In the middle of the night, during her first visit to Morocco, Vanessa Karel found herself stranded.
She had planned to fly to Marrakech for a business trip in 2020, but the flight chaos caused by the pandemic diverted her flight at the last minute to Casablanca, located nearly three hours away.
“I didn’t know anyone, it was midnight and I was scared,” the San Francisco-based entrepreneur said. Karel, 32, was frantically searching his phone for some type of concierge service “who can pick me up and take me to my hotel so I know everything will be fine.”
Although Karel made it to his hotel, the experience set the tone for the rest of his trip.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have a horror story, but I did have a lot of scary experiences,” she said. “I felt unsafe and uncomfortable in some places. As a little woman, I stood out. I obviously seemed confused, I didn’t know where I was going.” Karel said she was sometimes chased down the street by men.
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She even tried to find a female tour guide but could only find one.
Thus was born the idea of a startup, focused on security that would also empower women. Launched in November 2021, Greether is a dedicated travel platform that seeks to change the way women travel while supporting ethical tourism. Through the platform, solo female travelers are matched with verified local guides – dubbed “greethers”, a play on greeters – who create an itinerary, share local customs and safety tips, and even meet them at the door. airport or hotel.
In fall 2022, Greether was accepted into Expedia Group’s first-ever accelerator program, launched in February 2023.
In January, the startup was chosen as one of the 15 most innovative sustainable travel companies by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Traveling alone as a woman
Despite her experience in Morocco, Karel still enjoys traveling alone – she has visited around 30 countries on her own.
“I love traveling solo, it really taught me about myself,” she said. “It made me a very adaptable and flexible person.”
Karel also realized that she was the only woman among her friends and family who traveled alone. When she asked them why, they said they were “afraid” of what might happen – a common concern among women traveling alone.
In a 2022 survey of more than 5,000 women, 69% of those who had not yet traveled alone said that what held them back was their personal safety. Even for women who travel alone, their main concern is also safety.
Women also want to stay together if they can, even if they’re technically traveling alone. Ninety-six percent of survey respondents said that if they were traveling alone they would want to book a women-only tour, up from 68% in 2021.
It is impossible to ignore the reality of violence against women, especially in countries where women have fewer rights or where there are different cultural gender norms. In a 2018 survey, 2 in 5 women said they had experienced sexual harassment while traveling alone. More than half of respondents said they felt unsafe at some point while traveling solo. And sometimes things turn for the worse, which is everyone’s biggest fear.
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Karel wants to counter some of that fear with the help of Greether.
I don’t think instilling fear is the solution, rather than empowering women to keep fighting for safe spaces. …While there is gender-based violence and harassment all over the world, the world is also full of amazing humans, and our job is to find them and make women have someone reliable they can count on wherever they go. I believe that women can use resources and tools to feel and be less vulnerable.
Solo travel, in general, is on the rise, but more and more women are ready to explore the world without waiting for anyone else. The rise of digital nomadism helps.
“I think we can all feel like we were put on boundaries since we were very small as women, like obstacles and barriers,” Karel said. Now more than ever, there are more women in the workforce, and millennial women are marrying and having children much later in life.
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How does Grether work?
In just under two years, the platform already has local guides in more than 500 cities in 97 countries, such as Seoul in South Korea; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Tel Aviv, Israel. New cities are added every day – on March 20, the first Guatemalan guide is due to meet a traveler. If you don’t see a travel guide in the city you want to visit, Greether will try to find one for you.
“It’s like your local best friend wherever you go,” Karel said. “Everything is very suitable for you.”
The platform is also inclusive, catering to non-binary, transgender, and other LGBTQ+ people as well. Some of the Greether guides also identify as non-binary and transgender, Karel said.
Your guide will meet you at your hotel or any other meeting place you choose, and together you’ll explore the city via an itinerary she’s created based on your interests – to vegan restaurants, if that’s your thing.
She’ll also tell you about safety precautions, like do’s and don’ts, how to use public transport, and neighborhoods to avoid. Your guide will contact you before, during and after your trip via messaging through the website. (The company is working on developing an app.)
Many Greether customers are on a layover or layover and want to know what they need to do within their limited time frame right from a local.
At first, Greether services were free, but since last September, its tourist services cost between $55 and $80 per two hours. The price increases if you want to add more time or a friend to the reservation. The local guide gets around 40-55% of the booking payment, according to Karel.
“When you travel and use Greether, you put money in the hands of women,” Karel said.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, women tend to hold the lowest paid and lowest ranked jobs in tourism, despite making up the bulk of the tourism workforce worldwide. .
“I think there’s still a lot of money on the table (in the tourism industry),” Karel said. “There are a variety of traveler needs.”
Different travelers have their own security concerns that are not always understood by tour operators, such as how LGBTQ+ travelers feel concerned about their safety and feel uncomfortable visiting certain countries. Other travel companies such as Fat Girls Travel and Pink Girls Run the World focus on creating safe spaces for different travelers, such as tall travelers and black travelers.
“How can they take into account that not all travelers will have the same travel experience? There are things you don’t think about unless you’re in this community.”
Top safety tips for women traveling alone
- If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, Karel said to plan your arrival carefully. To start, try to arrive during the day. “Sometimes you just book the cheapest flight and don’t realize you’re arriving at midnight, which can be dangerous,” she said.
- Use your hotel to your safety advantage. “If I’m traveling alone, sometimes I’ll go so far as to let the concierge know you should expect me at that time,” she said. “Sometimes they call me to get him back safely.” Not all hotels may do this, but it’s worth asking, she said.
- Be friendly with the locals and don’t be afraid to turn to them for help. Ask other people who have visited this place before about their experience.
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org