TORONTO – This week marks the official Canadian launch of Just You, a U.K.-based tour operator specializing in vacations for independent globetrotters, without charging a single supplement. Represented in Canada by Discover the World, the company hosted media, industry professionals and travel agents at a reception in Toronto, with special guest Colin Wilson, Group Sales Director, All Leisure Holidays.
With Canada being Just You’s first venture outside of the U.K., Travelweek sat down with Wilson to ask him about the importance of the Canadian market, what tours to expect for 2016, and how the company is blazing trails in the marketplace.
Tell us a little about Just You.
Just You was born 10 years ago because we have a sister brand in the U.K. called Travel Sphere Holidays, which operates guided escorted holidays. We noticed 10 years ago that there was a disproportionate amount of people who went on escorted tours who were single. We asked them what appealed to them about an escorted holiday and the downsides of travelling as a single traveller amongst couples. We spoke, we listened, we learned and we created Just You.
Ten years down the line, we’ve carried 150,000 people. We are, without doubt, the market leader in a rapidly expanding sector of the market. The U.K. singles population is growing exponentially, there are more single travellers than ever before due to an aging, fitter population. You’ve got more people who are divorced, and more who’ve chosen to stay single.
One of the things we genuinely think we are is liberating because a lot of customers tell us if it wasn’t for Just You, they wouldn’t go at all.
Who is your main demographic?
The average age of our customers is 58, with 70% being female. We do actually get a broad age range, from people in their 30s all the way to their 80s. It depends on the itinerary – for places like Namibia, Peru or Uzbekistan, you’ll get a younger demographic. And interesting to know, 20% of our customers are actually married; people are finding now that it’s okay for married couples to do different things.
Why Canada? Why now?
We’ve been in business for 10 years, we are successful, but we want to grow the business. We distribute our other product through Canada as well; we have cruise brands which Discover the World sells for us. So we know we’ve got great distribution in Canada, we know we have a great team supporting us here. We wanted to see if we could make this work in other English-speaking countries because they’re all U.K. guests.
We asked the experts here and everyone said three things: One, Canadians love to travel on escorted tours. Secondly, there is nobody else doing this in the marketplace. And thirdly, there’s just a great affinity between Canadians and the Brits – culturally, we get on very well.
If this proves successful, and I’ve got absolutely no doubt that it will, then we will look to introduce it to other English-speaking countries as well.
What can singles expect while on a Just You tour?
We’ve learned over the years that people buy a Just You holiday for the sociability and security of travelling as part of a group, particularly to destinations that perhaps they would have never considered doing on their own.
We really understand that people want their own time and space. Everybody has their own room, they do not pay a single room supplement. These are twin or double rooms for sole occupancy or, in the case of river cruises, they are cabins for sole occupancy. The hotels vary, they can be small or large, three- or four-star, all chosen carefully for their location – they’ve got to be safe and secure.
One thing we’re not is a dating agency. That’s not to say that people don’t meet people – in fact, we’ve just had our very first Just You wedding. But it’s absolutely not a dating agency and we’ve made that clear.
What’s included on a Just You tour?
The most frequently asked question we get is, “Do I have to eat alone or do I dine with others?” When you’re a single traveller, I think people are quite happy during the day to do their own thing, but evening is different. You don’t want to sit at a restaurant at night on your own, so we include an awful lot of evening meals so people can share their experiences. So you get that camaraderie, but you also get time and space to do your own thing. And even though there are a number of included excursions, we also build in a significant amount of free time because we’ve learned that people want that balance.
We’ve also included the transfer from the overseas hotel to the airport. Customers will have a choice – they can either meet the U.K. group at the overseas airport, or if they want to go a day or two before, we’ll still organize the private transfer to the hotel for them.
With such a specific market – that being single travellers – are you worried at all about having a limited client base?
No, because these customers would be topping up tours that are already sold in the U.K. So this is all incremental business for us. It’s not as if we’ve come here to start this from nothing. If we’ve got a wonderful tour of India with 28 people on it, and we get three or four Canadians on top, that’s incremental.
The key thing about this product in the 10 years we’ve been operating is the fact that we don’t discount it. We haven’t needed to. A lot of these people are travelling as single travellers for the first time, so the biggest decision is not where to go, it’s whether to go at all. Making that decision, to take that leap of faith and to go on your own is a huge decision for some people. And what we’ve learned is that once people book, a lot of them become serial bookers. We have some customers who do four tours a year.
Are you working with travel agents?
We had a large number of travel agents already doing webinars, we’ve had agents come out this morning and tonight. There’s been an incredible amount of interest on the first day alone. We pay travel agents 10% commission.
How big are the groups?
It depends. A small group would be 16, a large group would be 35, depending on the type of tour we’re doing. The one key decision we’ve made for the Canadian market is that all of these tours and river cruises and holidays are on a tour only basis. We haven’t included the airfares because we think that travel agents and travellers here are going to take one of these tours and package it with other bits and pieces and add their flights. So we’re really giving people complete flexibility.
These are all U.K. groups and we’ll be welcoming Canadian guests. We asked our customers and tour managers, “What do you think about having some Canadian guests on the tour?” And they all said, “Bring it on” because it just adds to the interest for everybody.
Are you offering tours that have been catered to Canadian interests?
We’ve produced a brochure for the Canadian market, all priced in Canadian dollars, but no, we don’t have Canadian-specific tours. This is the full inventory of tours because the U.K. program is much bigger. We’ve just chosen tours that we think will have a really good appeal.
We’ve also been very careful because we haven’t given a huge range of dates, and the reason for that is because any tour with any tour operator needs a minimum number of people for it to operate. And what we didn’t want to do is put a date on, find we haven’t sold the requisite number of people and then have to cancel it. So for all of these dates that we’ve chosen, they’ve already got a really good rate of sale from the U.K. People can be confident when they book them.
Are Canadians booking already for 2016?
No, they’ll start as soon our travel agents partners get the message out there. The website went live this week, so we can take bookings now. We are ready, everything is set up on the system in Canadian dollars, and our reservations staff has been trained on the product.
What tours do you think will be popular among Canadians?
We’ve got everything in here from Japan to Namibia to South America to European cities. The one that people keep zoning on is Tuscany & Italy. I think the price is really keen, we’ve included all the excursions like Florence and Siena and Pisa, with stays at nice Italian hotels. The lead-in price for the tour only is $1,399 for a week.
Within this brochure, we also have river cruises to Italy, the Venetian lagoon, the River Douro in Portugal, Bordeaux, the River Seine. We’ve also got three walking holidays to Ireland, Italy and the Alps, which are popular among single travellers because they’re so social.
Do you anticipate any reaction from other Canadian tour operators?
I’m sure people will react, I’m sure tour operators will drop their single supplements but we’ve got 10 years experience of knowing how it works and that’s a lot of knowledge.
I don’t think there really is competition for us in Canada. There are other escorted tour operators, and escorted touring is a very popular method of going on holiday, and they all offer singles the opportunity to go. But nobody specializes in the way that we do. Nobody understands the customer the way that we do.
Lastly, what do you want Canadian travel agents to know?
Everybody recognizes that the single market is growing. I would just say to Canadian agents, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to pair single clients with the biggest specialist there is, who understands the market better than anybody else. Agents can use us with absolute confidence.
For more information, visit justyou.com.