Nov 26, 2008

Business - Travel Clubs only for Women (G.Read)

Abhilasha Ojha

A clutch of women travellers have started unique travel clubs only for women. Abhilasha Ojha finds out why India needs them so desperately.

T owards the end of our conversation Sumitra Senapaty makes her final point: “Planning vacations, for me,” she says thoughtfully, “is something I do from my heart. And,” she continues, “if I plan a vacation for you, I’ll do so because I want you to love every minute of your trip.”

Senapaty, an avid traveller herself, began an initiative called Women on Wanderlust, in 2005, wherein she sent out emails asking women to experience a vacation in Leh and Ladakh; a vacation that would have no men, no children, just women. “I was so determined that I told my husband that I’d go even if only two people agreed,” she laughs, telling me that as many as 24 women turned up and she had to stop taking requests from others.

Speaking of her own “solo” travel adventures, Senapaty says, “Being a woman traveller isn’t easy. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t visit lonely spots or venture out alone at night…”

Senapaty would know it. After all, she has been travelling by herself for as far back as she can remember. She’s just back from taking a group of women to China (Rs 89,500 per person) and is now fielding calls for another trip that she’s advertising: a trip to Venice that’ll take place three months from now (Rs 1,30,000, per person) and another one to Leh and Ladakh (Rs 39,000, per person).

While she’s busy on the phone, I’m muttering a thank-you prayer to a handful of women like Senapaty who are taking the initiative at organising such vacations for women-only groups. Husbands, children, grandparents (unless your grandmum is in the picture) are strictly, strictly forbidden.

Shireen, whose travel company, Women on Clouds, is smartly advertised on social networking sites like Facebook, says that the idea for starting a women-only travel company (“travel agency” isn’t the right word, as most of these women would say) began when Shireen organised a trip for her friends.

A major reason why women-only vacation clubs likes hers are a success, believes Shireen, is because she knows how much little things will matter and make a difference to her clients. “From chalking out a good itinerary to being extra particular about the hygiene and the safety of the travellers, I think we push ourselves to make a difference to their vacations,” she says, adding that invariably she herself accompanies women-groups s far as possible.

But nothing comes easy and Shireen has had her share of dealing with errant women who have shouted at her for delays that have occurred due to late arrivals of trains and flights! “It’s alright,” she shrugs, working out last-minute details for her first international trip to Singapore (Rs 42,000, for five nights, including air fare).

Also on the cards are white water rafting trips to Rishikesh (Rs 4,200, per day, all inclusive, with stay in camps), Dehradun (Rs 6,300 for two nights, three days), a five-day trip to Goa varying between Rs 15,000-17,000, excluding air travel) and Kerala.

But even as women travel clubs make their appearance in India (similar clubs in the West are very popular), I wonder how easy is it for family members to let go of them, especially married women who are answerable to their husbands, in-laws and children? Why, even the most liberal of households are bound to question the reason for a woman venturing out on her own and not, for example, with her husband or her kids.

“It was very difficult explaining to my family that I needed to get away from being just a mum, just a wife,” admits Aparna, an avid traveller, also a member of the Women on Wanderlust club. “Sometimes,” she adds, “you need to discover yourself and asking for leave once a year for 10 days isn’t much.” Aparna has been with Senapaty’s travel club on trips to Greece (Rs 89,000 in 2007), Istanbul, Egypt and Bhutan. She says she’s happy to have made many friends and often recommends the club to her family and friends.

Looking at the trend of female business travellers, ITC too has a success story on its card what with the Eva floor that was introduced three years ago. Travellers here get complimentary airport transfers in limousines and are made to feel safe with facilities like individual elevator access. Most services are looked after by women staff members.

There’s also Duchess Club, a Chennai-based, just-for-women travel club that plans, even tailor-makes vacations for women coming from one family. Actually, most travel clubs of this nature don’t hesitate to involve women from one family. “I’ve had mums and daughters, sisters and even grandmothers and granddaughters on trips. But I haven’t had a single mum-in-law and a daughter-in-law pair,” quips Senapaty, adding that senior citizens are particularly advised to travel with their family members or close friends.

“From 20 to 60, that’s the age-group that usually comes on trips,” observes Shireen.

I’m clutching my leave application form already.

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