendships.

There are about 14 million single people in Germany according to the last census of the German Federal Bureau of Statistics. Of that group, almost 70 per cent vacation at least five days a year according to the Kiel-based Research Agency for Vacation and Travel (FUR). That group of 10 million includes 4.4 million men and 5.6 million women.

It is no secret to travel agencies like Wikinger Reisen (Viking Tours) of Hagen that single women take more trips than single men. About 60 per cent of our clients book solo trips. "Of that group, 60 per cent are women," said company director Dagmar Kimmel. The percentage of men rises when trips focus more on sports and athletics.

Kimmel's company focuses on single travellers. Trips within Europe are limited to groups of 18 to 24, while trips abroad usually include eight to 12 people. "Singles get the sense that they're better taken care of in small groups. Plus, they make connections quicker."

According to FUR, single travellers are younger than the average holidaymaker. Twenty per cent of all vacationers are between 14 and 29, but 40 per cent of single travellers are between those ages.

Since these solo travellers are usually younger with leaner budgets, Wikinger Reisen offers special deals, such as cheaper room costs for people willing to split a room with another traveller half a double room, as the deal is called.

"There's a forum on our website that lets people get to know each other before the trip," Kimmel said. Thus, when the island hiking trip or the South African bicycle tour starts, some of the singles are already acquainted.

Solo travellers who are not entirely comfortable with the idea of a stranger for a room-mate have to cough up a little more cash for a single room.

"During high season, more organizers insist on a fee for single rooms than during the off season," said Karl Born, a tourism professor in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The additional fee only goes away if business is bad at the travel destination. Nonetheless, there are always more offers for single rooms.

Travel groups are anything but homogenous. Some people come looking to flirt. Others want more serious relationships and can take trips designed for that purpose. "There are programmes that, for example, offer a lot of nice meals or sporting activities that give people lots of chances to make contact," Born said.

However, there are also "wellness" programmes made up primarily of women who left their partners at home. Older people travelling alone usually want peace and quiet on an educational trip. Younger people have different priorities. "Younger people who travel alone want to experience more."

Munich-based Marco Polo has the more adventuresome 20 to 35 year old set in mind with its special Young Line series of trips. "Of course, part of it is about discovering a new country and people, but afterward you want to take off or just hang out on the beach," said spokesman Franco Ilic. "Thailand and Viet Nam are especially popular right now."

But he noted that is a general trend. Most of his clients are single 80 per cent book half a single room or share a double. But after the trips, reunions are often organized to keep the group in touch.

Big travel agencies do not generally offer special packages for single travellers.

However, the bigger companies offer specific conveniences for people travelling alone with children, such as set children's prices or discount arrangements in kid-friendly hotels that include childcare in their packages.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page10)


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