Maybe it was movies like Eat, Pray, Love or Sex and The City that helped women break their fear of man-less travel. Or maybe it was the lure of social media and forums. On a more logical note, disposable income, nuclear families and changing global trends have turned the caterpillar into a butterfly.
“Travel is about happiness,” says tarot reader Neeta Jhaveri, who will lead a trip to Bhutan. “I believe in the healing power of places. So, I tied up with the travel site thriive.in as they have similar interests. Wellness and spirituality is the highlight of this trip. Workshops will be held under the open skies.
“We have experienced tour guides who will take us around the country. Bhutan is the land of happiness and that’s why it’s the best place to begin travelling with, in a group. Everyone wants joy and happiness,” she says.
Jhaveri’s is not the only women’s group. Many other women have broken out of the traditional family and wedding holidays and decided to go around exploring on their own.
Even some decades back, grandmothers and their friends did go on pilgrimages. However, those were spiritual quests, an integral part of Indian life. Today, it’s travel just for fun that has gained momentum in recent times.
Women are no longer shy to step out beyond the known and find new avenues of expression. And travel is surely seen as liberation. Anju Anna Alex articulates this well in an article on activeholidayscompany.com, “Women have been travelling more than ever, overcoming the long-drawn history of systemic prejudice and gender bias, with both inbound and outbound tourism witnessing accelerated growth… the potential of the women’s market surpassed $19 trillion in 2015 given that 80 per cent of travel decisions are made by women.” She goes on to cite the different kinds of travel that women prefer, such as mother-daughter getaways, bachelorette parties, detox getaways, adventure, or just a simple holiday.
Talking about women-only groups, Anju Tandon, director of Ark Travels and Faraway Places Marketing, says, “Similar interests and activities keep them together. They normally like to stay in the group rather than each couple moving away on their own, especially late nights.” She has been in the travel trade since 1984 and her company sells cruises, besides other kinds of travel. But surprisingly, she has not found a group of women who have gone cruising, though women like to include “spa/shopping/sightseeing/night life in their itinerary, unless it is a special interest group”. Mostly, financially independent and urban women opt for these group bookings. While the young ones do come, the age group normally ranges from 45-70.
The priority is always safety. So, companies keep in mind a destination with better airline connectivity, hotels in good locations with proximity to attraction sites. Tandon’s company also designs itineraries on request. When asked what’s the difference between mixed groups and women-only groups, Tandon says, “I think there’s more solidarity in the women’s group. I don’t find any challenges with the ladies as most of them are independent, well-travelled individuals who can take care of themselves.” Tandon has taken groups to Bali, Eastern Europe and Turkey. The world is their playground.
Malini Gowrishankar, who runs the travel company F5 Escapes with Akanksha, has organised tours to North Sikkim, Arunachal, Andamans, Varanasi, Meghalaya, Kutch and Madhya Pradesh and more. “We have itineraries touching all major Indian states and Andaman. We have itineraries to Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand coming up soon. F5 trips are typically culturally immersive, with primary focus on nature and culture. Local food experience is an inherent part of an F5 trip. Some of our trips include adventure activities too.”
Like Tandon, Gowrishankar finds that mostly working and urban women opt for these trips, though the women in smaller cities aspire to travel. “We have all age groups on our trips—from 8 to 70. Some also bring their friends and family members along.”
Commenting on the destinations, Gowrishankar says, “A lot of women travel abroad. But we also see several women exploring India more than ever. This includes both Indian and foreign women.” Going by groups such as ‘Girls Love Travel’ or ‘Travelettes’ on Facebook, there is ample travel happening with young and old women coming to India. Women take help and recommendations for the places to see. Some even search for travel companions on the forum. They chat about issues connected to safety, places to stay in, guides, cabs and local experiences. Most women go through the worldwide web before embarking on their trips.
Gowrishankar does not find any exceptional challenges in catering to women groups. “First-time travellers tend to get anxious sometimes, but that’s something that we know has to be expected and dealt with in a positive spirit. Our tour leaders are trained to deal with contingencies. Other than that, I do not think there are any special issues or challenges with a women’s group.”
Meticulous planning is the key to making a trip successful. Companies like to plan arrivals during daytime. Tourists are not left on their own in a new destination at night. Reliable guides, companies and vendors are a must. Details of the itinerary are given before departure, so that people are aware of what’s in the pipeline. “We get their ID details, emergency contacts, health issues so that we are prepared for all eventualities,” elucidates Gowrishankar.
Like others, Gowrishankar has seen friends being made on such trips. “Every trip has a mix of first-time travellers and well-travelled women from different parts of the country. Many women come on the trips during milestone phases such as birthdays, divorce, separation and more. There have been several deep, meaningful conversations and sharing of personal stories. That should explain how these women’s groups are so popular.”
The FCM’s ‘Women in Business Travel’ report notes that 75 per cent of businesses around the world have at least one woman on their senior management teams. In Africa, this number is now at an impressive 89 per cent. As a result, we see a lot more women. All-women retreats and festivals are even set to become a trend in 2019 because of a bigger focus on women-specific travel and events.
Nearly two-thirds of all travellers today are women, with women making 80 per cent of all travel decisions. That means 670 million women around the world control $15 trillion in spending power, making the female travellers market twice the size of China and India’s markets combined.
And speaking of business, Treksoft trends report 2019 notes the trend of Business + Leisure = Bleisure.
“It is becoming more common for business travellers to utilise the opportunity to take time for themselves, explore and travel. According to a report by Expedia Media Solutions, around 60 per cent of business trips in the last year included a leisure portion.”
This piece was first published in Patriot.