Opinion: Here’s why hotels need to cater to the solo traveller market

Klaus Kinateder

The St Giles hotel group is tapping into the powerful solo-traveller market, and Sydney’s Tank Stream Hotel GM, Klaus Kinateder, says that the extra investment in offering dedicated services for solo travellers is already paying dividends.

Arguably, Australians are the most intrepid solo travellers. We don’t think twice about jumping onto a plane, travelling half-way around the world and letting things happen. Possibly because we are so far away from anything, travelling solo is almost second nature to us.

But that’s not the case for many overseas travellers, especially those who aren’t all that aware of Australia and who might believe that even travelling to a big city like Sydney requires a Steve Irwin-like constitution to survive.

That’s why I thought the St Giles Go Solo program was such a ‘natural’ for the Tank Stream’s guests, and it has proven a great success.

If we take out business travellers, who usually travel solo, my front office team has identified a 17 per cent increase in solo leisure travellers in the year to the end of September compared to the previous year.

Many were specifically attracted by the Go Solo package, while others had heard or read about the Tank Stream’s affinity with solo travellers.

The Go Solo initiative was the brainchild of St Giles’ head of hotels in Europe, UK & USA, Abigail Tan-Giroud, who identified in the cities where St Giles operates – such as London, New York and Kuala Lumpur – few hotels really catered for the solo traveller market.

Her research suggested it was a potential double-digit growth market:

“Our primary target market is the ‘wanderluster’ who is dreaming of visiting and exploring a city like London, New York or Sydney, but is a little apprehensive about whether they will feel comfortable and secure,” she said.

She believed it was as much about acknowledgement and understanding of solo travellers, as it was about facilities. So the Go Solo package was aimed largely at providing a personalised service, along with a dedicated microsite on the St Giles website aimed at highlighting solo-friendly activities, dining and tips for each city.

One of the most popular aspects of Go Solo program has been the Solo Concierge Service, which provides a dedicated concierge, who contacts the guest prior to arrival and who becomes their main point of contact from booking through to farewell.

From simple suggestions such as the best way to get from the airport to the hotel, through to organising tours and activities that suit their preferences, the concierge creates a tailored welcome pack.

For one recent solo traveller, Sonia Milano, from Montreal, our concierge Fatih Atilgan had to design a tour plan that allowed her to see as much of Sydney in just four days, including the Blue Mountains.

She wanted to avoid the ubiquitous long large bus tour to the Blue Mountains, so instead Fatih organised that the trip encompassed a ferry trip down Parramatta River to see a picturesque slice of Sydney that few visitors see.

Like many other tourists she wanted to see Bondi, but Fatih talked her out of an organised tour and recommended the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, providing easy to follow transport details. Fatih did offer to organise a Learn to Surf class, but she opted to keep her feet on solid ground.

Because she was fascinated by the history of Sydney, Fatih was able to provide the hotel’s self-guided Tank Stream walking tour map that traced the evolution of the city from the First Fleet and gave her a narrative of the city that went beyond the usual tourist attractions.

While four days is a short time to take in a big city, Sonia – a passionate solo traveller – left Sydney feeling that she had really captured the essence of the city. She wrote in a blog:

“When I venture out in the world, I like to mingle with the locals to learn cultural differences, perhaps know about the best coffee house or learn a piece of history only the locals know. It makes my stay a unique experience.

“Tank Stream Hotel clearly understands this is a new trend in the travel industry, finally someone is listening to us. This attention is why the service is so personal, it is not the standard hotel “hello how may I help you  Mrs. MIlano?” but a  warm invitation to a safe and welcoming place I felt was my home. It seemed all the staff were looking out for me and this as a solo traveller is uniquely special, unlike any other hotels I have been to.”

Hotels should never under-estimate the power of an appropriate ‘welcome’. This has been the feedback we get constantly from solo travellers. They’re arriving in a city they don’t know, and given that Sydney is currently undergoing such a frenetic development phase, it can be fairly difficult to get your bearings.

Having a friendly face who becomes their contact during the stay can be invaluable.

With the new wave of hotels opening across Australia, designers need to understand that there will be increasing demand from solo travellers.

This should shape the way they design rooms, restaurants and public areas, remembering that not every leisure guest is travelling as a couple or in a group.

But most of all, I think hotels need to think about the service concept. Every traveller is different. Some are very self-sufficient travellers, but others might need a more supportive approach to make them feel comfortable and confident, even in a relatively easy-going city such as Sydney.

Yes, it is possibly more time consuming, but you will find these guests generally stay longer and spend more – plus they become great ambassadors for your hotel and brand.