TTC’s Melissa DaSilva Seeks to Empower Women With New Women-Only Tours

by | Aug 15, 2022 | 0 comments

two women talking in spain

Last updated on August 16th, 2022

Featured image: Joining a group tour is a great first step into solo travel and making new connections | Photo from Trafalgar

DaSilva is committed to making solo travel safe, affordable and sustainable

by Carolyn Ray, CEO, JourneyWoman (Sponsored)

It’s always inspiring to meet powerhouse women in travel, and Melissa DaSilva is no exception. As the North American head of The Travel Corporation (TTC)’s tour brands, DaSilva wants to ensure that guided tours are safe, affordable and customized for solo women, particularly first-time solo travellers.

A long-time solo traveller herself, she says: “Travel gives us that great opportunity to get out of our daily routines and really have that opportunity for self-reflection, for just having that brain space to think. I’m thrilled that we can help empower women to live the life of their dreams and embrace all the things that solo travel can bring to our lives.”

Over the past 10 years, DaSilva has risen to become one of the most senior women in the leadership ranks at TTC, a 103-year old, fourth-generation family-owned business. She says: “I feel very privileged and I feel very honored that they have given me so much responsibility with the seven brands that I run.”

 

woman holding falcon

Anticipating growth in women’s solo travel

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 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.

“With Trafalgar, we’ve selected 13 different itineraries that are women only, DaSilva says. “These are great ways to get out, experience the world, support women-owned women-run businesses, and travel with other adventurous women. You can go solo, you can go with a group of girlfriends, you can go with your daughter, your niece, your mom. But the other reason that these trips were picked is because they support women-owned businesses and experiences in the places that we go.”

All of the women-only tours are led by a female travel director and have a female well-being director to help facilitate anything that might come up, from accommodation if guests need to be isolated or need help with COVID testing.

A commitment to sustainable travel

With 42 brands in its portfolio, The Travel Corporation’s influence in travel is impressive. In 2012, it created the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that now supports some 60 projects supporting people, wildlife and planet, that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

In the most recent Sustainability Report, TTC Chairman Brett Tollman says,” Prior to the global cessation of travel in March, many in the travel industry and the traveling public were becoming keenly aware that change was long past due. COVID -19 indeed grounded us all, however I believe, as many do, that great challenges bring great innovation. What this means for our TTC leadership team is that now is absolutely not the time to set aside matters regarding the sustainable development of travel. With our millions of guests across our brands, we will rebuild and do so better.”

One of the goals set out by TreadRight is to develop MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences that are mutually beneficial for both the guest and the host. Based on a robust set of criteria directly tied to the UN Global Goals, these experiences seek to encourage the greatest community benefit from the visitor economy, while in turn educating guests across all TTC’s brands on the Global Goals and the way that daily actions can support them.

“Each of our women-only tours includes a minimum of three Make Travel Matter experiences where we are giving back to the community,” says DaSilva.  “All of those experiences are also women-run, whether that is going to our women’s initiative in Jordan, Iraq Allah Mir, or visiting Marta, who’s a weaver in Tuscany. We do the same thing with Insight, only these are custom itineraries. They were built specifically for this.”

Read The Travel Corporation’s Sustainability Report, “How we Tread Right”, here.

Join me on Insight Vacations’ First Women-Only Trip to Italy, Croatia and Slovenia

It’s one thing to read about these women-only tours, but I want to experience this for myself. One of Insight’s flagship Women-Only Trips is to Italy, Croatia and Slovenia this September, which departs from Venice on September 25 and ends in Croatia on October 7.

I’m really looking forward to learning about some of the experiences that have been created just for women and incorporate sustainability and women-owned businesses. TTC’s women-only group tours support women-owned and women-run businesses and include a minimum of three MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, where guests have an opportunity to volunteer and give back to the communities they visit.

There are limited spaces available but if you’ve been thinking about getting back out there, this is a perfect opportunity – Insight will look after all the details for you so that you can have a stress-free holiday. Learn more here.

As an added incentive, Insight is offering a special $150 per person discount for JourneyWomen who want to join me for this trip only departing on September 25, 2022.  Use code PPJourneyWoman22 (click below to read terms.)

Read terms and conditions here
  • Valid only on IV Venice & The Croatian Coast women-only tour departing September 25, 2022.
  • This will be valid from the moment it’s built until tour date.
  • 150pp CAD/USD
  • Terms for USA (w/ CST): Save $150 per person on Insight Vacations’ Venice & The Croatian Coast women-only tour departing September 25, 2022 with Journey Woman exclusive offer when booking online. New bookings only. A deposit may be required at time of booking. Standard payment conditions apply. Offer is not combinable with any other promotional offers, including group savings, newsletter sign-up, Insider Travel Deals or Future Travel Credit (FTC) carry-forward discounts. Savings are subject to availability and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Other conditions may apply. CST# 2068745-20
  • Terms for CAN (w/ TICO): Save $150 per person on Insight Vacations’ Venice & The Croatian Coast women-only tour departing September 25, 2022 with Journey Woman exclusive offer when booking online. New bookings only. A deposit may be required at time of booking. Standard payment conditions apply. Offer is not combinable with any other promotional offers, including group savings, newsletter sign-up, Insider Travel Deals or Future Travel Credit (FTC) carry-forward discounts. Savings are subject to availability and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Other conditions may apply. TICO# R50015871

Highlights include wandering the cobbled streets of Istria and the Old Town of Dubrovnik. In Hvar, we’ll visit a family-run vineyard, enjoy a farm-to-table lunch in Barban, and enjoy fresh seafood in Piran. There will be an opportunity to learn about the art of silk and embroidery traditions in Konavle, discover the fish conservation work at a family fish farm in Slovenia and sip beer at Croatia’s first women co-op brewery. I’m excited to hike through the healing wilderness outside of Korcula Town and partake in a yoga class with the perfect sea view. 

 And did I mention that Celine Cousteau, grand-daughter of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is joining us? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  

My Interview with Melissa: TTC’s Commitment to Female Solo Travellers

(watch the video or expand the toggles for the transcript below)

Carolyn: We know that travel is important. But why do you think it's important for women in particular, and what really makes it special for us?

Melissa: I think there are a few things. Number one, women are responsible for so much and we juggle so much and that’s not to take away anything from the men, but we do shoulder a lot of responsibility for the admin of our families and things like that. I do think it gives us that great opportunity to get out of our daily routines and really have that opportunity for self-reflection, for just having that brain space to think. If you’re travelling on a tour, where a lot of the details are taken care of for you, you really have that opportunity to relax and connect that you might not otherwise have, if you were planning it all on your own.

For me, it doesn’t matter how amazing my trip is, when I get home, I’m always so grateful and happy to be home. I think that gratitude is just such an important thing in terms of just our overall well-being and happiness. I love seeing and experiencing new things, but then having that gratitude for what we have at home, I think is also really, really important.

Carolyn: I absolutely agree. JourneyWoman has had a long relationship with The Travel Corporation, with Trafalgar and Insight Vacations. We’ve done a lot of things together over the past 10 or so years. How important is the solo travel market to you and why?

Melissa: My travel experiences all started out as a solo woman traveler. so, it’s always been very near and dear to my heart. That is how I traveled really for the first 15 years until I was married and had kids. For the Travel Corporation specifically, we see that solo travel is just an important trend in the market.

Solo travel isn’t just a personal passion of mine, but it is also good business sense. We’re seeing a lot of demand for solo travel. We’re seeing women who just simply don’t want to wait anymore to find somebody who wants to go to the same place that they want to go to at the same time that they’re able to go. But at the same time, being women, sometimes we’re less secure to go completely independent, if that makes sense.

There are a number of us who would like to have some of the safety already built-in in terms of the framework of their travels. And there are a lot of women who are looking for social interaction. They’re looking to meet other people. I do believe that travel is best when it’s shared. It’s fantastic to be somewhere and experience something, but it’s even better if you can turn to that person next to you and go ‘oh, wow, how cool is this?’

In a recent JourneyWoman poll, more than half of experienced solo travellers recommended group travel as a way for first-time solo travellers to get started. Read more here. 

Carolyn: Here's the thing. Solo travellers often feel there are two issues with group travel. One is, can you really travel and be solo in a group? I would say that you can because I've done it walking the Camino. And then the second thing is the price and making sure that it's affordable for solo women to join a group tour, which it sounds like you've done a lot of work on.

Melissa: We’ve done our absolute best. The only time where it gets tricky is with the hotels, and wherever possible, we’ve stripped it all the way back. And in many cases, we’ve just built it into the total cost of the trip so that if a solo traveller is going, the trip itself is paying for that supplement.

Over the course of the last number of years, we have really stripped back all of the pricing on our single supplements to make sure that if you are travelling as a solo traveller, and you are not interested in sharing a room, we’re making that as cost-effective as possible for you, literally making zero money on it — only passing through what we absolutely must in terms of what we’re getting charged from hotels, etc.

But we also offer the opportunity for you to choose a roommate. You just say I want to have a roommate, and then you’ll be paired with somebody else on the trip who also wants to have a roommate. And that takes that whole single supplement out of it completely. And it gives you that sort of built-in travel buddy immediately. We’ve identified a number of our departures, particularly across Trafalgar, where we have the bulk of our trips, where there are going to be one or two rooms on those departures which are single supplement for you.

So, you can travel solo in your own room without any supplement at all. So, since we’ve implemented that, and it’s only been about, I think about five and a half or six months, we’ve already seen the percentage of solo travelers on our trips almost double. It’s gone up almost 86 percent.  I’m really excited to be able to bring those opportunities to life for solo women travelers.

Carolyn: What are you doing to make your tours safe for women?

Melissa: All of our guided trips, women have with a travel director. All of them the guides have gone through extensive training, and I would say hand on heart that the Travel Corporation does the longest, most intensive training of any of the guided brands that are out there. And that is whether you are travelling on a Contiki as a 20-year-old or whether you’re travelling with Luxury Gold.

The travel directors are not only knowledgeable about the places that you’re going but they’re also really fun people to travel with. They’re knowledgeable in terms of what’s happening in certain areas, making sure that you’re prepared. If you’re going out into the city and they know that this is a particular part of town that’s known for having pickpockets, they are going to let you know that so that you can be aware of your surroundings. And they do it in a way that’s not going to scare our guests, it’s just going to inform them so that they can be aware. They’re also trained to deal with any situations that might come up so that they can assist whether it be with emotional support or physical support.

During the pandemic, we instituted well-being directors. This is a second staff member who is either travelling or is based in hubs around the destinations that we go to.  They’re really there to facilitate. Let’s say you are travelling on your own and you do come down with COVID. They’re there to make sure that you are able to get accommodation if you need to isolate. They’re going to help facilitate getting any tests so that you can get home, etc.

That’s really nice to have that sort of backstop and security that you may be in a foreign country, and you may be sick and maybe not even have any symptoms that you have to isolate. From a safety and security standpoint, I feel like just having those people there with you is really beneficial.

Two boats sailing past the old town in Split Croatia

Women-Only Tour to Italy, Slovenia and Croatia

Designed for women with a focus on sustainable travel, this 13-day tour allows you to fully immerse yourself in three stunning countries.  Join JourneyWoman CEO Carolyn Ray and Celine Cousteau on the September 25- October 7, 2022 group tour.

Learn More Here

“We’ve identified a number of our departures, particularly across Trafalgar, where there are going to be one or two rooms on those departures which are single supplement for you. So, you can travel solo in your own room without any supplement at all.  Since we’ve implemented that, we’ve already seen the percentage of solo travelers on our trips almost double. It’s gone up almost 86 percent.” —Melissa DaSilva, President, TTC Tour Brands, North America

Carolyn: What tours would you suggest for women this year for solo women, which ones are you most excited about?

Melissa: First of all, we have launched new women’s only trips for both Trafalgar and Insight. I would definitely recommend one of those if you’re looking to travel with women only.  With Trafalgar, we’ve got 13 different itineraries, but we’ve taken specific departures and said, these are women only.

You could be going solo, you could be going with a group of girlfriends, you could be going with your daughter, your niece, your mom, whatever it happens to be. These are led by a woman travel director, with a woman, well-being director. These trips were picked because they support women-owned businesses and experiences and the places that we go,  whether that is going to our women’s initiative in Jordan, Iraq Allah Mir, whether you’re visiting Marta, who’s a weaver in Tuscany.

These are great ways to get out, experience the world support women-owned women, run businesses, and travel with other adventurous women. We do the same thing with Insight, only these are custom itineraries. They each include a minimum of three MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, where we are giving back to the community — all of those experiences are also women-run.

If you don’t want to travel just with women, let’s say you want to go with your family, hot this year is Egypt.  The Egyptian Grand Museum, which was meant to open in 2020 and has been delayed and delayed and delayed should be opening in November. So that’s going to be an amazing experience for those people that are able to go around that time. TTC has tickets on all of our trips to go to that museum, assuming it does open on time, knock on wood.

Portugal’s extremely popular this year. For the first time ever, our fullest trips throughout the Northeast, as well as our Christmas markets, trips in Europe are not sold out.  Usually those trips are sold out by March. So, for whatever reason, we still have availability on them. Highly recommend people jump on those because experiencing the Christmas markets in Europe is something I think everybody should do. And I myself have never done a trip and I can’t wait to jump on.

A tourist looking at ancient egyptian drawings on the columns of the Temple of Luxor, Egypt

According to Melissa, Egypt is a HOT destination this year / Photo by Unai82 on Envato

Carolyn: You are in charge of seven brands at the Travel Corporation. How would you differentiate between Insight or Trafalgar or Luxury Gold? What do women need to know in terms of the experience for each?

Melissa: Absolutely. If you are travelling with Trafalgar, you’re going to be travelling with a group anywhere between 35 and 45 people. Our trip sizes go up to 50, but the average size is generally around 45. They are going to hit all of the iconic sites. We have multi-country trips and regional trips. These are great for people who are looking for introductions into the places that they’re going to, and want to have in-depth local experiences.

With Trafalgar, we offer “Be My Guest”, where we actually go into a local’s home or business behind the scenes, and we cook a meal and break bread with them. I can’t think of any better way to get to know a destination than sharing a meal with somebody who’s from that place.

Carolyn: These sound like good trips for a first-time solo traveller, they’re affordable.

Melissa: Yes, they are. They’re very affordable. I wouldn’t say they’re budget, but they’re definitely great value for money. There’s also some free time built in so you’re going to have time if you want to go off and do your own thing that you can do that.

There are optional add-ons if you want to do that. If you want to stay with the group, but let’s say you’re in Venice and you want to go shoe shopping, great, go do that. But if you want to take a trip to Burano and check out, you know, the beautiful colorful buildings and have a great seafood meal, then that’s an option that we provide.

I would say Trafalgar is a great mix of free time, and fantastic local included experiences. You’re going to tick off all of your bucket list items, but we’re still going to introduce you to some really cool secondary destinations.

Insight is a smaller group experience. If you’re looking for a slightly smaller group, the maximum group size with Insight averages about 30. It’s a smaller, more intimate group, meaning we can have smaller, more intimate restaurant reservations. We’re going to have more meals in local restaurants, there are still dine with local experiences that are included. I think the biggest difference with Insight is that there is a lot more that’s included, so there’s a lot less optional costs that you’re going to be adding on while you travel.

That also means there’s a little bit less free time. But if you’re one of those people that really wants to make sure that you see everything, Insight is a fantastic option for you. There are also going to be slightly higher category of hotels, so if you’re somebody who really prefers your creature comforts, which is a really nice thing to have with Insight, and they’re going to also be slightly more central.

In Venice, for example, with Trafalgar you might be staying in Lido, which is going to be a water taxi away from Venice.  If you go with Insight, you’re going to be staying right on the island of Venice. So, kind of depends on what you want.

If you want to go Luxury Gold, that’s Michelin star restaurants, a much smaller group which maxes out at 24. You’re going to be staying in five-star properties the whole way. It is really an indulgent way to experience a destination. You’re going to have travelling concierges with you versus just a travel director. I say just they’re all amazing. But they’re going to really be there to cater and make sure that you have that individualized experience.

Carolyn: Something that people might not know about the Travel Corporation is it has been around for over 100 years. Could you share the history of how it started?

Melissa: Absolutely. We celebrated our 100-year anniversary in 2020. Again, in the middle of a pandemic, so we’re going on 103 years. We were started by a gentleman called Solomon Tollman, he and he had a single hotel property in South Africa. His son, Stanley Tollman, and his wife Bea, when they got married, they took all of their wedding funds and they invested in a small hotel in Johannesburg. So, we started with Solomon with his tiny little hotel and a fishing village in South Africa, but his son really Stanley is the one who started our company on the path that it is today.

Mr. and Mrs. Tollman had several different hotel chains that they owned and operated. And then they started to purchase other travel organizations. Trafalgar was the first one that they purchased; Trafalgar has been around for about 75 years going on 76. And that was the first guided vacation company that they purchased and that was really the beginning of The Travel Corporation.

Today we are made up of over 40 brands, and they range in everything from hotel chains to guided vacation companies to river cruise brands. We also have a winery in South Africa.

We are very wide-ranging, but we all are united by a single ethos which is that we are driven by service and that the customer is at the heart of everything that we do. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are going to a Red Carnation property like Ashford Castle, or whether you are travelling with Brendan Vacations or whether you’re going to Australia to see the Outback, you’re going to have that same level of service.

Not only did Mr. And Mrs. Tollman start our business but the Tollman family is still incredibly involved in the day-to-day operations. They’re not only our owners, they are our managers. They are incredibly passionate not only about the guests, but about us as their employees and so it is a really phenomenal place to work, I feel very privileged and I feel very honored that they have given me so much responsibility with the seven brands that I run.

Carolyn: Well, I have to say that my experience with the Travel Corporation family — and I do think it is a family — has been really positive since I took over JourneyWoman and everyone’s so accessible and so friendly. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m so pleased that we’re reinvigorating our partnership. I remember when International Women’s Day in I guess it was 2020, here in Toronto, there was just a lovely memorial for Evelyn Hannon, who was the founder of JourneyWoman. That was a really special moment for me and for her family to be kind of recognized as part of your company celebrations.

Melissa: I think there is something very special about being family owned and being driven by service and which is why again, I’m thrilled that we can help empower women and help women live the life of their dreams and all the things that solo travel can bring to our lives.

Today we are made up of over 40 brands, and they range in everything from hotel chains to guided vacation companies to river cruise brands. We also have a winery in South Africa.

We are very wide-ranging, but we all are united by a single ethos which is that we are driven by service and that the customer is at the heart of everything that we do. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are going to a Red Carnation property like Ashford Castle, or whether you are travelling with Brendan Vacations or whether you’re going to Australia to see the Outback, you’re going to have that same level of service.

Not only did Mr. And Mrs. Tollman start our business but the Tollman family is still incredibly involved in the day-to-day operations. They’re not only our owners, they are our managers. They are incredibly passionate not only about the guests, but about us as their employees and so it is a really phenomenal place to work, I feel very privileged and I feel very honored that they have given me so much responsibility with the seven brands that I run.

Carolyn: Well, I have to say that my experience with the Travel Corporation family — and I do think it is a family — has been really positive since I took over JourneyWoman and everyone’s so accessible and so friendly. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m so pleased that we’re reinvigorating our partnership. I remember when International Women’s Day in I guess it was 2020, here in Toronto, there was just a lovely memorial for Evelyn Hannon, who was the founder of JourneyWoman. That was a really special moment for me and for her family to be kind of recognized as part of your company celebrations.

Melissa: I think there is something very special about being family owned and being driven by service and which is why again, I’m thrilled that we can help empower women and help women live the life of their dreams and all the things that solo travel can bring to our lives.

In the video, , President, Red Carnation Hotels, says: “While we are a fourth-generation family-owned and run business,
TTC is composed of many layers of families within families…”

“I’m thrilled that we can help empower women and help women live the life of their dreams and all the things that solo travel can bring to our lives.” —Melissa DaSilva, President, TTC Tour Brands, North America

More on Group Travel

A passionate traveller, Carolyn believes anything is possible when we follow our heart and trust our intuition. Raised in Florida, Carolyn loves all things Latin, margaritas, the ocean and music. She's a board member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA).

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