Traveling alone is becoming increasingly popular, particularly among the young. More people are opting for the freedom to trot off on a journey whenever they feel like it. Hotels and inns are taking steps to better accommodate the needs of solo travelers.
An annual survey conducted by Recruit Lifestyle Co. revealed that solo travel comprised 15.9 per cent of all travel in fiscal 2014, the 10th year of growth since fiscal 2004, when such travel comprised 10.5 per cent.
Solo travelers came second only to couples in making travel arrangements. Couples traveling together topped the list at 24.5 per cent, while other travelers included two or more friends (13.9 per cent), families including primary school or younger children (11.9 per cent), and workplace organisations or other groups (3.8 per cent).
According to the fiscal 2014 survey, 26.9 per cent of travel by men in the 20- to 34-year-old range is done solo, while women in that age group traveling alone came to 12.6 per cent. Both figures represented an increase from the previous fiscal year, indicating a growing preference for independent travel.
Tsuguhiko Sawanobori, head of creative development at Recruit Lifestyle, said: "The idea of young people deepening their bonds with others while traveling is becoming weaker. They tend to repeatedly change their schedules and freely do their own thing at their own pace. They treasure the ideas and discoveries they pick up during their travels."
People travel alone for many reasons, including taking part in music events, cycling along the coast or touring vineyards. Some simply head off to commune with nature or visit a hot spring resort, with no plans other than to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
A number of online accommodation booking sites run features aimed at solo travelers, who often book accommodations and tickets online when they suddenly are able to take days off.
Nooks and freebies
Hotels and inns are increasingly catering to shifts in the market by offering single-occupancy rooms and solo traveler deals. Lone travelers tend to be charged more per head than travelers booked as a group.
However, some solo-friendly accommodations choose not to charge extra, with some even catering to solitary guests by installing reading nooks stocked with manga and magazines for their reading pleasure.
At Hoshinoya Karuizawa in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, solo travelers make up about 10 per cent of guests. "Guests in our reading space can enjoy free Japanese confectionery, tea, sparkling wine and other refreshments around the clock. We even offer room service late at night and before dawn. Solo travelers will not be disappointed," general manager Ryosuke Akahane said.
Not all hotels and inns welcome solo travelers. Many traditional ryokan inns tend to prepare rooms and facilities with group travelers in mind.
Takao Ikado of travel website All About said, "On busy weekends, depending on how the ryokan was constructed, there still is a tendency to put priority on groups of two or more for the sake of efficiency."
Weekdays, when there are generally more spare rooms, are the best bet for anyone flying solo.