Last updated on March 6th, 2023
Featured image: Iceland is just one of the many destinations women can explore with one of TTC’s companies | Photo by Igor_Tichonow on Envato
Meet a woman shaping the travel industry
By Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
When it comes to visionaries and changemakers in women’s travel, The Travel Corporation’s COO Ulla Hefel Böhler is making her mark. I first met Ulla in Toronto in March 2020. At the time, as the CEO of Insight Vacations, she was launching their first women-only tours to Italy and India in anticipation of International Women’s Day, only to shelve them days later.
“Women-only tours are absolutely one of my passion projects,” she says. “But sometimes the universe has different plans. In 2020, we had planned two incredible women’s-only trips for Insight, one to Italy and one to India. Within a few days, the whole world changed. There was no way we could launch a trip to Italy, which all of a sudden was the new COVID hotspot. To this day, we still haven’t run the India trip because India became the next COVID hotspot.”
In March 2022, Ulla left her role as CEO of Insight Vacations to become the Chief Operating Officer at The Travel Corporation. This 100+ year-old, fourth-generation, family-owned and family-run business operates in over 70 countries and includes 40 brands such as Trafalgar Tours, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and Uniworld River Cruises, as well as independent and youth travel and sightseeing specialists. A passionate traveller, Ulla speaks English, German, Italian and French, and has a bilingual degree in tourism and economics from Ca’Foscari University in Venice. Born in Austria, she calls Zurich, Switzerland home and has also worked in Florence, Venice, London, Sydney and Melbourne.
Recently, I had an opportunity to catch up with her between her travels in London, at the Rubens at the Palace, a beautiful historic Red Carnation Collection Hotel in London, UK. Although we’ve stayed in touch during the pandemic, it gave me an opportunity to hear first-hand how The Travel Corporation is looking at the future of travel and using its influence to create positive change.
Carolyn and Ulla talk women’s travel trends in London, surrounded by travel inspiration / Photo provided by Carolyn Ray
Trends in Women’s Travel
Looking at 2023, Ulla is optimistic, despite all the change on the horizon.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she says. “I think 2023 has the potential to be a comeback year, but I’m also realistic enough to know that there can and will be more bumps on the road. I’m not yet able to predict what they are because there is so much happening out there.”
“Change goes well beyond COVID,” she explains. “There are energy prices. There are airlines doing crazy stuff. There is still a very sad war in Ukraine, so the world is still very volatile. I don’t think we’re out of this yet, but I do think that the world is a lot more resilient than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago.”
Trend 1: Women are the drivers of change
In an industry where most of the clients and workforce are women, Ulla has dedicated her career to supporting and empowering women. Not only has she introduced Women’s Tours, she has also worked within The Travel Corporation for the past 18 years to advance women in their careers.
Change starts inside companies. Throughout our discussion, she mentioned all the women who are rising stars, women she has observed and supported in multi-decade careers at TTC companies.
“I love promoting from within,” she says. “It’s part of our corporate culture. We like to nurture people and bring them along. We’ve got a number of wonderful stories of women who started working with us 20 years ago in junior roles, and are now holding very senior positions.”
“If you have the right team, you can do anything. In the pandemic I very quickly saw my true shining stars. I very quickly saw those who are like, “What do you need me to do” and not like, “Oh, well, in my job description it says this and that or the other.”
“After everything we’ve been through, we can get through anything,” she says. “Whatever it is, we will find a way to deal with it. We feel strong and a little bit tired but resilient and energized at the same time.”
Ulla and some of her team in London / Photo by Ulla Hefel Böhler
Trend 2: More women want to travel solo
With the huge demographic shift happening among women in their 50s changing, leaving jobs, retiring early, or inheriting money, Ulla says that more women — particularly those over 50 — are travelling than ever before. Many of these women are choosing to travel with other women.
For those new to travel or solo travel, JourneyWoman polls show that experienced solo travellers recommend a women-friendly tour to those fearful about travel. As women, we often are caring for others and setting aside what we want to make other people happy. A women-friendly group prioritizes the perspectives of women travellers and guides alike. It also prioritizes safety. When we feel safe, we can push our boundaries and fuel our freedom and independence.
“We have seen women who are really nervous, who say they have not left their country or even their backyard for the last two years,” Ulla says. “I think that’s where we can really add value, because again we are the experts who do this day in and day out, and things can change so quickly. If the rules in Italy change all of a sudden, we would know that. You don’t need to research online and figure out what you need to do.”
“The first trip post-COVID, even for an experienced traveller, is different. There are people who don’t care about COVID and say ‘I can’t wait to get out there’ and there are others who are just a little more nervous. Both of it is okay. There is no right or wrong and we need to be able to support both.
Travellers have more questions than ever before. Some women are ready to go, but others are more hesitant.
“They need a lot more reassurance,” she says. “What we have noticed is that our call handle time now in our contact centre has tripled or quadrupled at times because people have so many questions.”
In response to the growth in women’s solo travel, both Trafalgar and Insight Vacations have launched women-only tours, which include customized itineraries to Croatia, Iceland, Jordan, Egypt, Italy, Spain and France, to name a few. With price points starting around $3,000 USD, these tours are affordable options for women on a budget or are exploring solo travel for the first time. Both offer partner matching programs, and single occupancy rooms at reduced rates across their worldwide trips, and on many, solo women can upgrade to a single room for free.
Trend 3: Tourism needs to positively impact communities
Going forward consumers will have more of an expectation that the brands they purchase from are sustainable and Ulla is passionate about creating a positive impact in local communities.
“When there was no more tourism anywhere, we literally went from the world of over-tourism to no tourism,” she says. “The impact on local communities and our suppliers was devastating. If tourism is done right, the positive impact that we can have on local communities is tremendous.”
TTC’s Make Travel Matter Experiences™ program, which connect travellers with local entrepreneurs and sustainable opportunities, are focused on creating human encounters.
“If you read our guest feedback, the things that touch people the most are human encounters, like having a ‘Be My Guest’ dinner in a local home or with Insight Vacations, meeting a really unique personality or a really fascinating Make Travel Matters experience. It might not be the reason why you’ve bought the trip but it’s what made it really special and what really resonates the most.”
Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer, The Travel Corporation and Head of the TreadRight Foundation, says that the Make Travel Matter Experiences™ program is mapped against the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“We took the target for 11 of those 17 goals and from those targets we created our own criteria for what ‘sustainable’ tourism experiences are,” Guihan says. “Our teams specifically seek out travel experiences that aren’t traditionally on the travel list. They really try and feature what makes a place a good place to live, because at the end of the day if you’re not a good place to live you can’t be a good place to visit and try and encourage those experiences that support what a place is today and social and environmental justice. For example, a walking tour of London led by refugees who now have employment because of the tourism sector.”
Trend 4: We need more focus on accessibility
“Accessibility is something we are very conscious of,” she says. “We have some trips which are more suitable for people with mobility issues than others. For Insight Vacations and Trafalgar, we have introduced the pace of the trip, whether it’s active, whether it’s moderate, whether it’s easy.”
Ulla admits that Europe is a challenge, with its medieval cities, cobblestones, high steps and hotels with varying levels of stairs. Her best advice is for guests to ask questions and make sure they have the right itinerary for their needs.
“If people talk to us, we can help and support them and guide them in what would be the most suitable vacation for them, because there are some trips which have a faster pace, go to more challenging places and have more physical activity,” she says.
“The most difficult part is if people don’t talk to us ahead of time. If they are transparent about their concerns, we will go out of our way to provide the right advice to ensure they can have an amazing holiday and be very clear on what we can and can’t do. But if somebody arrives at the destination and they’ve chosen a very active itinerary, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for them and it is a challenge for us.”
All of TTC’s Travel Directors receive bespoke training and consider how the group is made up. Ulla says they would typically spend some time with the individual each day and explain the itinerary, providing their best advice and recommendations.
Trend 5: Adapt, and quickly
When the pandemic started, Ulla never imagined the incredible changes coming her way. Very quickly, she says, it became apparent that thinking differently was key to adapting.
One of the books that has influenced her thinking is “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman, which she says puts a very different perspective on time.
“There is a lot in the world that we can’t control and spending a lot of time worrying about it is a waste of time and energy,” she says. “What we CAN control though is our reaction towards certain situations and our attitude which can change. We’ve probably had more change and innovation in the last couple of years than we had in the last 30 years. To adapt, we’ve looked at our processes and our structures and what can we do to be more nimble and agile. We are ready to change our plan at any given moment if the environment around us dictates that.”
In Autumn 2021, Ulla recalls, the company’s Christmas Market trips were all fully booked. “People were ready to go, ready to travel and then overnight the country started shutting borders again. Austria first, then Germany, Czech Republic, it was like dominoes. Within 48 hours you know the countries that are relevant for Christmas markets just shut down again. What are you going to do? You’ve got to deal with it. You’ve got to roll with it and make the best out of it.”
“In the past, I could tell you exactly in September we do this, in October we do that,” she says. “COVID has really thrown everything up in the air because there are people who want to book today to travel next week, even out of long-haul markets like Australia which pre-pandemic would not happen.”
“Sometimes there is a trend that lasts a nanosecond,” she says. “If you’re not there to capitalize on that trend, the trend is gone. The trend is there is no more trend. Planning is much more short-term.”
In the past, Ulla says, people planned travel much farther ahead. Today, consumers’ faster decision making and shifting booking patterns has meant TTC has to look at doing things differently. For example, people are booking 2025 today, or Americans, who typically book short trips, are taking longer holidays.
It’s hard to believe, but only five years ago, TTC would print dates and prices into brochures for the entire year.
“It seems light years ago,” Ulla laughs. “This just seems so last century now, right? You need technology to keep up with it so you can have more dynamic pricing, but that’s been a complete game changer for us now. I wouldn’t want to go back to the old ways, not for all the tea in China.”
This is the first in our new series, ‘Changemakers and Visionaries”, which features influential women in travel who not only envision change but are in a position to make it happen. We are grateful to Trafalgar Tours for their sponsorship of this series. If there is a woman in travel you would like to recommend, please email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read More on Women in Travel
5 Books by Women About Women for International Women’s Day 2023
For International Women’s Day 2023, we feature five recently published books written by women, about women.
International Women’s Day 2023: Women Leading the Way
For our annual International Women’s Day photography exhibition, we feature women-owned businesses that are leading by example.
JourneyWoman International Women’s Day 2022 Photo Exhibition Winners
In our 2022 International Women’s Day photo exhibition, we recognize the women who have made our travel experiences meaningful.
We always strive to use real photos from our own adventures, provided by the guest writer or from our personal travels. However, in some cases, due to photo quality, we must use stock photography. If you have any questions about the photography please let us know.
Disclaimer: We are so happy that you are checking out this page right now! We only recommend things that are suggested by our community, or through our own experience, that we believe will be helpful and practical for you. Some of our pages contain links, which means we’re part of an affiliate program for the product being mentioned. Should you decide to purchase a product using a link from on our site, JourneyWoman may earn a small commission from the retailer, which helps us maintain our beautiful website. JourneyWoman is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases. Thank you!
We want to hear what you think about this article, and we welcome any updates or changes to improve it. You can comment below, or send an email to us at email@example.com.