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Security concerns plus not having someone in your everyday life who wants to travel when or how you want is driving some online travel communities.

Tony Carne, Shift

Covid was obviously a disaster for tour operators, but not everyone suffered equally. Travel communities that formed on social media platforms such as Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram saw membership grow significantly during the pandemic, even when travel was not possible.

But are these true travel businesses taking market share from the status quo operators or growing the market by filling a void? I set out to meet some of the people behind these groups to learn more.

One of the things I noticed was how important that community was to the leaders of each group, something that sets them apart from traditional tour operators. They all started as a safe place to meet online, chat about travel and get information about destinations.

“We have travel products as a means to support the community, not the only outlet,” said Mar Pages, the mastermind behind Solo Female Travelers, which has more than 188,000 members on Facebook. Meanwhile, Haley Woods, founder of Girls LOVE Travel, said her group started the trips because that’s what her community wanted.

Furthermore, the communities I discovered mostly attract women. Three of them are exclusively female, while the demographics of the Travel Squad also lean heavily female. Pages works hard to ensure that her company’s tours are as close to 100 percent female-led as possible.

“No female guides, no tours,” she said.

However, it is not just a guide. It’s all hoteliers, drivers, even porters on Mount Kilimanjaro, according to the company. Female Solo Travelers also conducts a survey on the safety of destinations purely from the perspective of solo female travelers and publishes an index now referenced by the US State Department in travel advice.

“When you are female and alone, the risks are different [than] for other travelers,” Pages said.

These communities attract like-minded individuals, especially those who don’t have anyone in their daily lives or regular social circles with the desire to travel like them.

“People in our community are worried that they won’t meet anyone there if they just go alone and realize they’ll have a better time doing things with a group of friends,” said Alex Merritt, creator of the Travel Squad. launched during the pandemic and now has approximately 69,000 members on Facebook. “We connect them with like-minded people before they leave to travel, solving that problem.”

Although their communities are growing, those companies still have a long way to go in terms of fundraising and revenue generation. But they are hard at work engaging booking platforms to power their journeys.

Girls Love Travel and Solo Female Travelers use booking platforms WeTravel and YouLi, respectively, to sell their group getaways. Meanwhile, Merritt and The Travel Squad are considering launching an app as the company is in the midst of a seed funding round. Girls Love Travel previously went this route before shutting down that effort.

Lack of technology has not stopped these companies from selling tours. The Travel Team sold $100,000 of its Luxe Week trips to Bali in 24 hours at the end of April this year, while Girls Love Travel took 130 members on two cruises to Antarctica during the 2018-2019 season. That would be $1 million in revenue per month even at the low end of Antarctic prices.

However, those communities are still navigating a turbulent post-pandemic environment. Amanda Black, creator of the Solo Female Traveler Network, said her group wants to return to pre-pandemic metrics before it looks to raise money next year. Her community – as well as the Travel Squad – are the only ones who really discussed ambitions to become big players in the travel industry.

“We don’t want to be the next Intrepid,” Pages said. “We just want to do great for our community and for running a business built on the principles of supporting women’s empowerment.”

Meanwhile, Woods acknowledged that the vagaries of Facebook’s algorithms could help make the future of her community uncertain.

“It could all be over tomorrow,” Woods said. “For now, I’m glad we have this place for connection and support.”

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