Mapping It Out

Born as passion projects, these companies address the need for safe and trusted partners for women travellers
Mapping It Out

When she first returned from her many expeditions in the mountains in Ladakh, Thinlas Chorol was mistaken for a foreigner in her neighbourhood villages. This was in the early 2000s, when the concept of a woman entrepreneur, let alone a woman guide, was unheard of in Ladakh. Chorol founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company in 2009, hoping to not only open the space for women guides and entrepreneurs but also make it safe for female explorers.

In India, travel companies are still traversing the murky waters of mistrust. The concept of trust becomes doubly relevant while targeting the Indian woman traveller clientele, safety being the key factor. “We sensed a lack of a safe place or a player that women could trust,” says Garima Pande, co-founder of Wandering Jane, a travel agency that organises women-only trips.

On the Trail of the Woman Traveller

Sumitra Senapaty, co-founder of Women on Wanderlust (WoW), a travel club exclusively for women, recalls seeing women from foreign countries moving around freely for adventure and leisure when she first started travelling in 2004–2005. “I realised that Indian women lack such opportunities and do not have the right platform that facilitates such leisure,” she says.

Senapaty started out as a freelance writer and solo traveller. She launched WoW as a “cosmopolitan club” that aims to fill the confidence gap among women travellers.

Pande echoes a similar sentiment. “Right before we launched Wandering Jane in 2017, I was on a trip in Kerala. When I was travelling, I met a lot of solo women travellers, but only a few of them were Indians. So, while we had a lot of women coming to India from all over the world, Indian women were not even exploring 50 kilometres in their radius,” she says.

“The confidence you gain is extremely important,” said Shireen Mehra, founder of Women on Clouds, another travel group. Mehra, born and brought up in Tehran, tasted the lure of travel first while working as an air hostess for Qatar Airways. Soon, she realised that travel could be incredibly transformative and founded Women on Clouds to inspire new friendships among like-minded women.

Drawing the Map

Despite working on a small scale, these women-led companies target different groups based on their ethos and client preferences. For Chindi Safar, budget travel attracts adventure backpacking groups. Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Kashmir and Uttarakhand remain popular as backpacking destinations in India.

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company primarily operates in Ladakh, catering to backpackers and solo travellers from around the world. On the other hand, Women on Clouds focuses on “pampering” travellers. It welcomes female travellers of all ages and backgrounds on trips to destinations in India and other countries like Oman, Dubai, Singapore, etc.

Senapaty believes that the destinations which her company offers set it apart in the market. Instead of taking the beaten road, the WoW Club covers unconventional destinations like Tanzania, Kenya, Jordon and Uzbekistan. Wandering Jane draws its itinerary around trusted locals. “We do not send our clients to a destination we know nothing about. Locals even host the guests on many occasions,” says Pande.

Constrained Budgets

Despite filling a glaring gap in the market, these travel companies are entirely bootstrapped. Additionally, the shadow of Covid-19 remains a concerning factor for most. The staff size of Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company dwindled significantly after the pandemic. While they had 25 to 30 members earlier, the number has reduced to a mere eight now.

Wandering Jane came up with an innovative strategy to tide over the economic slowdown during the pandemic. “We converted a couple of our in-person activities to online courses. Every weekend, we organised four activities that people could do, ranging from whiskey tasting from Scotland to mixology classes, in collaboration with popular brands,” says Pande. The company also offered courses in flamenco dance with local experts from Spain, besides courses in sound healing from Thailand and yoga from Rishikesh.

Senapaty talks about the importance of networks and word-of-mouth as her active marketing strategy. “Although old-fashioned, it really works for us,” she says.

Journey to the Future

With travel influencers playing a significant role in tourism, travel companies might be set for a new challenge. However, Pande thinks otherwise. “We have had many famous influencers travel with us on our trips. So certainly, we see them as collaborators and not competition,” she says.

Meanwhile, Wandering Jane has been pivoting from a service to a product platform. As an ecotourism-oriented travel company, Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company targets to promote sustainable tourism in Ladakh through consistent effort. Likewise, Chindi Safar too has been focusing on ecotourism. Apart from group tours, it also organises cleaning drives and disposes of trash in a responsible manner.

With a surge in interest from first-time travellers, their dreams seem closer. According to Senapaty, things have changed drastically since 2005. Not only has women’s spending power increased, but the taboo behind solo women travellers has started to dwindle. Women-led travel companies can claim some credit for that.

5 Women-Led Indian Travel Companies

Chindi Safar

Founders: Sonali Verma and Shobhita Negi

Chindi Safar is popular among budget travellers and backpackers. It attracts many young travellers with trips to places like Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Wandering Jane

Founders: Garima Pande and Akshat Sharma

Wandering Jane offers trips across India and southeast Asia. It aims to become an online product platform. It has a team of five.

WoW Club

Founder: Sumitra Senapaty

WoW (Women on Wanderlust) Club caters exclusively to women and boasts of more than 10,000 regular customers. It offers exclusive international trips as well as signature trips led by the founder.

Women on Clouds

Founder: Shireen Mehra

Women on Clouds focusses on leisure and hospitality, offering luxury travel experiences. Apart from travel trips, it also encourages its clients to bond as a community.

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Co

Founder: Thinlas Chorol

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company primarily operates in Ladakh and caters to national and international clientele interested in trekking expeditions. It also promotes ecotourism in Ladakh and has been pushing for higher recruitment of women guides.

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