The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceforBetter. The campaign advocates for gender balance across every aspect of social lives, including travel. We would like to offer our interpretation of #BalanceforBetter in women travel. By balance, we refer to an external state of equality and an internal state of harmony.
Female travel has been growing exponentially over the last two decades and will continue to rise, with women travelling more boldly, liberally and independently. Searches on female travel and in particular, solo female travel have soared in the past five years. TripAdvisor estimates that three in four (74%) women around the world have travelled or are planning to travel alone.
As the market matures, the reasons as to “why women travel” have moved from simple relaxation and pleasure to more profound needs for empowerment and transformation. Travel provides a space that emancipates women from gendered expectations and their associated responsibilities. In this space, women are able to journey inward to self-discovery as they journey out of their comfort zone.
Balance for Better Travel Experience
Travel empowers women, but our research reveals an “imbalance” in women’s access to travel and experiences while at their destinations. Safety concerns, ranging from unsolicited attention and street harassment to sexual assault, consistently appear as a main impediment to women fully owning and experiencing what’s supposed to be a transformative journey.
The call for gender balance in tourism is getting more attention in the social media space through hashtags such as #viajosola (which means “I travel alone”), with more than 5000 women defending their right to travel safely, and the recent #metoo movement, which has encouraged more women to voice their experiences with gender-based violence, including abuse that occurred while travelling.
Seventy percent of travellers who book tours from TourRadar are women (with a majority solo female travellers), who do so for safety, security and social reasons. Intrepid Travel even took the step of offering a full range of women-only expeditions to conservative destinations where women would not normally have access to. In fact, there has been a 230% increase in the number of women-only travel companies in the past six years (to 2018), as reported by Huffington Post. Women-friendly, and in particular, women-only tours have emerged to provide female travellers emotional and social safety and to enhance women’s travel experiences before an actual balance is achieved.
Balance for Better Within and Without
The quest for inner balance is also reflected in the latest women’s travel trend of ‘spiritual’ travel – a transformative journey to achieve a balance within and without.
Spiritual tourism is not about religion; it is about culture and philosophy, and about transforming the self through new experiences undertaken at a destination. Spiritual tourism is more than a yoga and meditation retreat; its activities and tours include working with arts and crafts, engaging with underprivileged communities, or staying with local communities and learning their ways of life.
It is not the activities, but the questions raised during the activities about self that matter. The ultimate goal of spiritual tourism is to gain new insights about life, and achieve an inner balance and harmony, especially during transitions like a change in career, end of a relationship, death in a family and a difficult chapter in life.
Here is a #BalanceforBetter travel checklist that we compiled from our own research and industry reports. We hope women find something that helps them achieve a better balance, wherever and whatever their journey might be.
Balance for Better Travel Checklist:
1. Go solo, be bold
2. Join a women-only tour to visit places that are otherwise less accessible to women
3. Organise a girlfriend getaway to spend time with your besties
3. Undertake a spiritual tour to (re)connect with self
4. Learn something new when travelling
5. Add adventure tours to your bucket list
6. Last but not least, take a pen and diary when travelling
Dr Elaine CL Yang is a gender researcher at Griffith Institute for Tourism. Elaine is passionate about empowering women in tourism. She is interested in any research related to women in tourism, including solo female travellers, Asian female travellers and women working in the tourism industry. You can find Elaine on LinkedIn.
Dr Catheryn Khoo-Lattimore is a senior researcher at Griffith Institute for Tourism. Catheryn researches tourist and guest behaviour, with a passionate focus on women, families and young children. She is the Regional Field Expert (Asia and the Pacific) for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and United Nations Women 2019 Global Report on Women in Tourism. You can find Catheryn on LinkedIn.
Griffith Institute for Tourism - The team at GIFT specialises in Girlfriend Getaway and Solo Female Travel. Our research utilises a wide range of innovative methods and tools to investigate the potentials and constraints of the female travel market, and offer recommendations to the tourism industry to better cater to this rising market. We also look at different niche areas for women travel such as spiritual tourism, medical/beauty tourism, bridal tourism, adventure tourism, etc. You can find us on https://www.griffith.edu.au/institute-tourism/our-research/visitor-experience-design-evaluation/female-travel-market
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