Let’s face it: The travel industry is deeply, massively imperfect. It can be wasteful and sometimes overly indulgent. It takes advantage of deeply embedded power dynamics and structures. It can be incredibly harmful to local communities and to our environment. It poorly represents the actual travelers out there, focusing instead on generalizations that speak to a mythical norm (the young, white, male, heterosexual, Western, able-bodied traveler). It is deeply political, even though we may not realize it.
And yet the travel industry has so much capacity to make the world better.
The women’s travel landscape is in a similar predicament. On the one hand, women’s travel — and especially solo female travel — is on the rise. In fact, Google searches for “solo women travel” increased 230% — just in 2019 alone.
Yet as solo female travel continues escalating in popularity, the problems are still unresolved. Travel leadership is still massively homogeneous. Women are still regularly shamed for traveling solo (and even more so if she chooses to leave a spouse or children behind). We still hear endless news stories of women who have been attacked or killed overseas. We grapple with the fact that these stories are often focused on young, white women, as if they were the only ones that mattered.
Pushing the Travel Industry to Be Better
When I started Wanderful (as a travel blog in 2009), it was because I had seen something in our industry that was broken: a system where the vast majority (we’re talking 80-85% of the purchasing demographic) felt pigeonholed into a niche category. A majority that was feeling inspired to travel, and simultaneously told by our peers and families not to go.
Since then, many of our efforts at Wanderful have been holistic. Rather than just focusing on helping women travel the world and building a thriving community of women who can support each other, we also create tools to equip the travel industry to do better.
We host events like the WITS Travel Creator + Brand Summit to connect diverse women who are the grassroots builders and voices of the travel industry — content creators, social media influencers, small business owners, and travel advisors. We give them opportunities to meet and work directly with travel brands that want to work with them.
We created an entire network of travel content creators to lift their work through our creator membership, giving them daily workshops, master classes, and access to experts who can help them raise their voices and thrive.
We launch toolkits like the Anti-Oppression Toolkit for Travel & Culture Creators to help identify terms, language, and ideas for independent content creators as well as travel brands that are looking to speak more thoughtfully about their work and include more diverse voices into their content.
We lean into challenging discussions like Moving Forward: a three-part anti-racism town hall for the travel industry, which was designed to bring together hundreds of industry members and content creators to discuss anti-racism and — more specifically — anti-Black racism in travel and how our industry can take responsibility to eliminate it.
At the end of the day, progress can’t happen without open and honest discourse, plus a desire to do better. That’s why, on top of our many creator-focused efforts, we’ve actively started working with companies that are imperfect, but that have made a commitment to do better.
We Work With Imperfect Companies Who Commit to Doing Better
If we only collaborated with perfect companies, we’d be out of business. I challenge you to find a company in the travel industry that is truly perfect. None of us are.
Despite what some of our very kind members have said about Wanderful, we are also imperfect. We work constantly to be more inclusive and more diverse, operating as a small team with limited financial resources and time.
And we miss things. It’s why it took us until now to get closed captioning at our virtual Wanderful events, for example.
Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive company is not a box you can check and be done with. It is a value that you must cultivate with your team every single day.
Not long ago, I had an interview with a major travel publication and the interviewer asked me if the problems that women faced in travel (lack of representation, stereotyping in travel marketing, concerns about safety, the whole bit) were systemic. The interviewer wanted to know if the travel industry’s problems were the result of women earning less than men, unequal power in the workplace, larger issues of maternal health and rights in the United States, etc.
My response was: well, of course.
So many of these problems are rooted in broken and oppressive systems that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. But that should be a reason for fighting, not an excuse for inaction. The moment we stop taking responsibility for our own industry (and what trickles down into our own companies) is the moment we largely give up on any progress at all. These problems may be part of a larger system, but dismantling that system can be done piece by piece — starting right here, with our own companies and careers.
The defining difference between a company that we will work with and one we won’t work with is this: are you trying to do better?
Trying to do better means:
- You’ve taken a thoughtful look at the problems occurring in your company and have recognized your power to change them.
- You are dedicating resources (or planning to dedicate resources) — both human resources and financial resources — to alleviate these problems.
- You understand that this is a lifelong commitment and not a one-time fix.
Trying to do better consists of recognition, action, and ongoing commitment.
It was in realizing this that we also understood our own capacity to do more. Rather than brief consultations with travel destinations and brands as they prepare for WITS on how they can team up with women travel creators, we thought: why not help companies improve their strategies and their work year-round?
Two Ways We Are Helping Brands Do Better
Not every company is large enough to have a DEI department. Even if you are lucky enough to have one, it’s likely that the number of people working in that department — and the budget they have to work with — is miniscule.
With immense respect to the amazing DEI professionals out there who are working tirelessly to make their companies better, I’d like to live in a world someday where DEI professionals are redundant; in that world, DEI is a part of every job and built into every department budget everyday — not just siloed into its own category and corner.
Until that happens, we’re using our connections, resources, tools, and community to help companies take that next step to actually do better.
The first way we’re doing this is through brand consultations.
Not only does Wanderful already connect brands with thousands of women travelers, content creators, and media, but we can also help you identify holes in your business and a starting place to fix them, so you can make sure that the actions you’re taking are right for you.
Utilizing our incredible team with strong backgrounds in business, social justice, marketing, and meaningful community building, we provide a series of comprehensive brand consultations that allow us to take a deep dive into your business, and especially your marketing and brand voice.
We’ll look at how you talk to a diversity of women travelers. We’ll examine your products and services — from the tours you offer to the features in your startup product. And we help make sure that not only your voice, but the heart of your business, is inclusive to women and travelers of different intersecting identities, whether you’re a large corporation or a small business.
With women comprising such a huge part of the travel industry, it’s absolutely essential that you not only reach women travelers meaningfully, but that you consider the needs of a diversity of women across your work. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do for your business.
The second way we do this is through brand partnerships.
For those companies that are committed to working with more diverse content creators and incorporating new voices into their brand marketing, a Wanderful brand partnership is an ongoing effort to help you get there as easily as possible.
You don’t become a Wanderful brand partner because you’ve gotten our stamp of approval. It’s not a mark of success or achievement, or a certification that you’ve made it. It’s a promise of dedication and strategic work. It’s your way of saying you acknowledge the need to reach and support diverse women travelers, and you are taking measures to do it.
Our brand partners are publicly stating that they want to do better, and that’s the first step. With brand partnership, companies receive ongoing access to our network of women content creators, bloggers, and social media influencers, while also building their own in-house skills with ongoing educational workshops and resources. Higher levels of brand partners can also sign up for consulting, and even marketing campaigns that we help drive in order to incorporate a variety of voices and experiences into your promotions.
Partnering with us doesn’t mean your work is done — but it does mean you’re working on it.
We should all make such a commitment.
The reality is that we’re all imperfect. We should all make such a commitment to do better — not just once or twice, but every day and every fiscal year. We can’t just say we want to be inclusive. We have to spend money on it. That means listening to voices outside of our corporate circles. It means hiring and meaningfully paying diverse talent. It means dedicating employee hours to DEI (and yes, that costs money). And it means ensuring DEI efforts are systemic, not siloed into a specific department or campaign.
A few years ago, someone asked me how investors can better support female founders. My response was simple: write a check.
It’s the same for making a travel company more inclusive to women. If you want to meaningfully reach women travelers, you have to invest in women first.