Sumitra Senapaty, is an internationally known travel writer who turned entrepreneur when she started Women on Wanderlust (WOW) with the dream of encouraging Indian women to travel on their own.
Sumitra often saw foreign women travelling alone and thoroughly enjoying themselves but an Indian woman even sitting all alone in a café or watching a movie in a cinema hall was a rare sight. She got the idea of starting WOW for “solo women travel, but in a group situation, wherein safety and security are top priorities.”
What sort of problems may a woman who is travelling all alone face? How does travelling in a group solve these problems?
Primarily security. For example, it’s better that a group of women are walking down a lonely stretch together rather than a single woman doing so.
Women can just travel in a group without going thru a travel agent or enrolling in a formal travel club like yours. So what benefits does a club like WOW provide over random group travel organized by any group of women friends?
Many times a bunch of friends plan a trip together, then sadly it falls out for various reasons – someone does not get leave, somehow falls sick, others prefer a beach holiday to wildlife etc. There can be a whole host of reasons! WOW provides for a facility wherein you just decide that you want to go, you have the money and the time! And you do go! You are on your own, so decision-making is quicker.
WOW takes care while making the room list, that women of similar background and age share the room. It is rather exciting that women from all over India join together to travel to a different part of the world. I am also looking at NRI women joining WOW for holidays, also women from other countries. Recently a Spanish lady from London flew to India to join WOW in Ladakh.
Does WOW provide package tours? Though package tours do provide safety and have economical costs people often complain that package tours are often too rushed as they doing to provide personal space. For example, a historian may like to spend more time studying architecture, a shopaholic may want to strike the malls, a nature lover may want to spend time bird watching but under a package tour they need to compromise. Or maybe someone wants to linger on at a tourist site but it is time to go. How does your club deal with these factors?
Yes, WOW provides for a complete package, that takes in sightseeing, shopping, eating out etc. I now plan to make one day free for doing your own thing. Women do not like to make decisions, plan things or tax their mind on a vacation, they prefer that WOW sets up everything and they can just take it easy and relax. So they understand that they have to keep up with the group.
How many members are in your club now? How many members did you start off with? How has your club evolved since inception?
WOW started in summer of 2005 – I was determined to take the trip to Ladakh, even if there were only two women, but it turned out to be 17 women, I did two trips, back to back and came back home thoroughly satisfied and pleased as punch, for I knew by then that WOW would take off and it was just a matter of time, before things got better.
What began as a hobby has grown into a company now, from just Ladakh and a trek in Uttranchal, WOW has gone round the world and come back many times over – 80 women travelled with WOW in 2006, 60 so far in 2007 and I look forward to a double century in 2008!
Destinations done by WOW so far are Egypt and the Nile Cruise, Sri Lanka, Greece and Istanbul. There are three trips for this year – South Africa, China and the ever-popular Egypt.
Are small male children (little boys) of women allowed on trips?
If any girl under 18 has to go on a trip what are the formalities? I presume that she’ll need permission from her parents.
Yes, she will. But invariably she will be travelling with her mother or sister.
Have you taken school girls/c ollege girls of all girls’ institutes on educational travel trips? If not, would you like to introduce the concept of WOW in schools and colleges in future?
I have never taken an educational/school trip as such. But I’m open to the idea – perhaps I’ll organize a trip in India first – fun and educational with a touch of social work for the community thrown in.
Please recommend some general safety tips of women travelling alone.
1. Never venture out alone after dark.
2. Look after your personal belongings, passport etc vigilantly.
3. Inform your family of your whereabouts, your address/telephone etc.
4. Carry a cellphone, have the contact numbers of all those known to you in the place you are at, the local police number in case of emergency etc.
What provisions does WOW have in the case of sudden illness or accidents to ensure that the victim is taken care of while the others enjoy the trip?
Medical Insurance is strongly recommended, which will take care of such problems.
Are your trips tailored to suit various pockets?
WOW trips are not ostentatious or top end. Neither are they backpack. They are value for money tours. Women want a certain degree of safety and comfort on a holiday. WoW recognizes this and keeps this in mind.
Do share some memorable travel experiences of WOW.
What is most memorable to me is that when women travel together, they realize that they have been missing out on ‘girl time’ – the time to share strengths with, and provide sanity and support to other women. Many WOW travellers speak of it being a liberating experience because of the freedom to choose their own destination and activities without having to compromise with family members who might want to do something else.
As travellers are men and women different? In fact how were your all women Kerala trips different from those with both male and female relatives? Could you tell me more on how these all women Kerala trips and what other factors inspired you to start WOW?
Men and women behave differently when travelling. Women look into everything in great detail, men like to relax at the hotel with a beer and TV.
The new woman traveller phenomenon is the inspiration behind my exclusive travel club. When I started Women On Wanderlust (WOW Club), I wanted to meet other women who share my passion for travel, and assist them to achieve their wish lists.
Even though I’ve been to a number of destinations as a writer, it’s a different experience each time the group is new. While taking in the sights, sounds and smells, I am also taking in woman experiences and sharing a part of their lives. Different personalities bring different things to the travel experience and that’s surely fun!
Besides an all-women travel group is the perfect solution for women who want to travel, but do not like the idea of travelling alone. The Indian travel industry, for one, is not geared to dealing with women travellers. Women, though, know how to work around problems and I find that safety in numbers is a good maxim. This happily dispenses with the need for a male escort. But whether in India or elsewhere, strolling alone after dark or through lonely streets is inadvisable.
If safety is a main reason of all-women tours people may argue that package tours having both men and women may be just as safe as people are after all travelling in a group. Do you agree?
Group travel per se, is safer than solo, be it all women or not.
You said that all-women tours help in empowering women. How?
The fact that there is a balanced mix of single and married women does mean that they are standing up for their rights, in case of WOW Club, the right to holiday sans husbands and/or families.
You said that there are married women in your club too. What percentage of the women members are married? What motivates married women to go on all women’s tours when it may be likely that they may go with their family (comprising of husband and children) instead?
This trend is fast catching up in India today, as families are not always free to take a break or sometimes to even afford it. The women of yesteryears kept quite about this, today she is able to confidently take a decision on holidays, that too in a harmonious way – the family wants her to enjoy, secure with the fact that safety is a top consideration for all WOW tours.
When will you be introducing trips for foreign women in your club?
Very soon, in 2008, showcasing Ladakh, Rajasthan and Kerala.
What special care do you take for senior citizen travellers?
Make doubly sure that they have the medical insurance, ensure fitness levels and encourage them to enjoy themselves. I will suggest only relaxing tours for them, not active.
Are your tour guides women too?
Yes, sometimes they are, but women are quite interested in the male guides!
You are a foodie who likes tasting world cuisines. Would you like to organize culinary tours for women in future? I have heard of culinary tours abroad, that includes visits to restaurants, vineyards, food bazaars and maybe a crash course in cookery.
Surely, women love food, markets, wine etc. I make sure that we do a bit of this in the WOW tours. Could think of a special gourmet trail in France or New Zealand.
Women’s travel was and still is a relatively new concept in India. Initially was it difficult to sell the idea? What are your future plans for this club?
Indian women have sure come a long way! Judging by the reaction of WOWzers, I get the feel that women today are confident enough to let the world know that I have done enough work. They know that when it is time to have a cool break WOW Club takes over! (Especially workingwomen, who work non stop, first in the office, then at home.)
The response to WOW is tremendous. Women feel that this is a platform for them to interact with other women from different parts of India. They come in as strangers and depart as friends. They feel empowered in the sense they know that WOW is something they can depend on for great travel ideas, value for money, travel packages and a feeling of confidence and well being.
Future plans include travel to offbeat destinations like Israel, Jordan, New Zealand and South America. I also want to expand WOW holidays to other parts of the world with women bonding at their best.
Why do specific countries like the U.K, Australia, France and New Zealand have women only travel groups that are popular?
No, particular reason, I guess these women only groups started here.
You said that you strictly avoid kitty party travel groups. How do you manage to do so?
I concentrate on working women primarily, corporates, self-employed and entrepreneurs.
What is the minimum and maximum number of travellers on your tours?
Minimum – 15, Maximum – 20
What instances do you have from WOW travel experiences dispelling the myth that women are just as much adventurous travellers as men?
Women are more adventurous! The very fact that they have decided to holiday alone, means that! Women want to travel with other women for the excitement it creates, for girl time and fun with a lively group. In the Victorian era, adventurous women who travelled solo or together were looked upon as ‘unusual.’ Today those days are a thing of the past; the world of all women travel is wide open.
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