Move Over Guys, Women-Only Travel Is Growing

by Monique Burns

When it comes to gender-specific travel, “buddy travel” and “man-cations”—from humble fishing trips to lavish golf getaways—have long been top of the list with men.

But women traveling with women—sometimes called “girlfriend getaways”—has recently blossomed into a large and lucrative market.

Women of all ages are traveling in record numbers with female friends and relatives.   A 2013 American Express survey reported a huge surge in girlfriend getaways with 56% of women travelers taking women-only trips, and a 15% increase in trips booked between 2012 and 2013.

For insight on this growing trend, Travel Market Report spoke with Kelly Lewis, founder and publisher of the Go! Girl Guides, designed for women. In 2015, Lewis’ company will launch Go! Girl Adventures, tours specially crafted for women. Lewis is also the founder of the annual Women’s Travel Fest (see sidebar).

There’s been interest in girlfriend getaways since the 1980s.  When did this trend gain critical mass?
Lewis: Women have always been interested in travel, but too many have been held back by fears for their health or safety.  The more women travel, though, the more it inspires others to do the same. I suppose the “girlfriend getaway” trend has been picking up full steam since the early 2000s.  

What’s fueling the growth in women’s travel?
Lewis: Growing income is a factor as well as greater access to knowledge about real travel. Travel blogs and the like tell real stories about the good in people and how safe the world really is.

Too often we hear on the news about the terrible things that are happening abroad, but when you start traveling, you realize that the world is made up of lovely people. Strangers help you when you need it the most.  These stories are encouraging women to travel.  

Growing independence is another factor. We’re waking up to the fact that you don’t have to be pigeon-holed as just a “mom” or a “career woman.” You can be both those things and still travel. More and more businesses are targeting female travelers. More women are traveling.

What’s your advice for travel agents who want to capitalize on the upsurge in women’s travel?
Lewis: Travel agents: Give us something cool! We don’t want to just see museums, and we don’t want to just take escorted bus tours. Push us to get out of our comfort zones, and give us options.

Your Go! Girl Guides demographic is 18 to 34 years old.  Is that the largest group of women travelers?
Lewis: Go! Girl Guides’ online audience is women 18 to 34 who are looking for information on traveling solo. However, the audience for our printed guidebooks ranges from 18 to 65.

There’s a huge market catering to women 60 and over, and they make up a giant part of who is traveling these days. Women, who are retired, who have worked their whole lives, who have raised children, weathered divorces, become widowed, are now traveling because they have the time and resources.

Where are women traveling?
Lewis: What I love most is that, these days, women are going to more remote destinations. It’s not just cruises to the Bahamas. Women are trekking in Nepal, hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, taking trips to India—the list is endless.  

Are they traveling with friends or in multigenerational groups?
Lewis: There really are no hard-and-fast rules, but I think, more and more, women are traveling solo. Women are also traveling in groups with close friends or family.

One of the best things about what we do is seeing grandmothers traveling with their granddaughters. Travel is such a great way to bond and to experience the world.

How big are the groups?
Lewis: It changes all the time. Most tour operators catering to women cap their group size at 10 or 12 people. From my experience, it’s more difficult to travel independently with a big group of people, so you mostly find groups of two to three women traveling independently abroad.

How has women’s travel changed in the last 5 to 10 years?  
Lewis: There are so many more options, and women are going farther. Women are seeking more active or philanthropic travel experiences. I would say that the younger generation tends to take more adventurous trips and trips to more remote places, rather than expensive luxury trips.

I don’t think it’s just a matter of younger people wanting to go to more off-the-beaten-path destinations because places like Italy and Spain will always be huge for travelers, regardless of age. I just think that the tourism industry is shifting to shed light on places people haven’t thought about going to before, like Georgia or Serbia, for example.

Do safety concerns play a big role in planning women’s trips?   
Lewis: We focus on women’s health and safety because those are the two biggest concerns we hear repeated all the time. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get each week from women who say something along the lines of “I want to travel, but I’m nervous.”

I believe that the world is mostly safe, but there are areas we wouldn’t recommend women travel to right now. For example, we’re not commissioning guidebooks on the Democratic Republic of the Congo where statistics show that over 40% of women have experienced rape.

How can women address safety issues when traveling?
Lewis: There are things women can do to stay safe. We recommend traveling with a doorstop alarm which will keep intruders from opening your hotel room door. We stress the importance of covering up while traveling to keep a lower profile. We always tell women to avoid beaches at night because, generally, they aren’t patrolled anywhere in the world. And we always stress using alcohol in moderation.

There is strength in numbers. But there’s also strength in intuition and common sense— and in trusting yourself. Travel doesn’t need to be scary.

What’s ahead for women’s travel?
Lewis: The travel world is shifting to accommodate the need for independent travel, and the tour companies that do the best will be those that give their guests ample amounts of free time to explore.

Escorted tours are important and will never really be extinguished.  We’ll just start to see more and more women traveling independently.


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