Case Study – Solo Female Travelers – Creating Tourism Opportunities for Female Travelers and Entrepreneurs
What’s the Solo Female Travelers story?
Mar Pages and Meg Jerrard are responsible for stewarding one of the largest online communities of women travelers. The eponymous Facebook group – Solo Female Travelers - serves to “empower women through travel” and currently has over 180,000 members, growing at a rate of 10-15,000 new members per month.
Both Pages and Jerrard were – and still are – serious travelers blogging about their experiences, and identify first and foremost as content creators. The pair have as well now taken on the gratifying, if outsized challenge of steering the community of solo female travelers.
While the principal focus is on developing and moderating the community, the organization has a number of additional aims, such as organizing paid group tours for community members, fostering a dedicated social impact strategy, supporting women-led tourism organizations, etc.
THR spoke with Mar Pages about her ambitions for Solo Female Travelers.
What’s the format of the community?
Pages and team have 5 people working full-time just to manage the group, moderating the conversation – often 2,000 posts a month - and redirecting questions to useful past answers when appropriate.
In general, travelers that are attracted to a group like Solo Female Travelers “have very high trust in communities”, Pages comments, noting that she ran a survey which demonstrated that information on special-interest Facebook groups is more trusted even than friends or family given its objective advice from a like-minded audience. This confidence is in contrast to, for example, digital influencers who generate very little trust, since they often have a commercial interest behind their advice.
Within the community, the single most important topic of conversation is safety – it’s brought up multiple times a day across all destinations. For Pages, it’s a topic that unfortunately surfaces frequently for solo women travelers, a worry that affects 70% of the women in her surveys.
Additional post topics are themes such as getting lost while alone, feeling lonely on the trip, searching for specific travel tips and other general recommendations.
How do the group tours contribute to the business?
The group tour program within Solo Female Travelers serves principally as a way to finance the community and the social impact team. It’s a B2C product that differentiates in a number of significant areas from competitors.
“The group tours are focused on a singular market – providing great travel experiences and high-end tours to solo female travelers, especially in destinations where women are disadvantaged such as Sudan”, highlights Pages.
The other major component of the business model is empowering female local guides, hotel owners, drivers, and other in-market providers whenever possible. Depending on the region it’s not always possible but it’s a core value for the organization regardless. For example, in Tanzania, there are fewer than 10 female guides for Kilimanjaro, but Solo Female Travelers consistently hires female guides for that tour.
Not only do the guides receive payment for leading the tours, Solo Female Travelers provides advisory services to the female entrepreneurs when possible. This is where Pages and team have been able to add additional value for their tours – “there’s an important training component to Solo Female Travelers, which supports women and helps bring more to the profession”, Pages underscored.
Like many new businesses, Solo Female Travelers has faced a number of headwinds to growth, not least as a result of launching the tour program at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
The personalization of each experience and the deep emotional and spiritual connections they build have helped the organization overcome challenging odds. For example, each tour is highly curated, with Pages at the helm. “I go on every single first trip that the company organizes, to better optimize the itinerary. Then itineraries are adjusted based on the feedback of the participants.”
Fortunately, as the company’s reputation spreads, more and more women-owned providers are in touch with the organization, which is aligned with the organization’s mission and as well makes different parts of each itinerary easier to manage, facilitating the product iteration process.
The B2C marketing challenge
Again, since both Pages and Jerrard are content creators at heart, the marketing activity of the organization has always flowed very organically. Pages, for example, has had her own personal travel blog for 8 years.
There’s no sales team within the organization. Instead, the tours rely on word of mouth and referrals. As well, there’s a newsletter that Pages writes herself every week – it’s a personal note with tips on solo travel, comments on interesting conversations in the group community, etc.
For paid content, the Facebook community group will accept paid campaigns on occasion but only if they’re perfectly aligned with the group’s values and demonstrate a clear win-win for the community.
Importantly, Pages would not consider herself an influencer per se though she certainly is a sought-after voice in the community. Pages notes that at least in the Facebook group she is only the moderator, “keeping it free of spam and free of bullying,” and also making sure questions are directed to the right answers. But it’s not about her in the end – “I should be behind the camera, not in front of it,” she notes.
DMO and government partnerships
An additional component of the work that Solo Female Travelers does is related to their relationships with other entities in the public sector. Governments and local DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) are beginning to recognize the benefits of the value proposition of Solo Female Travelers, and are collaborating with the organization on mutually beneficial projects.
Oftentimes, the Solo Female Travelers team will reach out to a government, chamber of commerce or similar organization to ask for, say, a list of female-owned tourism businesses. Now, however, a number of governments have reached out directly to the organization to partner on training programs, cross-promotion of a destination, etc.
For example, a recent trip organized in Spain’s Cataluña region was created in partnership with the Catalan tourism board in Asia Pacific. There was a weeklong campaign in the Facebook community promoting the trip, which went live for 2 hours from every different part of Cataluña.
This recognition is a positive validation for Pages, who sees that the influence her work has is being recognized at a higher level where it can have even more substantial impact.
So far, the Solo Female Travelers business model has been very successful. In addition to the organic growth of the community itself, over 30% of the participants on the tours are repeat customers, indicating a high level of satisfaction with the experience.
In general, Pages feels that “brands and DMOs have a massive opportunity loss in not focusing on this segment.” Women are often the decision makers in travel, though few destinations focus on this fact or cater specifically to the segment. “It’s a great target audience,” notes Pages. “They don’t get drunk, they’re good customers. They may not be spending like a family of 5 but they’re good, repeat visitors.”
Page’s main recommendations are that destinations should be more friendly to solo female travelers and more aware of what women want. The overarching goal is to make a difference in the travel industry, bringing opportunity to both solo female travelers and female tourism entrepreneurs.
Article by THR Senior Director Benjamin Rhatigan