Over the past five years the number of women travellers has grown dramatically. The majority of women travellers originate from North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore. All projections indicate that the number of female travellers will continue to increase. The power of women and their economic impact is being felt in all sectors of the travel industry. This market segment represents new profits for the next century.
How many women are travelling? From what countries? What does a woman look for in her travel experience that is different from a man? What motivates her to purchase? What percentage of your clients are women? What is the impact for businesses and destinations?
Seventy percent (70%) of all travel decisions are made by women. A woman hears or reads about a particular destination, trip, airline or cruise and then she begins more extensive research. Eventually it is the woman who books the air, hotel, tour or land arrangements for herself, her spouse, her family or her boss.
In the North American market, 44% of business travellers were women in 1996. Within four years women will represent over 50% of business travellers.
According to research conducted by NBC-TV for a special segment on The Today Show about "Women Travel," 238 million women travelled without men in 1995.
Sixty three percent (63%) of North American Adventure Travellers taking trips overseas in 1996 were women. On nature-based and cultural tours the percentage of women participants rose to 75%. Nonprofit travel groups (such as university alumni trips, museum groups, wildlife foundation and educational tours) report 60% female participants.
Following my speech about "The Female Adventure and Eco Traveller" at
the PATA Adventure Travel & Ecotourism Conference in Malaysia I received
correspondence from Darrell Wade, Director of Australia's Intrepid Travel.
He reported: "I thought you might be interested in a few statistics from
Intrepid, which is probably one of the larger adventure operators these
days. In 1996 Intrepid took a total of 6,000 clients. Of these 74% were
women. Of independent travellers, we had three and a half times as many
women as men! Of the men who did travel with us, 60% were accompanied by their female partner.
"I know these statistics are really only supporting your existing research.. .the notable difference with our figures is that they are collected from a worldwide resource--the U.S. makes up a relatively small section of our market. Our primary markets are U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the rest of Europe. Clearly the trends you have identified for the U.S. are reflected in other world markets too."
There are over 75 U.S. travel companies that gear itineraries specifically to women and also offer women-only tours.
According to Jerry Mallott, President of the Adventure Travel Society In North America, women accounted for $55 billion in retail sales in purchases of pre-trip equipment in 1995. To prepare for their travels, women buy special footwear, backpacks, tropical or mountain apparel, outdoor gear for biking, scuba, kayaking, climbing and skiing. There are even special mail order companies that cater to female travellers' needs.
In decades to come, the increasing affluence and growth of the middle class in the rapidly developing countries of Southeast Asia will feed a steady stream of women travellers originating from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Chinese Taipei.
There will continue to be an increase in travel by Japanese Office Ladies. Although there is no precise definition of "Office Ladies," the majority of them are young, single, working women. They live at home with their parents until they marry. Most Office Ladies are about 25-30 years old. A large percentage of their income is available for leisure activities, shopping and travel. According to the Tokyo office of PATA, the total number of Japanese travellers outbound increased 300% in the past ten years. The number of Office Ladies travelling outbound increased 380% in the same period. They represent a significant market.
According to Mary Bakht at the Hong Kong Tourist Association, "the number of women travellers in Hong Kong increased from 2.11 million to 4.7 million in the last ten years (comparing 1987 and 1996 figures), representing an increase of over 120%. Especially strong was the Japanese market where the number of Japanese women visiting Hong Kong increased 158% in the same time period."
Korean women are new at travelling without their spouses or a male family member; however, group travel for Korean Women's Clubs is rapidly expanding. In fact, the incident of businessmen's wives travelling without their spouses in all the Asian areas mentioned above is on the increase.
Who Is the Female Traveller?
Women are travelling more and more. They are also travelling more confidently. There are at least four major subdivisions of travelling women.
1. Increasingly, women are travelling without their spouses or a man. Although many women also vacation with their spouses or significant others, they are taking more trips per year on their own. These additional trips, without a man, are both short trips to visit relatives and friends and also longer domestic or international trips with a female friend or with a tour group.
2. The solo woman traveller represents a growing and influential market segment. Solo women travellers are not loners; they are bold, confident, gutsy adventurers. When they hear the beckoning call to travel, they don't wait for or depend upon a husband, friend or tour. These women travel independently.
3. Women-only tours represent another expanding segment of the women's travel market. The first women-only tours were shopping trips. Twenty years ago the first women-only adventure travel companies were founded. They offered athletic, skill-development opportunities such as hiking, climbing, rafting or backpacking adventures close to home. Today the market has expanded to include over 75 companies in North America who offer women-only adventure, cultural, historic and soft trips worldwide. The oldest and largest women-only tour company, Rainbow Adventures, reports a yearly sustained increase in sales of 20% over the past twenty years. Women-only travel is not niche travel--it has entered the mainstream.
4. Women experiencing life-style changes represent a lucrative, new group of travellers. Women recently divorced or widowed are no longer staying at home. They are taking off alone, in groups, with their daughters or friends. Many of these women make numerous long trips per year.
What Are the Implications for Businesses and Destinations?
What does the significant growth in women's tourism and travel mean for you? In future years a larger percentage of your clients, in the leisure, business, convention or conference domain will be women. If 70% of all travel decisions are made by women, if over 50% of your clients are already women (or will be in the near future), the time has come to identify the woman travellers' needs and purchase motivators. Products will be modified to accommodate these changing markets. Sales, marketing and advertising campaigns will increasingly target the female traveller. Herein lies untapped profits.
What Does the Female Traveller Look For?
The number one concern for a female traveller is safety. This applies to all areas of the travel experience. The concept of safety from a female perspective is defined in two ways.
1. PHYSICAL SAFETY - Women typically ask: Is this country or destination female-friendly? Is it physically safe for me, as a woman alone, to walk though local markets or at night? Will I be harassed by men, carpet merchants or beggars? What are the threats of mugging, theft or rape? Is the hotel located in a safe neighbourhood? Does the hotel room have double locks, a peephole in the door, a phone in the room that works? Where can I store my valuables? Is there a safe in the room? Will this particular tour offer me the safety and protection I seek? How long has this company been in business? How long have they operated tours in this country? What do past female passengers say about this tour company? Is the guide reputable? If the guide is male, does he treat females with respect? Does he try to pair up with a woman on every trip?
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY - A woman's sense of psychological safety depends upon her feeling "at ease" or comfortable with a group of people (such as the other participants in a tour), with a culture, the religious environment, or in nature.
Most women want to be comfortable when they travel. Of course, the level of comfort each woman needs varies according to her individual level of experience with adventure travel, wilderness trips or travel in developing countries.
Some women do not feel "comfortable" unless they have a daily shower (with warm water) and room service. Other more bold female adventurers can comfortably trek for weeks, living in a tent, eating local fare and sponge bath with tepid water. Comfort is in the eye of the beholder. What's the lesson? Understand her expectations. Be honest and clear about what you can deliver. If you understand her minimum acceptable comfort level, then you can under promise and over deliver.
Connecting. Social Interaction
Women look for connections. We want to be part of a group, to belong,
to be with "like-minded" people. Exclusive tours offered to alumni of colleges
and universities are growing at a healthy rate. Why? People like to travel
with others with whom they feel they have something in common. Researchers
have called this increased interest in belonging to clubs or groups a "clanning
Women love the social interaction inherent in group travel. The group dynamics are important. Men are less interested in the gregarious nature of group travel and are less likely to correspond with fellow travellers after a tour. On the other hand, women who travel together often become close friends. "Roommates for a trip, friends for life."
A high priority for women, whether travelling in groups or solo, is to make connections with the local people. "When we travel we pause more to listen, assimilate, to move in and out of the lives of those we meet on the way. Where women go, relationships follow, from encounters with nature to special moments of connection and friendship with others. I am reminded of a trek I took in the Himalayas, travelling with a group of men and women. When hiking through local villages, most of the men focused their cameras, snapped their pictures, and, intent on reaching their goal, hiked quickly on. The women, on the other hand, lingered, moved in closer, made eye contact (most often with other women). Sometimes cooing over a child or going as far as rocking a baby. Most women travellers I know try to learn enough words in the local language to say not just "How much?" or "How far?" but "Nice home. Beautiful jewelry," or ask "How many children? Boys or girls? How old?" Silent bonds develop though smiles and gestures. Women will easily play the fool to bring laughter to groups of children or adults with puppets, wind-up toys, or dancing the Hokey Poky." (Excerpted from Travellers' Tales: A Woman's World, by Marybeth Bond)
Opportunities To Purchase Local Crafts. Indigenous Art: Shopping
For almost all women, shopping is an inherent part of the pleasure of travelling-especially if she feels she is getting a bargain or has uncovered a unique, handmade craft representative of the local artistry or culture. Women want to have the time when travelling to buy presents or curios or mementos for family members, work associates, friends, neighbours and themselves.
Educational / Enrichment Tourism
Travel has always been associated with learning. Education and enrichment tourism, such as ecotourism, heritage tourism, historical, cultural and nature-based tourism are gaining in popularity, particularly among women. Look at the amazing growth rate of Elderhostel learning vacations and of specialty story, culture and archeology tours. Women want to bring home something in their minds as well as their pockets.
Women are drawn to travel experiences and destinations that enhance both mental and spiritual growth. Southeast Asia, and specifically the Buddhist areas, are compelling for women. Women repeatedly report that they are drawn to Buddhist countries, citing the unique spiritual environment and deep respect they witness for all human beings. There is a trend toward self-improvement, finding meaning in one's life and a new emphasis on spiritual growth. Visits to Yoga or meditation centres and making spiritual pilgrimages are growing in popularity.
When shopping around for different travel options women prefer tours that include education components such as daily lectures, a well-educated scholarly guide or the opportunity to participate in actual research.
Need To Nurture
Women pay attention to social concerns and the environment. When travelling they want to find ways to help--to make a small difference in the lives of children in a developing country or to preserve a species or save a rainforest.
Value can be perceived in many different ways. Some see it as low cost, others view it as a superior product for a competitive price. Women are not necessarily looking for budget travel. They are, however, looking for value for money and no surprises. Many experienced women travellers perceive value in having an academician lecture to the group; or travelling in small groups, off the beaten path; or staying in historic accommodations (such as the Maharaja's Palace Hotels in India).
Expanding Your Market Share
The key to increasing your market share of female clients is to identify, understand and offer women what they want. Deliver a clear message to your prospective passengers that your product is "female-friendly." Clearly communicate this in your catalogue, your marketing, public relations and advertising materials. You may form a "Female Advisory Board" (following the example of several international hotel chains) to poll your female clients and discover specific ways to appear more "female-friendly." Train your sales staff and educate your employees about the needs of women.
The significant growth in the number of women travelling from the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North Asia, South and Southeast Asia, Japan and Chinese Taipei into the major market areas of the Pacific/Asia region indicates that women, as a group, are well positioned financially to impact all sectors of the travel industry. Your future profits will come from understanding and targeting the female traveller. Keep an eye on her! Learn to court and keep her business. Female travellers are loyal repeat buyers.
About the Author
Marybeth Bond is the award-winning author of Gutsy Women and editor
of Travelers' Tales: A Woman's World. She is a contributing editor to Microsoft's
travel magazine, Mungo Park, and is a columnist for Adventure Travel Business.
This paper is based on a presentation she gave at the PATA Adventure Travel
& Ecotourism Conference in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, in January
1997. She is based in Northern California and can be reached via e-mail:
© 1997 Pacific Asia Travel Association. "Reprinted by permission of the publisher"
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