Lead Story

Women Behind The Wheel

Women-led travel companies, despite being mostly bootstrapped, show a striking will to survive in a market where funding gap remains a prominent issue. Born as passion projects, these companies also address the need for safe and trusted partners for women travellers

Women on Clouds focuses on luxury travel experiences for its clients

When she first returned from her many expeditions in the mountains in Ladakh, Thinlas Chorol was mistaken as a foreigner in her neighbourhood villages. This was in the early 2000s, when the concept of a woman entrepreneur, let alone a woman guide, was unheard of in Ladakh. Chorol founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company in 2009, hoping to not only open the space for women guides and entrepreneurs but also make it safe for female explorers.

Women’s role in the economy remains heavily undermined in India. The country ranks 57th among 65 countries in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2021 global ranking, which attempts to measure the progress of women in business worldwide.

A 2022 government report shows that only one in five businesses in India is led by women. This gap is especially difficult to fill in the travel agency sector, which is fairly young and witnessed a boom only in the 19th century with the entry of names like Thomas Cook. Also, travel companies are still traversing the murky waters of mistrust. The concept of trust becomes doubly relevant while targeting the Indian woman traveller clientele, safety being the key factor. “We sensed a lack of a safe place or a player that women could trust,” says Garima Pande, co-founder of Wandering Jane, a travel agency that organises women-only trips. “This is why we sought to create an ecosystem of trust while laying our foundations,” she adds, implying that trust is an important factor in the checklist of a female traveller.

On the Trail of the Woman Traveller

Sumitra Senapaty, co-founder of Women on Wanderlust (WoW), a travel club exclusively for women, recalls seeing women from foreign countries moving around freely for adventure and leisure when she first started travelling in 2004–2005. “I realised that Indian women lack such opportunities and do not have the right platform that facilitates such leisure,” she says.

Senapaty started out as a freelance writer and solo traveller. She launched WoW as a “cosmopolitan club” that does not seek any religious or spiritual identity while categorising the Indian woman traveller. Instead, it aims to fill the confidence gap among many of these travellers.

Pande echoes a similar sentiment. “Right before we launched Wandering Jane in 2017, I was on a trip in Kerala. When I was travelling, I met a lot of solo women travellers, but only a few of them were Indians. So, while we had a lot of women coming to India from all over the world, Indian women were not even exploring 50 kilometres in their radius,” she says.

“The confidence you gain is extremely important,” said Shireen Mehra, founder of Women on Clouds, another travel group. Mehra, born and brought up in Tehran, first had the chance to “spread her wings” while working as an air hostess for Qatar Airways. Soon, she realised that travel could be incredibly transformative for her personal life. She founded Women on Clouds to inspire new friendships among like-minded women, she says.

Drawing the Map

Despite working on a small scale, these women-led companies target different groups based on their ethos and client preferences. For Chindi Safar, budget travel attracts adventure backpacking groups. Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Kashmir and Uttarakhand remain popular as backpacking destinations in India.

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company primarily operates in Ladakh, catering to backpackers and solo travellers from around the world. On the other hand, Women on Clouds focuses on “pampering” travellers. It welcomes female travellers of all ages and backgrounds on trips to destinations in India and other countries like Oman, Dubai, Singapore, etc.

Senapaty believes that the destinations which her company offers set it apart in the market. Instead of taking the beaten road, the WoW Club boasts of covering unconventional destinations like Tanzania, Kenya, Jordon and Uzbekistan, among others. Signature trips include destinations such as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands.

Wandering Jane draws its itinerary around trusted locals. “We do not send our clients to a destination we know nothing about. We are different from any other player in the market precisely because of all our activities, like scuba surfing and kayaking. Locals even host the guests on many occasions,” says Pande.

Constrained Budgets

All the travel companies that Outlook Business spoke to are entirely bootstrapped. Additionally, the shadow of Covid-19 remains a concerning factor for most. The staff size of Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company dwindled significantly after the pandemic. While they had 25 to 30 members earlier, the number has reduced to a mere eight due to a decline in international travel during the pandemic. Mehra also talks about how Women on Clouds had to reduce its workforce due to losses during the pandemic.

Wandering Jane came up with an innovative strategy to tide over the economic slowdown during the pandemic. “We converted a couple of our in-person activities to online courses. Every weekend, we organised four activities that people could do, ranging from whiskey tasting from Scotland to mixology classes, in collaboration with popular brands,” says Pande. The company also offered courses in flamenco dance with local experts from Spain, besides courses in sound healing from Thailand and yoga from Rishikesh. These courses kept people engaged while they were getting bored at home, she adds.

The journey towards defining a position in the market has been an upstream swim. In their effort to establish themselves, these founders did not just target some brewing demand in the market but actively shaped and inspired travel groups.

Senapaty talks about the importance of networks and word-of-mouth as her active marketing strategy. “Although old-fashioned, it really works for us,” she says. Despite the travel industry being a competitive market, this strategy works well here since trust is non-negotiable for many travellers. However, networking can also mean having pivotal players close.

“For expeditions such as the one to Antarctica, we tie up with companies for marketing and research,” says Senapaty. The WoW Club enjoys the advantage of being one of the oldest players in the market as well as having a loyal clientele. It currently has an annual revenue of about Rs 18 crore.

Journey to the Future

With travel influencers playing a significant role in tourism, travel companies might be set for a new challenge. However, Pande thinks otherwise. “We have had many famous influencers travel with us on our trips. So certainly, we see them as collaborators and not competition. For us, they are helping voices that amplify our reach,” she says.

Wandering Jane has been pivoting from a service to a product platform. With the co-founders’ background in the FMCG sector, this platform shift seems apt. The company already has a 25% biannual growth rate, the founders inform Outlook Business, and is looking forward to a more significant boost as a tech platform.

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, whose annual revenue is about Rs 25 lakh, aims to return to its pre-pandemic size. As an ecotourism-oriented travel company, its target is to promote sustainable tourism in Ladakh through consistent effort. Like Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, Chindi Safar too has been focusing on ecotourism. Apart from group tours, it also organises cleaning drives and disposes of trash in a responsible manner.

Travel and hospitality sectors have started recovering from the impact of Covid-19. They are also witnessing interest from first-time travellers. According to Senapaty, things have changed drastically since 2005. Not only has women’s spending power increased, but the taboo behind solo women travellers has started to dwindle. Women-led travel companies can claim some credit for that.


Women’s World

Here are five major women-led travel companies in India

WoW Club

Founder: Sumitra Senapaty

Founded: 2006

WoW (Women on Wanderlust) Club caters exclusively to women and boasts of more than 10,000 regular customers. It offers exclusive international trips as well as signature trips led by the founder.

Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company

Thinlas Chorol


Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company primarily operates in Ladakh and caters to national and international clientele interested in trekking expeditions. It also promotes ecotourism in Ladakh and has been pushing for higher recruitment of women guides.

Women on Clouds

Shireen Mehra


Women on Clouds focusses on leisure and hospitality, offering luxury travel experiences. Apart from travel trips, it also encourages its clients to bond as a community.

Wandering Jane

Garima Pande and Akshat Sharma


Wandering Jane offers trips across India and southeast Asia. It is also pivoting towards becoming an online product platform. It has a team of five members.

Chindi Safar

Sonali Verma and Shobhita Negi


Chindi Safar is popular among budget travellers and backpackers across the country. Verma and Negi (above) are the CEO and COO, respectively. It attracts many young eco-conscious travellers with trips to destinations such as Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.