On a recent holiday, I was struck by the number of women tourists travelling alone at various airports. Among them were quite a few Indian women. One Indian woman who had been on holiday alone, I noticed, to my delight, beat back a number of loutish Indian men pushing her to change seats on a plane to accommodate them. Please adjust, madam, one of the wheedled. The woman stood her ground. “I asked for this seat and I am sitting right here,” she said shutting them out with headphones.

Is it fun to travel alone for women? It would seem so. Google trends show that last year alone, 10 million women searched sites for solo travel. According to Pinterest, there has been an astounding 350% increase in women looking for solo travelling options.

Many reasons are clearly driving this trend. One is that women becoming more independent and economically empowered. They want to travel at their will, do what they want to and not make too many compromises. One factor holding them back earlier was the lack of safety for women travelling alone. While that is still valid in many countries, especially India, in an interconnected world, the risks are less. You can always let people know where you are, with whom, and whether you need help. Many nations are relatively safe for women, among them many of the east European countries. Most offer trips solely aimed at women. With tools like Google etc, women can eliminate the need for annoying touts or local help.

Coming back to Indian women, today they are refusing to accept that they cannot travel alone either due to cultural restrictions or safety concerns. And it is not just a journey many of them want but adventures which include strenuous sport like mountain climbing or cliff jumping, a bone chilling activity which I witnessed recently. Within India, more than half of solo travellers on overnight domestic trips are women, according to the ministry of statistics and programmes.

Over the last two years, numerous travel industry reports show that more than 35% of women have chosen to holiday on their own. The bulk of these are from north India with Punjab leading the way. Surprisingly, despite Bengalis being intrepid travellers, women from the state hardly feature among solo female travellers. Even though the jump in solo women travellers does not amount to a paradigm shift, there are many encouraging trends which will see their numbers increase further. For a start, there is so much information available that the woman traveller can pick and chose destinations based on availability of transport, safety and also opt for women specific packages that many holiday destinations have created for women.

More countries, like Vietnam for example, are realising that women have much greater purchasing power and are willing to go the extra mile to address their concerns. The hospitality industry realises that this is a segment that can bring in huge revenues. Female travellers are increasingly being sought after by travel companies which are creating exclusive packages for them. This is a trend which could pay huge dividends for India if it were to take its tourism sector a bit more seriously.

The one thing women who travel want is the freedom to do as they please provided it is not overtly offensive. But here the signals being given out by those in authority are curious to say the least. The culture minister Mahesh Sharma said a couple of years ago that foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities. Hence, the issuance of a welcome kit with clearly delineated instructions on how to keep safe.

The implication is that the onus is on the women tourist to keep herself safe. There have been numerous instances of foreign women being harassed or duped in India. The government, in collaboration with the hospitality industry, should work out ways to attract more women travellers and focus on plugging the very many loopholes in the system which keep them away.

This idea that women need safety in numbers or male escorts has become redundant in many other countries. India which has so much to offer can surely do better than it has done so far on attracting this valuable segment of tourists.

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