Sisterhood of travelling: Women-only luxury tours mix fun and friendship
Huda Alvi, left, and Sana Alvi pose in this undated handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - The Girls Trip)
TORONTO -- On a recent trip to Tulum, Mexico, sisters Huda and Sana Alvi bonded with a group of women who were virtual strangers.
They developed a connection over several curated experiences, including a picnic lunch on the beach and a boat ride and swim by the Mayan ruins, and sat in a circle reflecting on their excursion and lives.
The journey was part of the Toronto sisters' new company The Girls Trip, one of a plethora of tour operators offering women luxury getaways to bucket-list destinations like Morocco and Peru, with the safety of a group and guides, and a focus on building new relationships and enjoying a sisterhood.
"Our mission is to empower more women to travel, especially solo women," says Alvi, whose company launched in April and has an age demographic of about 25 to 45. It also offers a monthly payment plan for the trips.
"There are a lot of countries where you can't travel alone (as a woman) or you're scared to travel alone, but you do want that solo experience where you've left all your friends and left your work, and you just want to go on this life experience and this mission -- and how incredible to be able to share that with other women."
It's a market that has "grown exponentially in the last little while," adds Alvi, a brand consultant and influencer who previously ran a human resources company.
"Based on some of the research we've been doing, the solo female travel space is going to be expanding heavily in the next five years," she says. "Women are looking to be more independent and experience things that they've never done before, so really coming out of their insecurities or fears."
The market is also growing for the more mature female traveller, says Debbie Ross, founder of Women's Travel Network. Her company caters to women typically between the ages of 40 to 60, but also accepts those outside that range.
"I'm dealing with the baby boomers. They're retiring and they're going to go out and see the world," says Ross, who is based in Toronto.
"Many of them have had very busy careers that didn't allow them to travel as much as they wanted to, or they were raising children, or finances, putting kids through university. So now they're going, 'It's my turn."'
Ross launched her company, which is affiliated with Worldwide Quest International, 15 years ago after the former travel agent realized there was a gap in the market for women like herself.
"I was going through a tough time in my life and I thought, 'Ugh, I need a holiday, I want to get out of here but I want to travel with women that understand all that I'm going through,"' Ross recalls.
"My husband was in the hospital, my teenage daughter was being difficult and I just wanted to get away. When I went online there was nothing in Canada and I thought, 'Wow, if I'm saying that, what about the widows and the divorced women? What about the people who just want to pick up and go and don't have anyone to travel with?"'
Becky van Dijk, co-founder of London-based Travel Girls Getaways by We Are Travel Girls, recalls wanting to go on adventures in her former career as a banker but not having any friends who were interested in the same destinations.
Her company's demographic is women in their late 20s and 30s, although they have had women up to 65 join their trips.
"I do think in this age and right now, people are looking for women's experiences where they're not necessarily worrying about men," van Dijk says.
"With this current movement, I think there are more women looking for this type of trip."
Each company offers different voyages but are typically open to travellers from anywhere in the world, with group sizes ranging between 10 and 16. All details of the trip are typically taken care of, but travellers usually have to book their own flight.
Some companies, like The Girls Trip, have optional add-on experiences and a photographer available.
"We create a sisterhood for them and they make friends and they often will travel again together," says Ross.
"My first tour that I took, those women became great friends, all strangers, and travel every two years together and see each other often and celebrate birthdays and weddings and whatever."