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Growing Your Group: Women

It’s no secret that group travel tends to attract a lot of women — significantly more women than men. Because of this, many tours feature a lot of activities that appeal to women, and the attitude of the entire industry is very welcoming to females.

Given this background, you might think that you’re already doing a good job of planning trips that appeal to women. But if you don’t offer any women-only tours, or “girlfriend getaways,” you might be missing a valuable opportunity to reach some travelers who have been hesitant to join your group.

We caught up with two tour operators who are experts in women-only travel to find out what makes their trips successful and their customers happy. Their insights will prove helpful to any group travel planner who is interested in bringing more women into the program.

Support and Encouragement

When Debra Asberry wanted to take a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in 1997, she couldn’t find a trip that was designed for her to participate as a single — they were all set up for couples. A magazine editor in the Baltimore-Washington area at the time, she polled her readers and found that many women had encountered the same problem: They wanted to travel but didn’t want to go on their own or be the fifth wheel with a group of couples.

“It wasn’t just widowed or divorced women — it was women in every category,” she said. “Even women who are married have different interests than their husbands do on a broad scope of travel issues. Women have a lot of disposable income these days, and they want to spend that money on travel.”

Seeing an opportunity, Asberry started Women Traveling Together, a tour company that takes small groups of women on tours to destinations throughout the United States and around the world. The National Parks of the West are some of her most popular destinations, as are cities such as Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and New Orleans. But she also regularly sends groups to London, Paris, Italy and even exotic destinations in Southeast Asia.

Asberry said, on the surface, these women-only trips don’t look much different than a standard mixed-gender tour: They visit many of the same attractions and do a lot of adventurous activities. But the female travelers experience the destinations — and each other — in different ways on these trips.

“Behavior changes when you take the male element out of it,” she said. “Women don’t feel like they have to wear makeup or get dressed up if they don’t want to. They can go and try new activities in a really supportive environment.

“Men like to do things for women, whereas women encourage each other to do things for themselves. So if you’re in a group of just women, everyone is encouraging each other to try new things and stretch their boundaries. Because of this, the groups bond exceptionally well.”

Women Traveling Together employs a number of specific strategies to help travelers feel included, supported and valued throughout the entire process. Asberry asks past customers to vote on new trip ideas, which gives travelers a voice in what products she develops. The company has a “tour concierge” assigned to each client, helping them through questions about safety, logistics and other concerns before the trips depart. And during the trips, tour leaders handle much more than just travel logistics.

“Our tour leader is embedded with the group 24/7, and her job is really group dynamics,” Asberry said. “We give her a significant amount of latitude. We give her a credit card and tell her to take people out to dinner and let them order whatever they want off the menu. We want our customers to have as much of an authentic girlfriend experience as they can and for them to have someone who is making sure that everyone is having a good time. So the tour leader is kind of the party leader, too.”

Personal and Fulfilling

After writing a book about her own travels, “Wanderlust and Lipstick,” Beth Whitman was approached by a number of women who wanted to travel but were unfamiliar with how to put tours together. So she started Wandertours, a women’s travel company with a focus on experiences that are accessible, personal and fulfilling.

“I offer some pretty personalized activities that they couldn’t book on their own, like dinner or cooking classes in people’s homes, anywhere from Santa Fe to India,” she said. “We also always have a giving-back component on an international tour. We’ll go to an orphanage, a nunnery or some kind of organization that is helping the community.”

Wandertours trips take groups trekking through Bhutan, on safari in Africa and to explore the wonders of India. There are also culinary-focused trips to cities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and New Orleans, which may be more accessible to novice travelers.

Whitman said in addition to attracting solo women, her trips have proven popular as bonding experiences for groups of friends and family members.

“We get a lot of sisters and a number of mother-daughter trips as well,” she said. “On a Seattle culinary trip, we had a young mother in her 30s bring her 9-year-old daughter. On the other side, we’ve had a lot of 50-year-old women and their 20-something daughters. We also see a lot of cousins traveling together.”

When it comes to recruiting women to join trips, Whitman has found that personal enthusiasm is her greatest sales tool. She also promotes the fact that her tours take all of the hassle out of travel planning for busy women and that they can focus on wellness elements that aren’t common in mass-market vacations.

“We want to encourage women to travel and do it in a healthy manner,” she said. “We want them to incorporate healthy habits, nutrition and exercise so that they can go home feeling healthy — not just fat and bloated after a cruise.”