How We Launched a Women-Led Travel Company in the Middle of the Pandemic

Published: December 14th, 2023
Mar Pages
Solo Female Trave...
started February 2021
market size
avg revenue (monthly)
starting costs
gross margin
time to build
210 days
growth channels
business model
best tools
Canva, Stripe, Facebook
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
13 Tips
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Mar Pages and I am the Co-Founder of Solo Female Travelers, a platform that empowers women through travel via our women-led and women-focused tours, our online resources, and our thriving community on Facebook. Our community launched in 2015 and we decided to launch our portfolio of tours in 2021 – in the middle of the pandemic. In 2023, we offered tours in 14 destinations and took around 300 guests on their dream trip grossing just over 1 million EUR in revenues.


We wanted our tours to contribute to making the industry, and therefore the economy of many countries that rely on tourism, more equitable for women.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Our business started as a Facebook group in 2015 by a friend of ours who was looking to connect with other women traveling solo at a time. This style of travel wasn’t the famous influencer driven sensation that it is today.

My business partner Meg and I took over the group management because the creator was going on a long solo trip and would not have time to manage it. We didn’t see it as the beginning of a business idea but as a way to foster a positive community around a topic we both were passionate about.

Because the group was an early adopter of this channel, it remains probably the oldest global online community on the topic of solo female travel.

When we took over, the group was very small (around 15,000-20,000 members) and Facebook communities in general were not the popular places they are today. Meta started to consciously focus on growing this aspect of the business when the pandemic caused them to take off and our group grew to 100,000 in 6 months.

Moderating and managing the group became a full time job that had to be split into 3 to 4 daily shifts with a follow the sun model as we have members across the globe so hiring full-time staff became an imminent reality.

When my business partner Meg became pregnant and prepared for her maternity leave, we needed to find a business model that would ensure the financial sustainability of the community. I could not manage the group alone 24 hours a day for the 4-5 months that she would be away so we needed to make structural decisions.

The idea of launching Solo Female Travelers Tours occurred in 2021, after running our first annual survey on Solo Female Travel Trends and realizing that there were many challenges for women to travel solo, almost all of which could be addressed with women only tours.

But we did not want to just launch a tour operator and make money (as nice as that sounds!). We wanted our tours to be meaningful and have a positive impact beyond filling our pockets.

Tourism can be a force for good but it can also be the source of inequalities and exploitation of the local communities and resources. When it comes to positions of power, travel and tourism remain very male dominated industries.

Women make the vast majority of the travel decisions, yet we represent a small proportion of the senior positions. We wanted our tours to contribute to making the industry, and therefore the economy of many countries that rely on tourism, more equitable for women.

That’s why we decided to make our tours not only women-only but also women-led.

We only hire local and female guides, and we aim to make our tours as close to 100% female led as possible but staying at hotels and eating at restaurants owned by women, and engaging the services of women artisans and activity providers.

In some countries, such as Tanzania, we get involved in the guiding certification and development of potential new guides by donating a part of our tour sales to finance the tuition and channeling guest donations to the Tanzania Women Guudes Foundation with whom we partner. Once qualified, we provide the new guides with on the job training so they can be more attractive candidates for the larger tour operators.

Our mission is to empower women through travel, which refers to both the travelers who come with us on tour and the women we employ on our tours.

Our Kilimanjaro climb where we only employ women guides and 60% female porters

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

Both Meg and I were experienced travelers with years of solo travel before launching our tour business so curating an itinerary that would fulfill our mission and be appealing to our audience was not difficult.

At the time of our launch, not a lot of countries had their borders open, so the options for group tours were limited. We matched our gut feeling for the places we knew our community would be interested to go to with the COVID restrictions and chose Tanzania and Iceland for our first tours.

We announced the tours on our social media channels, we made a post in the group and we launched them via the newsletter, those were the only marketing activities we did to launch the tours.

We were humbled by our organic success.

We had no experience running a tour company but we were very attuned to what our audience wanted because we spent hours in the group listening to them every day.

We also had all the insights from the Solo Female Travel Survey and our decades of experience traveling solo.

I believe that our lack of experience in the tour industry played to our advantage. We had no baggage or preconceived notions of what a tour had to look like so we could focus on what the customer wanted.

The pandemic was another silver lining; while it came with a lot of challenges, it also provided us with access to lots of local travel companies that would have otherwise been too busy to pay attention to a new and inexperienced player.

A simple email to local operators with the idea of launching female only tours at a time when nobody was traveling was all we needed to get them interested in working with us.

We learned a lot from our first two tours in Iceland and Tanzania, and Meg’s baby was born on the last day of the last tour of our first season. We then took an 8 month break until the next round of tours to learn, improve, and iterate our processes and expand our portfolio of destinations.

With COVID restrictions being lifted and the second annual survey results in hand, we were also able to fine-tune our offering.

Photo from our first Tanzania tour

Describe the process of launching the business.

Our community was in full swing when we decided to launch our tours in 2021. We had approximately 150,000 members and a website that had been launched shortly after the beginning of the pandemic.

Meg and I were content creators and bloggers so we had experience running content based businesses. As soon as the community took off, we built a website that was meant to be a repository for the most commonly asked questions in the group. We only did that to be an online publication with typical blogger income streams: advertising and affiliate, nothing more.

The Facebook group and website were managed as a passion project with no aspirations to become a business. We both had our full time income from blogging and this was just another leg in our portfolios with modest aspirations.

With the exponential growth of the group requiring 24/7 moderation and Meg's pregnancy, it became apparent that we needed to turn the community into a full grown business so it could generate enough income to allow us to hire two full time employees.

A content website was not enough to generate the kind of income we needed to sustain 4 salaries, so we had to look elsewhere and think bigger.

With the results of the survey in hand, we assessed various options and decided to launch tours as not only would it allow us to generate the kind of revenue we needed to sustain the business but we could also use them to make a difference in the travel industry by employing only women and women-owned businesses.

The website was already filled with some content when we decided to expand our business to include tours and some of that content served to attract potential guests to our tours and helped us generate leads.

Our group and newsletter were also natural sources of leads and bookings as they were filled with potential customers.

We had been self-funded until that point, but we obtained $80,000 in grants from Facebook via the Community Accelerator in 2021 that served to bridge the gap between the launch of our tours and the business profitability.

A tour business has a very long financial cycle since we typically announce new destinations a year in advance so Facebook’s funding helped us hire a team and cover the costs of running a business for the first year of operation, especially as Meg went on maternity leave.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our growth is entirely organic and we have spent almost nothing on advertising besides the $4,000 that Facebook donated as part of the Accelerator.

Most of our customers find us via a combination of online searches, media mentions, the Facebook group, and word of mouth. All our press coverage can be found here.

We have over 70,000 subscribers to our newsletter which I religiously send every Tuesday and Friday since 2020.

Subscription to our newsletter is mentioned as part of the membership questions to join our Facebook group and we have signup forms on the website.

Our newsletter is a very important marketing tool. With a close to 50% open rate and a very loyal and engaged base of readers, it helps build connections with potential new customers, stay in touch with previous guests, and continue to be top of mind as experts in the field of solo travel and as a committed brand to female empowerment.

All our newsletters are available on the website and can be re-read by anyone, whether they are subscribed or not. These newsletters are personal and personable and I have written every single one of them without fail, often including pictures of myself traveling or of the tours we run.

Our repeat rate is 30% and our previous guests often talk about tours in online forums including our group.

We also personally ask for reviews from all our travelers because we know how important social proof is. As a relatively new company, reviews helped us grow in credibility and bookings at the beginning. Potential customers have been able to speak to previous ones online via the reviews they left publicly on Facebook and Google.

We publish all the reviews on our website, including the ones we receive via email or anonymously. Some of our trip videos also include testimonials from our guests.


Some of our tours are accompanied by professional photographers who help us culture high quality photos of the experiences and serve as a memento for our travelers. We want them to be in the moment and not to experience a destination through their phones, so these candid shots help them be more in the moment as much as they serve as powerful marketing tools.

These are some of the photos from our Greek Islands sailing trip.


I attend every new tour we launch for the first time alongside a professional photographer and will record footage of the trip which we turn into a tour highlights video.

This is an example of a video we put together from our International Women's Day Kilimanjaro climb:


Our content marketing efforts have also paid off both in driving traffic to our website, thus generating affiliate and advertising revenue, as well as in providing a steady flow of leads to our tours business.

We have also focused our efforts on media mentions, be it via HARO, by establishing relationships with journalists, and through the publication of our annual Solo Female Travel Survey results which are read by 10,000 industry professionals every year.

Our survey is the cornerstone of our business. It helped us decide to launch tours and it helps us keep a pulse on the industry and its development. It is also a fantastic source of leads and media mentions as journalists are always on the lookout for statistics on this fast-growing segment. By Googling trends, they find our survey and us as industry experts.

The original idea of launching the survey came because I am a data driven person. I have an MBA and a long career in finance and strategy consulting. I worked for a telecoms management consultancy and at Google before starting Solo Female Travelers and it was hard for me to make any business decision without having data.

Early on, Meg and I realized that as experienced as we are as solo travelers, we were not representative of the vast majority of solo travelers, especially with the recent explosion in this type of travel. As a result, our opinion is not enough to know what women traveling solo want, so the survey was essential to have a holistic understanding of our industry.

The importance of finding the right business partner should not be underestimated. You need to find someone who is 100% aligned with you at a personal and professional level. Someone who complements you and who makes you better, but who would do the same as you in most situations.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our business has been profitable since the second year and enjoys a healthy gross margin of about 30%.

We are a full time team of 3 people complemented by 2 part time employees and a fabulous team of local female guides and ground handling companies that helps us manage the logistics in some of the countries.

The travel purchase process is involved and complex so it is not possible for us to track what is the original source of each sale.

However, we believe that about a third of the sales come from the group, a third via online searches (which include appearances in the media), and a third from the newsletter. This would exclude the repeat customers some of whom have already been on 3 trips with us in just two years since launch.

Our websites receive about 100,000 visits a month thanks to a combination of useful tips on solo travel and our destination guides, as well as tour companies.

Our new tour to Oaxaca


Our expansion plan is four-fold:

  1. Launching more destinations such as Oaxaca, the European Christmas markets (Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Germany), Australia, Bali in Indonesia, Georgia, and Costa Rica.
  2. Continue our efforts to replace the male-owned businesses we currently work with, with female led ones so all our tours support exclusively female owned businesses.
  3. Develop our operations team to handle the logistics of more and more destinations in-house.
  4. Geographical diversification to more markets beyond North America and Western Europe.

In 2025, we hope to have a portfolio of trips that includes 25 destinations, monthly visits of close to 200,000, and our Facebook community approaching 500,000 members. We also hope to have a better work-life balance and more time for non-work related travel so I can achieve my goal of visiting every country in the world.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We were lucky to start the business relying on local and experienced partners in various destinations instead of trying to do everything ourselves. This was more costly but also a source of experience we could take advantage of from the beginning. It also allowed us to launch with a more lean business model.

The pandemic, while decimating the travel industry, was beneficial to us, because we did not have a travel business when it started.

When we launched, there was a void in group travel advertising and pent-up demand for solo travel which we could benefit from. Our members were ready to travel again and not a lot of companies were offering trips. This was not a well-thought-out plan as much as the right time-right place situation.

Being accepted into the Facebook Communities Accelerator and then shortlisted for additional funding meant that we could limit our investment into the business in the first months when we needed to invest in staff but income from trips was not yet there.

Our business has always been remote and geographically distributed. Meg and I started the business without having seen each other for 5 years and proceeded to launch tours and everything else while coordinating everything over WhatsApp and Google Meet. We finally met in person for the first time since 2015 in June of 2023.

Meg and I meeting in person after 8 years


We now plan to see each other on an annual basis in June, along with the rest of the team, for bonding and time together.

Despite the distance, physical, and time difference, we have managed to create a very cohesive and well coordinated business that is built on trust and has a fun, open, and very unique culture.

I always believed that if you cannot trust that your team will do what they are supposed to do without you looking over their shoulders, you shouldn't work with them. We treat our team with respect and as grown ups and never check they are doing what they are supposed to. The day we do will be grounds for an honest conversation.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our entire business is built on Google’s collaborative tools because we are remote and geographically distributed. We use Google Documents, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Gmail, and Canva for almost everything.

Calendly helps us schedule calls with guests who want to talk to us live and Meta’s Business Suite helps us manage everything that has to do with social media and team comms via WhatsApp.

Our newsletter is with Mailerlite because we are not a very sophisticated business but have a large list which would be prohibitive with anyone else. Mailerlite is user friendly and has excellent customer service without costing us an arm and a leg.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I am not much of an inspirational or business book reader (I prefer novels) but I do listen to two podcasts that I find interesting and useful: Niche Pursuits and Authority Hacker.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The importance of finding the right business partner should not be underestimated. You need to find someone who is 100% aligned with you at a personal and professional level. Someone who complements you and who makes you better, but who would do the same as you in most situations.

There will be times when tough decisions need to be made and you need to be on the same page about what is important and what is not. You also need to have a level of trust to tell things how they are and have difficult conversations. Sharing common values and long term goals for the company is essential for that to happen naturally and without tension.

The right partner will make your journey as an entrepreneur a joyful and exciting ride while the wrong one will make it a miserable and lonely one.

If you can, try to work on a shared project with your potential partner before embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.

In my case, Meg and I met at a blogging conference in 2015 and stayed in touch online through the various spaces that exist for content creators and bloggers. In 2018-2019 we had the chance to work together on a project when I hired her as a project manager for one of my projects.

Through the experience of working side by side for a few months, we could test each other’s working style, quirks, and strengths, so when we decided to take over the group and subsequently launch a full company, we knew that we worked well together and that we shared common values of integrity and professionalism.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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