Women’s travel is a market rarely promoted by bank, alumni and chamber group travel planners. And that’s unfortunate, according to Phyllis Stoller, founder and president of the Women’s Travel Group.
“Traveling with women is a comfortable way to travel for those 35-year-old women who are financially able,” Stoller said. “Traveling with women is a comfortable way to travel for the 50-year-old woman who has always wanted to do it and is ready to take the plunge. And traveling with women is a comfortable way for older women who have lost their spouses but still want to travel.
“It’s easier to travel with only women than to be the only one or two women in a mixed group.”
Proof Is in the Numbers
April Merenda is the president of Gutsy Women Travel, a worldwide travel company that packages river cruises, safaris and guided vacations, all geared to the distinctive interests of women.
“When I started this company in 2001, 40 percent of women over 40 who traveled were single, divorced or widowed,” she said. “Of those who were married, 40 percent traveled without their spouse.
“Today, 55 percent of those women who travel are single, divorced or widowed. Of those who are married, 55 percent travel without their spouse. There are many reasons women are traveling alone — even married women. They are empty nesters, and/or they have been relocated and uprooted away from family and friends.”
Merenda, who has been a featured guest speaker for the past five years at the New York Times Travel Show, is passionate about promoting women’s travels not only because it is her business but because of the obvious allure.
“In women-only travels, they aren’t the fifth wheel. Whether they are solo travelers or with a friend or relative, you don’t have the same spirit on a trip with mixed couples.
“The dynamics of the trip are different. It’s a cultural and gathering-of-information sort of experience. But most important to women travelers, there is a comfort zone that doesn’t exist for them with a traditional, mixed group.”
Women Ask Different Questions
Stoller sells out 15 tours annually — most of them to international destinations — and is well aware that these days, women want to travel and have the financial means to do so.
But selling to any specific demographic requires a distinctive skill set, and Stoller said one must possess intuitive knowledge about this particular group and be sensitive to their inquiries.
“The questions women ask before they sign up are different including wanting to know who else is on the trip, am I going to fit in,” she said. “You’ve got to be tuned in to this audience. The answers are hard for a generic tour operator to deliver.”
Stoller offers informative and necessary tips, such as the customs and appropriate dress in foreign countries, on her website. To avoid crowds, she suggests times to visit venues and even offers advice about what time of the day to enjoy classic museums that perhaps have difficulty air-conditioning their enormous spaces.
She is also sensitive to what she describes as the “biggest travel fears of women,” which include tipping, eating alone and even the bathrooms they may encounter.
“And for women who want to get away over a holiday, it’s better to go to a place that doesn’t remind you of home at all,” she said. “You’re away from your life — do something exotic, exciting, where you learn and get goose bumps. You may be intimidated to take a Turkish bath in your hotel, but you’ll talk about it for the rest of your life.”
Merenda has herself experienced the satisfaction of personal travels with women that included members of her family.
“For me, it was a dream come true to take my 87-year-old mother, who is from Salerno, on our Amalfi Coast trip along with two of my sisters,” she said. “We went to the town where she was born and met relatives we had never met in person. It was a journey of a lifetime for all of us. This is what Gutsy Women Travel affords women: an opportunity to create memories.”
Stoller, an enthusiastic traveler herself, describes the woman traveler with gusto.
“Traveling fulfills dreams,” she said. “It changes you. And — I say this in the nicest way — it makes you a more interesting person. For that woman who wants to travel and doesn’t have a partner who shares her interest, traveling by yourself in a group makes you a more confident person.”
Merenda added to the emotional benefits bestowed upon her travelers.
“Women are traditionally caregivers, regularly placing the needs of everyone else in their lives ahead of their own. Yet it is undeniably important that women take the time to nurture themselves, and travel is one of the best ways to do just that.”