As people increasingly choose to marry later, we have observed a growing demographic group in New Zealand and the rest of the world... the Singleton. This group of people – chiefly in their 20s and early 30s – has a very high media profile; the newspapers are full of stories of their exploits and there have been a number of highly successful TV programmes which use fictional singletons to entertain us, whether it is Friends or Sex in the City.
In order to pin down who we mean when we talk about 'Singletons', it perhaps helps to begin with looking at how our attitudes to marriage and singleness have changed. Back in the 1950s, divorce was very rare, with only a tiny percentage of marriages ending that way. The expectation was that people would marry young, and stay married. As the marriage vow still suggests, a woman was cared for by her father until such time as a husband took over the role. There was very little time for a young woman to have sole responsibility for her life. In post-war New Zealand, then, being single was usually a momentary aberration between coming of age and being married off. In fact, a 1958 study found that nearly all Americans assumed a woman would stay single only if she were ugly, immoral or neurotic. Today, single people are now standard bearers for beauty, admired for their independence and self-reliance. Singletons are the backbone of the dramatic growth of New Zealand's tourism industry whether it is 'adventure travel', 'backpacking' or 'urban tribes'. There are just more singletons in the world today than ever before.
This doesn't mean that Bridget Jones (and society) hasn't abandoned marriage; in fact marriage and romance are considered the mystical ideal state by many Kiwis. Some social commentators have used statistics about the trend of delayed marriage to build a case that society is going to ruins. Individualism is often viewed as being tantamount to selfishness: putting your own goals and desires before that of a family, community or country smacks of a worrying inwardness that will bring New Zealand to its knees. The sort of thing the Robert Putman's of this world have to say, in books like Bowling Alone. However, it is easy to turn this doom-mongering on its head. Writer and journalist Ethan Watters studied the phenomenon of extended singleness for his book Urban Tribes, and has reached a different set of conclusions. He argues that marriage – or committed relationships at least – are still the key social unit in our society, to which most of us aspire. His research revealed that well educated, ambitious young urbanites were the most likely to want to celebrate their wealth, independence and freedom by holding off commitments and responsibilities for a few years. Having chosen to live outside a traditional family for a decade or more, they were forming new kinds of family with their friends.
Likewise, being single is not what it used to be. These days, there are a host of companies cashing in on the Singleton's desire for a date, whether it is Wellington's www.tableforsix.net, catering for the young professional who is time constrained and wanting to meet a companion for romance or something else. Even many famous tramping clubs are becoming a haven for men searching for a women or visa versa. Today speed dating, online dating and singles holiday demonstrate a revolution in dating practise. There are also fewer stigmas attached to being single. The Lonely Hearts column used to seem like a last resort, but now busy young Singletons have lots of socially acceptable options. There is arguably less fear and anxiety surrounding the dating process: terms like 'spinster' and 'on the shelf' have fallen out of our lexicon, and the dating market extends well beyond catering for people in their 20s. One might even go so far as to suggest that Singletons are celebrating this period of life and many find being single fun. Even divorce is good for tourism, as divorced people, both male and female, go to restaurants for love, take romantic holidays, buy chocolates and flowers all in the hope of rekindling a romantic encounter.
It has been a long time since pre-marital sex got taken off the moral blacklist but, as attitudes to sex continue to become more and more relaxed as society is becoming more liberal, wealthy and wanting to advance themselves. Sex, is all about an affair with the groin, it is a cultural path-breaker buster of taboo and moral revolutionary. All over New Zealand, tourists are doing it; it is the cornerstone of our love and romance industry. Sex is developing in a way as part of the entertainment industry, whether it is diving with Mermaids or Lisa Lewis stripping for Boob's on Bikes. Kiwi's love sex and according to the Durex Global Sex Survey a number of interesting facts arise about Kiwi's:
According to the most recent survey by Neilson Media Panorama, what do Kiwis really want? Well it is not about money or wealth, so forget about buying expensive presents or flowers this weekend. Only 14% of single females are impressed by money as a measure of success. If you really want to win a young ladies heart this weekend, try something new or adventurous. 87% of single females want to improve themselves through life. Therefore it is small gestures, picnics, listening to their words and surprises. Make something or learn something together. Climb a mountain or listen to the wonders of the outdoors. In today's society, according to research by the www.futurefoundation.net, inconspicuous consumption is becoming the norm as wealth becomes less important as driver of consumption. Just getting away or having space for oneself is becoming the aspiration for many consumers.
Many of New Zealand's key markets such as the Brits and Germans have travelled alone on holiday, often during their gap year. However, career-focused singles, with higher disposable incomes plus an intense and work-filled life, are looking to indulge themselves more while on holiday and are willing to pay the price for higher-end service, unlike cash-strapped backpackers. S ingletons together are what Ethan Watters calls Urban Tribes, who band together for adventures whether it is a organised trip with operators like www.exploreworldwide.com or established companies that help 'pair up' travelling companions, including www.thelmaandlouise.com and www.companions2travel.co.uk, have been in the market for some time and there is no emphasis in their holidays on travellers finding a partner for life. www.solosholidays.co.uk and www.friendshiptravel.com are amongst specialist operators cleverly catering for young and unattached single travellers who want to meet new people, whilst not actually highlighting the fact that they are full-blown dating agencies. The rapidly developing online market has also stimulated a small, but growing market for media content websites, where single travellers can exchange tips and ideas on travelling alone, as well as arrange to meet up somewhere en route. These chat sites provide a useful platform for singles to get advice and share experiences, and to exchange photos in case they meet a potential travel partner.
The lucrative singles market will also provide opportunities for tie-ups between online dating agencies and travel retailers, where companies such as www.lastminute.com and www.match.com could potentially join forces to offer combined holiday/dating packages for those seeking to form partnerships whilst travelling. Such a concept is likely to be incredibly appealing to this generation of busy single people, who desire alternative and fun packages to counterbalance their hectic lifestyle, but are also on the look out for a partner for life.
From a marketing perspective, VisitScotland (Scottish Tourism Board) ran a successful competition in 2007 calling on single females from around the world to select a hunky Scot from the website www.dateahotscot.com (all wearing kilts and authentic attire) which was a marvellous success story. They weren't selling romance but simple sex! I can image a similar competition with rugby players in New Zealand giving a different meaning to 100% Pure.
One must not forget there is a man drought shortage in New Zealand, so it is roll over Bridget Jones here comes Mr Darcy. Sex will always sell! That is 100% guaranteed. Let the journey of romance begin this St. Valentine's weekend!
Dr Ian Yeoman is the resident travel futurologist at Victoria University of Wellington. Further details are available at www.tomorrowstourist.com
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New publication: New Zealand's Sustainable Future and Maori Identity.
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New publication: The Future of Knitting Tourism.
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The future of hospitality: Hotel Yearbook 2015.
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Previous News items can be found here.