Community first, travel second

What started as a means to offer advice to solo female travellers has since transformed into a 180,000-member community as well as a registered agency organising small women-only tours. Even with the accelerated progress of the group, Solo Female Travelers' co-founder Mar Pages never lost sight of its primary goal – to empower women through travel

What are the trends for solo female travel in 2022?
Solo female travel is a fast-growing segment. It was already growing exponentially before the pandemic and has recovered quickly. A quick check on Google trends shows that search volumes for “solo female travel” are already higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The biggest trend we see in solo female travel is the explosion in interest. Our community has been growing at a very fast pace – exceeding our expectations – since the beginning of the pandemic. We see the awareness surrounding this travel style increasing and bringing waves of women who are travelling for the first time.

We also see that many tour companies, such as Insight Vacations, Intrepid and Trafalgar, that have launched women-only tours. This is a massively growing segment. New companies, likewise, are emerging to cater to solo female travel, especially in the last year.

About a third of our members have never travelled solo before and join us to get encouragement and tips from more experienced solo travellers. This is what sets us apart from the others. Our community provides support, expert advice and a sense of belonging that may be lacking if you don’t know anyone in your circle of friends who travels on her own.

In many cases, in particular in the more conservative parts of Asia, women also need to fight stereotypes and social pressure to travel on their own. Realising that they are not alone and that hundreds of thousands of women travel solo every day is empowering in itself and bringing more women to the space to at least try.

Do you see more solo female travellers preferring tour groups or continuing with self-planned itineraries?
We see both. Many new solo travellers are opting for small group tours to reduce some of the uncertainty surrounding a first solo trip. Others have decided not to wait anymore for others and take that bucket list trip, be it solo or as part of a group.

Small group tours address a lot of the concerns of solo female travellers. They take the stress out of planning, provide a safe environment, bring like-minded women together, facilitate new friendships, and remove all the fears about feeling lonely, bored, lost or scared.

As most Asian travellers could only start to travel in the last few months due to Covid-19 restrictions, we are only just seeing the uptake recently. Among Asian countries, we see an increase in sign-ups from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and India, probably because our tours are only conducted in English, therefore interests will come from majority English-speaking (markets).

For Solo Female Travelers, our members have to source for their own flight tickets. We will start and end our tours in a major city for easier pick-up, and they can stay a few days in these cities outside of our planned itinerary. We do not offer guided tours in these major cities because there is no added value for us in these places; travellers can already explore on their own.

Your website has a tool to identify safe destinations for your members. Tell us more about it.
To address the element of safety, we developed an in-house tool called the Solo Female Travelers Safety Index on our website where our members can rate and review the destinations according to how safe they felt while visiting.

The indicators or variables identified are: risk of theft, risk of scam, risk of harassment, and attitude towards women. Then, there are three other sources – the US and UK travel advisories plus the Global Peace Index. We then make an average of these findings.

Since June 2022, the US State Department and the Overseas Security Advisory Council have referenced our safety index into theirs. It is a good recognition of our efforts, as it is our social mission to offer these unbiased reviews of the destinations from solo female travellers.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and most recently the Monkeypox health risk, has reshaped the travel industry at large. How has that affected the mindset of solo female travellers?
With such a large number of members in our community, we run an annual survey to find out about the latest trends and interests. In our 2021 annual survey, which was published on International Women’s Day, we saw Covid-19 trump safety as the number one concern for solo female travellers. The major concerns were cancellations or getting stuck due to pandemic related reasons, and having to spend unexpected amounts of money on medical and travel bills.

However, we expect the 2022 survey to show how Covid-19 is no longer top of mind for the majority of our members. On one hand, many travel restrictions have been lifted by most governments. When the US removed the need for a negative test upon return in summer this year, these concerns were already undermined.

On the other hand, they are also ready to return to travel and have learnt to live with the virus. They want to make the most of the freedom that we got back, and explore the world solo. During the two pandemic years, many decided to travel on their own for the first time, and we see that happening now.

The Solo Female Travelers Tours has successfully organised group travels in 2021, while the world was still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. How did you manage to maintain travel confidence among your members?
The success formula for us is the long-term trust we build with our members through the community as well as the consistent posting and engagement on all our social media channels and the weekly newsletter that I send out. We manage to remain successful because my co-founder, Meg Jerrard, and I are content creators in the first place!

Curating and moderating the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, make us very visible in front of our audience. They know us, they know we have their backs, and they know we only recommend places or products that we use and are great.

When we launched the overseas tours, it was a natural extension of our brand and that trust carried over. Despite not having any track record, all the tours we launched have sold out!

What are the destinations to look out for?
Greece is a clear winner. Greece opened her borders earlier and longer than any other destinations did, and travel content from Greece filled almost every social media channel. Greece is a very Instagrammable destination, the islands are gorgeous, (there is) good food, affordable, and is generally a safe place… the appeal calls out to any solo female traveller. We launched our tours to Greece this February for 39 people, and it sold out in two weeks! We then launched another one and it is almost sold out as well.

The other top destinations for women to travel solo are Italy, the UK, Spain, Thailand and Australia. This list is unchanged from our 2020 and 2021 survey. These are destinations that receive a lot of visitors, and have great tourism infrastructure as well as something to offer to any kind of traveller. (There are) lots of solo travellers to mingle (with) and meet along the way, and friendly locals are ready to help.

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