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Business in Vancouver

New app to make for less Lonely Planet

Canadian exec seeks to group growing number of solo travellers for guided excursions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 4:28pm

By Bob Mackin

Claire Newell is emphatic that her new travel app is not a matchmaking tool. However, it is intended to help like-minded people in similar age brackets solve the solo traveller quandary.

The Travel Best Bets president and media personality’s new Go Solo app targets those with no travel buddy who are seeking a guided-group destination experience, but don’t want to be dinged for the single supplement fees.

“It’s not a go-dating thing. It’s people like me who are in their 40s,” Newell said. “I want to go to India - my husband doesn’t want to go, but I want to go with people who are my age. They like the same music, they have the same energy level. It’s not going to always be the case, but at least they’re in the same decade.”

Newell said she came up with the idea after her accountant, a woman in her 30s, was visiting her office and talking about her desire to get away after a decade-long relationship ended. Her accountant lamented she had no one to travel with, but none of the major tour companies catered to her age group. She didn’t want to travel on a Contiki or Bust Loose package, but was too young for an escorted coach tour with the 55-plus set.

“There is this whole [age] group in the middle. There’s not really a tour company for them. I’m not talking about going to Hawaii or Mexico, [but] places that are much, much further afield,” Newell said. “[Places that] people are a little bit nervous about going to by themselves; places where people want to go with guides.”

Solo travel is big business. The 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, by market researcher Kantar Millward Brown, said one in five travellers has gone solo for their most recent leisure travel trip. Solo travellers, including the “wander woman” sub-category, tend to focus on a single destination and be active in volunteering, trekking and attending sporting events. Almost half are professionals and executives. Solo travel is on the rise among affluent and first-time travellers.

“Personal guided tours are also increasingly popular among solo travellers,” said the report. “The number of solo travellers that seek this type of travel arrangement has increased almost threefold compared to 2013.”

Newell said it took less than three months from concept to product launch. It is designed to be simple enough for a child or senior to use and is branded as an extension of her Travel Best Bets agency.

“If I didn’t have the product, I wouldn’t have gone to market with the app itself. I wanted people to know that there is a company behind it [that] has been booking travel successfully for a long time.”

Users must pick the city they’re from. The tours are land only - the air portion is added later. Trips are priced in Canadian and US dollars and tour providers are from the US, Canada and Australia. The first available tours start in April, which gives ample lead time to sell before Christmas.

Newell opened Jubilee Travel in 1992 and has Travel Best Bets locations in Burnaby and Vancouver. She has been a regular guest on Global BC for more than two decades and has her own line of luggage and travel accessories.

“Who knew that a girl who started a travel business would end up in this kind of space building an app that helps people [travel]?” she said. “But I think there is a need. We feel it has the potential to go much bigger.”