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Women-Centric Company Highlights Challenges, Opportunities in Male-Dominated Industry

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Given its name, there’s no confusion about what the company AdventureWomen is intended to offer. Though there are a number of adventure travel companies with women-specific options today, AdventureWomen was one of the first, helping to provide the foundation upon which this sector of the industry has grown.

Founded in 1982 by adventure travel pioneer Susan Eckert, AdventureWomen offered women-only experiences in less-traveled destinations where women could be active while also exploring and engaging in different landscapes and cultures. Seeing an opportunity to further expand Eckert’s vision, Judi Wineland purchased the company with her daughters Nicole Wineland-Thomson and Erica Landerson in 2016. “Our mutual passion for adventure travel now can stretch across generations to further deepen AdventureWomen’s reach with Millennials and Generation X and Y, in addition to Baby Boomers,” Wineland said. “What better way to do this than vesting my talented daughters in key positions in product development and communications?”


Judi Wineland has been working with women in Maasailand, who appreciate and honor other businesswomen. Photo © Judi Wineland

For Women, By Women

AdventureWomen’s core mission is to connect women through travel and help build relationships among women across countries, cultures, lifestyles, and backgrounds. The company’s team conducts research to understand what women of all ages and interests seek from adventure travel experiences, and this research is put to use in creating itineraries that meet travelers’ needs and desires. “We aim to provide numerous opportunities on each of our trips for our guests to meet other women living in our destinations, sharing stories and insights, and discovering common, universal bonds that connect all of us,” Wineland said.

In doing so, AdventureWomen travelers learn new things about themselves, push beyond their comfort zones, and embrace challenges, all within the company of a supportive group of fellow women travelers. Many women make lifelong friends on these trips, and they return to travel with AdventureWomen time and time again because of the camaraderie that wraps around the experiential travel experience. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the company’s new tagline is “the destination is just the beginning.”


Travelers on AdventureWomen tours are empowered to push beyond their comfort zones. Photo © Judi Wineland

A (Wo)man’s World

When Wineland began working in the adventure travel industry in the 1970s, there were few women in leadership and ownership roles. Of course, the industry has grown, with an increasing number of itineraries pegged as “girlfriend getaways” or women-only tours, and women have often led the charge in building these types of offerings, but it hasn’t necessarily been easy.

Women make up a large percentage of the travel market, and many women travel solo, but the number of women working in leadership roles to address this demographic’s specific needs does not currently match that. “Recruiting women and bringing diversity to leadership in the industry could have monumental effects on the products offered to the ever-changing travel consumer, opening up new destinations and travel experiences,” Wineland said. “One will often note that women are at the front line in travel agencies but not often the leaders or owners of large travel companies. Women need more business experiences beyond travel experiences so that they can join the men who run this industry.”

The U.S. market has become a lot more open for women in leadership roles, but working in developing nations continues to be a challenge. “Whenever a man is nearby, government officials and local leaders will often defer to ‘him.’ I will sometimes ask questions, only to have the answers directed to a nearby male — even if he is not with my company,” Wineland said. “Women’s empowerment has a long way to go in developing nations, where women are often considered secondary citizens.”


Many women are return travelers on AdventureWomen tours, in part because of the lifelong friendships they create while exploring new destinations. Photo © Judi Wineland

These perceived barriers shouldn’t deter women from pursuing a career in adventure travel, however. Wineland suggested those who want to be leaders in the industry need to get as much business experience as possible, and then take a chance and start their own companies. “Find a niche, start small, and expand slowly. When you feel you have defined your niche and you own it, think big!” she said. Don’t be afraid to take risks, invest in personal and professional development, and continue to evaluate the industry environment.

Ultimately, though, being a woman business owner in the adventure travel industry is no different than working in any other male-dominated industry, Wineland said. “You focus on your goals, stay true to your values, believe in yourself, and keep innovating — every day.”

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