Travelling Solo? A Trip With The Girls? These Women-centric Travel Startups Have You Covered
There’s something special about women breaking free from the shackles of society. What better way to liberate oneself than travelling the world--like a free spirit, visiting exciting destinations, meeting new people and exploring the unknown.
These travel companies by women break the norms of not just society, but also the travel industry
WOW – Women on Wanderlust
Founded in 2005, Sumitra Senapathy’s ‘travel club’ specialises in organising trips for women-only groups, and designs itineraries specifically with the needs of women travelers in mind. In fact, they were the pioneers in introducing this concept by organising adventure, wellness, short breaks and active holidays, both in India and overseas. Sumitra says it wasn’t easy when they had started. “The main challenge was convincing women they need the 'me-time’ and should be assertive and clear regarding their holidays.”
Word-of-mouth and coverage in the media helped convince women, and word spread. The concept certainly picked up, and eleven years later, WOW Club organises a hundred trips annually.
In case you are travelling solo, WOW Club will pair you up with another member so you can avoid paying the ‘single supplement’. So, members who join the holiday tour may be strangers at first, but leave as friends.
What’s more, they even have a loyalty program where travelers can accrue points that can be redeemed on subsequent trips.
The only company in this list that isn’t headed by women but has more women in its workforce than men is Vikram Ahuja’s experiential and immersive travel company, Byond Travel.
Vikram aims to provide a complete travel experience to women-only groups, and with Byond, the focus is on personal interactions and sharing moments with fellow travelers while ensuring their safety.
With a cumulative experience of 50 years, the company’s founders have built a network of trusted suppliers, a direct result of which is the phenomenal growth of the company within two years of its launch. Surprisingly, the company ventured into women-only groups by accident.
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There was a demand for a women-only trip to Jordan, recollects Vikram, which was a huge success. From three trips last year, they have managed more than 15 trips this year alone. This figure is expected to go up to 25 by year-end.
“The reason for such popularity is. they understand that the purpose of women-only groups travel isn’t just to explore the world, but also to experience freedom and independence,” says Vikram.
Indeed, for most women on tours are looking for interactions with the local community; and often rediscover their own selves in the process.
Security and safety is foremost, with two on-tour representatives, including a local guide, being provided. They also insist on private/group point-to-point transfers for all local travel, even for shopping expeditions.
When asked how he managed to understand women’s needs so well, Vikram laughs. “Men can never understand,” he says. “What we do instead is listen carefully to the women in our team, for they are the real experts. Also, we do extensive research and actively solicit feedback and suggestions before and after each trip. That helps us improve the services we provide. Our products are not based on what we offer, but instead on what the women wish to do.”
Vikram says the relationships that these women build on the trips do not start, or end, with the trip itself. They hold pre- and post-trip events, where the participants get to interact with each other among safe environs without the fear of being judged.
Their mixed group tours such as yoga retreats or road trips are also very popular among women. Many of the first time women travelers end up travelling with Byond again, with their families or with friends they met on previous trips.
The only adventure-tourism company on this list, Basecamp Adventures is unique in more ways than one. Their core team consists of two daring mountaineers--Kavitha and Jigna. As if the mountaineering qualifications and tenuous expeditions weren’t enough, Basecamp Adventures follows safety precautions and internationally compliant protocols.
While any such activity is obviously risky, use of certified technical equipment and personnel minimises the risks. They also ensure their travelers are properly advised and trained prior to such expeditions.
Manjari Verma, an advertising executive, and Avani Patel, a marine biologist, came together and found travel writing and photography, respectively, to be their new-found passions. Combining their previous experiences of planning trips and making itineraries for family and friends, they came up with Broken Compass to help others plan their trips.
While they do not focus on women-only trips, they do ensure their offerings are off the regular path and different from the usual sightseeing tours. Their itineraries include the Indian sub-continent as well as international destinations, and are custom-made as per the client’s personality and budget. They often incorporate authentic cultural experiences with local guides, and impromptu surprises based on the client’s interests and their own research.
Not just that, Broken Compass and advertising company DDB Mudra have jointly launched a travel app that will help find the nearest airport or cheapest flights. It even figures out cost estimates and itineraries for places identified via geotagging images on Flickr or Instagram.
And while both Manjari and Avani are no travel industry veterans with prior industry experience, they were passionate about travel and ever eager to learn. Their previous experience of being unofficial travel planners for their family and friends helped them when they started Broken Compass. While they learned hands-on, with every new client, they understood better. Avani admits to having faced several challenges, “... but none have been too big to cause any major dent.”
The Wander Girls (TWG)
TWG is a Mumbai-based company founded by Hetal Doshi and Priyanka Betrabet, who were the unofficial trip planners for their family and friends. They have an array of offerings, including mother-daughter trips, yoga retreats and reading holidays to create memorable experiences for women, whether independently or in a group.
TWG understands the passion for travelling solo, as much as the need to travel with girlfriends. What’s more heartening is that, being a start-up ‘by women, for women’, they even offer employment opportunities to women first.
Hetal shares how they were bootstrapped at the time of incorporating the company and chose not to spend on marketing; instead, they used digital media effectively to create a presence and visibility.
It is not just in the operations of the company that Hetal has faced challenges. While it is difficult for people to accept a woman entrepreneur, her travel suppliers are slowly getting used to it. But the bigger challenge for Hetal was to fight the patriarchal mindset of society towards solo women travellers.
“It unnerves people when a woman travels alone,” says Hetal, “but as more and more women choose to travel solo, the mindset will gradually change; society will accept that a woman can make her own decisions.”