In a recent Averett University alumni trip to France, Larry Wilburn had a group of 19 travelers. Only four of them were men, and they were all traveling to accompany their wives.
Wilburn is not alone: Group travel has historically been a female-heavy affair, and the trend doesn’t seem to be reversing. A survey of 1,000 group travel planners conducted last year by The Group Travel Family (the management company of the Select Traveler Conference) found that 71 percent of group travelers are female.
Conventional thinking says that the industry skews female because women tend to outlive their husbands and that older women take group tours in order to continue traveling after their husbands have died. This may have been true at one time, but today the numbers tell a different story: The survey found that the average age of group travel passengers is 64. That means that many people are traveling in groups before they reach retirement age and well within the life expectancy of the modern man.
The survey also found that 73 percent of group travelers are married. Only 18 percent are widowed, and 9 percent are otherwise single.
Think about the breakdown like this: On an average tour with 50 passengers, 14 will be men and 36 will be women. Of those 36 women, only six will be widows and three will be single. That leaves 27 married women on the tour. Since there are only 14 men in the group, we can assume that at least 13 married women — almost half of the married women on the tour — are traveling without their husbands.
In other words, group travel has a problem attracting men.
A History Lesson
To understand why group travel appeals more to women than to men, we have to examine the history of the industry. Group travel as we know it came of age in the middle of the 20th century. By the late 1950s, World War II was long over and members of the Greatest Generation was starting to see their children grow up and leave home. The United States was enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity, and modern transportation was making it more affordable and convenient than ever to see the world.
When those in the Greatest Generation began to retire, their life expectancy wasn’t as long as it is today, and men died before their wives with much greater frequency. This left a lot of women who wanted to travel but felt ill-equipped to do so alone. Many women of that era had spent most of their lives as homemakers, and few had done much significant travel on their own. The world was a fascinating place to explore but also somewhat threatening and intimidating.
Group travel provided an answer to this predicament. Traveling in groups made women of this generation feel safe, and tour providers took care of all the details, so these women didn’t have to figure out the logistics of getting from place to place.