Safety concerns plus not having someone in your day-to-day life who wants to travel when or the way you want to, is fueling some travel communities online.
Covid obviously was a disaster for tour operators but not all of them suffered equally. Travel communities that formed in social media platforms like Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram saw membership grow substantially during the pandemic, even when travel wasn’t possible.
But are these real travel businesses taking market share from the status quo operators or are they growing the market by filling a void? I set out to meet some of the people behind these groups to find out more.
One of the things I noticed was how important that community was to each group’s leader, something that sets them apart from traditional tour operators. All of them started out as a safe place to meet online, chat about travel and obtain information about destinations.
“We have travel products as a means to support the community, not the other way around,” said Mar Pages, the brain behind Solo Female Travelers, which has more than 188,000 members on Facebook. Meanwhile, Haley Woods, the founder of Girls LOVE Travel, said her group started running trips because that’s what her community wanted.
In addition, the communities I discovered appeal largely to women. Three of them are exclusively female while the demographics of the Travel Squad also skew heavily female. Pages works hard to ensure her company’s tours are as close to 100 percent female-run as possible.
“No female guide, no tour,” she said.
It’s not just the guide, though. It’s all the hotel owners, drivers, even right down to the porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro, according to the company. Solo Female Travelers also runs a survey about the safety of destinations purely from the solo female traveler perspective and publishes an index now referenced by the U.S. State Department in travel advisories.
“When you are female and alone, the risks are different [than] to other travelers,” Pages said.
These communities attract like-minded individuals, especially those who don’t have anyone in their daily lives or regular social circles with the desire to travel like they do.
“People in our community are worried they won’t meet anyone out there if they just go alone and understand they’ll have a better time doing things with a bunch of friends,” said Alex Merritt, the creator of The Travel Squad, which launched during the pandemic and now has roughly 69,000 members on Facebook. “We connect them up with likeminded people prior to going traveling, solving that problem.”
Although their communities are growing, those companies still have a long way to go in terms of raising funds and generating revenue. But they are hard at work engaging booking platforms to power their trips.
Girls Love Travel and Solo Female Travelers use booking platforms WeTravel and YouLi, respectively, to sell their group getaways. Meanwhile, Merritt and The Travel Squad are considering launching an app as the company is in the midst of a seed funding round. Girls Love Travel previously went down this route before shuttering that effort.
That lack of tech hasn’t stopped those companies from selling tours. The Travel Squad sold in late April of this year $100,000 of its Luxe Week trips to Bali in 24 hours while Girls Love Travel took 130 members on two sailings down to Antarctica during the 2018-2019 season. That would be $1 million revenue month even at the low end of Antarctica pricing.
However, those communities are still navigating a murky post-pandemic environment. Amanda Black, the creator of the Solo Female Traveler Network, said her group wants to return to pre-pandemic metrics before it looks to raise money next year. Her community — as well as The Travel Squad — are the only ones that really discussed ambitions about becoming big players in the travel industry.
“We don’t want to be the next Intrepid,” said Pages. “We just want to do really well for our community and for the execution of a business built on the principles of support of women empowerment.”
Meanwhile, Woods acknowledged the vagaries of Facebook’s algorithms could help make her community’s future uncertain.
“It could all end tomorrow,” Woods said. “Right now, I’m happy we have this place for connection and support.”
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Photo credit: A group of female travelers relaxing. Women-Led tour operators are gaining traction on social media. Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash