Women-only expeditions surge in bookings – and they are transforming the lives of women around the world
Learning the ancient arts of henna and kohl in Jordan’s Wadi Rum Valley – sitting side by side with local Bedouin women, chatting and laughing freely without a headscarf – is something few foreigners get to experience. It certainly wouldn’t be included in a standard guided tour, in the presence of male travelers, due to the country’s cultural restrictions.
But a new generation of women-only tours, which are skyrocketing in popularity, share Bedouin beauty secrets that stretch back centuries – offering unprecedented insight into the private lives of women in the Tory County.
The sisters do it for themselves
While solo female travel has been on the rise for a long time, with Google Trends reporting a 131% increase in interest in 2019, exclusively female-led tours to faraway destinations like Iran, Morocco , Nepal and Jordan take the trend up a notch. These places may look very impressive on the gram, but there’s a serious backbone to the rapidly growing trend, and it’s no coincidence that women-only tours are becoming prolific in conservative countries like these.
With male visitors out of the equation, female tour guides and women-run businesses can access the economic benefits of tourism that were traditionally not open to them. In turn, they are able to provide a much more intimate experience than normal for female visitors.
Intrepid Travel is leading the way with its expeditions for women, which launched on International Women’s Day in 2018. Since then, the number of bookings has increased 116% in one year, to India. , Morocco, Kenya, Nepal, Turkey and Iran, as well as the aforementioned trip to Jordan.
Passing through the usual hot spots like Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, and Petra, this itinerary also gives female travelers the opportunity to do things they would never have access to as part of a mixed group. They swim on a beach reserved for women; learn to cook, make tea and chat the Arabic way in a local house; and goat milk with a shepherdess. It’s more than a win-win solution for customers and hosts. Tours like these are the product of a business model that puts sustainability, in terms of gender equality, first.
Gender equality from the ground up
“We launched these tours to create gender equality not only for travelers, but also for hosts,” says Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Regional Managing Director for Europe, Middle East and South Africa. North. “Tours empower hosts by employing them – allowing women to do chores that they normally wouldn’t be able to do if they interacted with male guests.
“It breaks down the cultural barriers between our guests and our guests, who can interact in a truly special and unique way. The tours have been so well received by our customers that they have been our most successful product in 30 years.
Tours also open up future employment opportunities, as Intrepid ensures that more female Guides are trained than ever before, especially in areas where they are lacking.
“We really pushed the authorities to train women in places like Morocco, where it is very rare to find a female mountain guide,” Bencheikh explains. “They are now 10. We also have female drivers on our trips to Turkey. We make sure that women are paid well, which means that other women really aspire to do these trades. We see this as a reduction in the gender gap.
Other tours organized by Intrepid include a 12-day trip to northern India, which encompasses the Taj Mahal, Old Delhi Bazaar, and Jaipur. Still, the female-only elements set the trip apart from standard Rajasthani tours, while providing income where it is needed most. The tour includes visits to a cafe run by acid attack survivors; a non-profit rickshaw company that provides employment for women from low-income households; and the women-only Gangaur Festival, where visitors dance, paint with henna, and do arts and crafts with local women.
Check the destinations of the bucket list
As for other offers, a travel agency based in New York SmarTours organizes women-focused trips to Egypt, Morocco, Colombia and Vietnam. Their 14-night Amazing Thailand package includes meeting with Buddhist monks and attending a Thai cooking class, as well as a conference on the social perspectives of Thai women. Of course, guests can check off other activities from the to-do list, such as visiting the impressive temples of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok, all led by their local guide.
Millennials, on the other hand, might be tempted by Chick explorerfun, female-focused “she-nanigans”, which take place primarily in the US, South America and the Caribbean, but also in Jordan, led by female tour guides. Then there’s Jomfrureiser, a Norwegian company specializing in ‘women’s travel’ to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Miami, which often encompasses wellness elements like yoga and hiking.
Are there any safety issues on the ladies-only tours that are not taken into account for mixed groups? For Bencheikh, the answer is not at all. “We train our female guides to the same high standards as our male guides,” she says. “They have the same qualifications in first aid and health and safety – the same skills completely.”
But based on the testimonies, female guides seem to provide something that is not necessarily guaranteed by their male counterparts: the ability to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience through genuine intercultural exchange. “This women’s expedition changed my life, touched me and empowered me,” reads Intrepid’s Women’s Expedition to Morocco. “I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said another.