In a Nutshell: Sumitra Senapaty saw many fellow women deferring their travel plans in favor of family and career responsibilities. So she started WOW Club in 2005 to encourage them to indulge their sense of adventure. Each year, WOW (Women on Wanderlust) plans dozens of global experiences that women can enjoy safely in small groups. The service is also popular with credit card rewards enthusiasts looking for a worthwhile use for their points.
Sumitra Senapaty discovered a love for adventure as a young woman and went on to have a successful career as a travel writer. But said she soon realized that many of her Indian peers lacked the confidence and the knowledge to travel independently.
For many women in India, the idea of embarking on a solo holiday to relax and recharge may get pushed down the priority list in favor of devoting time to families or careers.
Senapaty created WOW Club in 2005 to provide those women with an easy way to explore their adventurous sides. WOW (Women on Wanderlust) is a trip-planning community that draws on Senapaty’s personal travel experience and global contacts.
The club organizes dozens of journeys each year for small groups of Indian women, who can travel with confidence — and safely enjoy trips together.
“I was a little bit before my time. In 2005, the idea was very new,” Senapaty said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”
As Indian women find themselves with more credit card travel rewards to spend, WOW has become popular for expeditions ranging from a Bordeaux wine quest to a challenging trek to the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan.
“We’re not, strictly speaking, a travel agency because we give women much more than that,” Senapaty said. “We’re an alternate social community empowering Indian women to be bolder and more confident. And travel makes them that way.”
Empowering a Community of Women Through Travel
WOW acts as an all-in-one travel provider, and its experienced team of travel-loving women offers insights and guidance on everything from packing and flights to visa requirements.
The WOW platform includes about 40,000 active Indian women, who receive the club’s newsletter, and many social media followers. WOW’s audience hails not only from India but from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
It has come a long way since the early days of the service when many potential customers felt constrained by family and career obligations as they contemplated signing on for a trip.
“Women loved it, but they always came up with this barrier that they would need to discuss it with their family,” Senapaty said.
When those family discussions occurred, perhaps over the weekend, husbands often asked their wives to plan a different kind of trip.
“The husbands would say, ’We’ll go together.’ Sometimes it happened, and sometimes it didn’t,” Senapaty said.
But as India continued to modernize and integrate with the West — economically and culturally — Senapaty said she saw a change in how women approached the service. Indian women are often the chief shoppers in a family, and solo travel can make a lot of sense as an outlet for credit card rewards.
“Today, 15 summers later, women don’t raise those same issues anymore,” Senapaty said. “Discussions are no longer about checking with family but about seeing how they can coordinate their personal lives and maybe take their professional leave before they get back with us. And then they do it.”
Find Your Travel Tribe and Discover Lasting Friendships
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted 2020 trip planning at WOW, just as it has in other businesses. But as different parts of the world start to open back up, WOW has followed.
The schedule for the remainder of 2020 primarily includes travel within India, WOW designed upcoming trips to appeal to a wide range of adventurers.
Whether women are looking for a trek in Bhutan, a connection with culture and heritage on a Silk Road exploration in Uzbekistan, or the ultimate in pampering in a Balinese seaside resort, WOW has them covered.
WOW builds each trip around the concept of solo travel within groups. That means women sign up individually and embark on trips in small groups.
Before COVID-19, between six and 10 women would embark on a strenuous trip, and between 10 and 16 would go on leisure-oriented journeys. Each trip also includes a designated WOW buddy from the service’s team — sometimes, even Senapaty herself.
WOW travel affords Indian women from all over the world the opportunity to come together, discover new places, cash in credit card rewards together, and build lasting friendships.
“Sometimes in life, you’re busy with your family and career, and you rarely meet people outside those circles,” Senapaty said. “We’ve given many women of diverse age groups, careers, and professions a chance to meet and enjoy each other.”
WOW: Bringing the World’s Wonders to Indian Women
WOW trips are so successful that the social interactions frequently extend well beyond the excursions.
“They’ll meet each other, become friends, and then they carry that relationship forward online and at get-togethers from time to time,” Senapaty said. “So we look after the social needs of women when they get home as well.”
All because travel is a mind-blowing experience, according to Senapaty.
“It opens your eyes and your senses. It teaches you how to be alert and how to take care of yourself, and above all, you get to meet people from over the world,” she said.
Senapaty herself has remained a self-described travel addict who has visited a total of 62 countries while personally vetting most destinations offered on the site. She draws on her experience and on customer feedback from post-trip online surveys to refine WOW’s travel menu with client preferences in mind.
“For example, we like a bit of pampering, and we like centrally located hotels,” Senapaty said.
WOW also goes out of its way to cater to individual customer needs, targeting trips to specific demographic and age groups, and ensuring the right mix of travelers for each journey.
“When someone tells us they’re sensitive to ocean travel, that goes in our records, and we’re not going to recommend a cruise to that person,” Senapaty said.
Many WOW customers have returned to the service dozens of times. So whether an Indian woman is new to solo travel in groups or wants to redeem another batch of credit card rewards, WOW takes the guesswork out of adventuring.
“We’re a very close-knit community, and I’m happy more than anything that we’ve made life more meaningful for so many women,” Senapaty said.