Safety concerns, along with not having someone in your everyday life who wants to travel when you want or how you want, are driving some online travel communities.
Tony Carne, Shift
Obviously, Covid was a disaster for tour operators, but not everyone suffered equally. Travel communities that formed on social media platforms like Facebook, Tik Tok, and Instagram saw their membership grow substantially during the pandemic, even when travel was not possible.
But are these real travel companies taking market share from 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 the leader of each group, something that sets them apart from traditional tour operators. They all started out as a safe place to meet online, chat about travel and get destination information.
“We have travel products as a means to support the community, not as the only way,” said Mar Pages, the brains behind women traveling alone, which has more than 188,000 members on Facebook. Meanwhile, Haley Woods, the founder of girls love to travelHe said his group started taking trips because that’s what his community wanted.
Also, the communities I discovered are very attractive to women. Three of them are exclusively female, while the demographic of the Travel Squad is also very female. Pages works hard to ensure her company’s tours are as close to 100 percent female as possible.
“Without a female guide, there is no tour,” he said.
However, it is not only the guide. According to the company, it’s all hotel owners, drivers, even porters on Mount Kilimanjaro. Solo Female Travelers also conducts a survey of destination safety purely from the perspective of solo female travelers and publishes an index now referenced by the US Department of State in travel advisories.
“When you are a woman and you are alone, the risks are different [than] to other travelers,” Pages said.
These communities attract like-minded people, especially those who don’t have anyone in their daily lives or regular social circles with a desire to travel like them.
“People in our community are concerned that they won’t meet anyone if they go alone and understand that they’ll have a better time doing things with a group of friends,” said Alex Merritt, the creator of the travel team, which launched during the pandemic and now has approximately 69,000 members on Facebook. “We connect them with like-minded people before they travel, solving that problem.”
Although their communities are growing, those businesses still have a long way to go in terms of fundraising and revenue generation. But they are working hard to attract booking platforms to boost their travel.
Girls Love Travel and Solo Female Travelers use booking platforms We travel Y tuLi, 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 took this route before shutting down that effort.
That lack of technology hasn’t stopped those companies from selling tours. Travel Squad sold $100,000 of its Luxe Week trips to Bali in 24 hours at the end of April this year, while Girls Love Travel took 130 members on two trips to Antarctica during the 2018-2019 season. That would be a $1 million month of revenue, even at the low end of Antarctica prices.
However, those communities are still navigating a murky post-pandemic environment. Amanda Black, the creator of the Solo Female Travelers Network, said his group wants to return to pre-pandemic metrics before looking to raise money next year. His community, as well as The Travel Squad, are the only ones who have really discussed the ambitions of becoming big players in the travel industry.
“We don’t want to be the next Intrepid,” Pages said. “We just want to do really well for our community and for running a business based on the principles of supporting women’s empowerment.”
Meanwhile, Woods acknowledged that the vagaries of Facebook’s algorithms could help make the future of his community uncertain.
“It could all be over tomorrow,” Woods said. “Right now, I’m happy that we have this place of connection and support.”