I’m midway through a networking session at the Adventure Travel Trade Association conference when Jennifer Haddow, the owner of Wild Women Expeditions, approaches me.
It feels serendipitous—earlier that morning, my mom returned from a Wild Women trip to the Galapagos. Haddow’s eyes light up when I tell her. “Of course I know your mom,” she says. “Doris, right?”
I wouldn’t be so impressed by Haddow’s recall if it wasn’t for the fact my mom is just one of 800 women to travel with Wild Women this year.
An Adventure Travel Company Geared Towards Women Aged 45 And Up, Wild Women Operates More Than 100 Tours Annually. It wasn’t always this way. When Wild Women launched in 1991 as a small canoe outfitter for women based in the Sudbury region of northern Ontario, it was the only tour operator of its kind.
“We were kind of the laughingstock of the outdoor adventure industry. Women going into the backcountry alone was not a thing,” says Haddow, who describes Wild Women’s founder Beth Mairs as “trailblazing.”
It didn’t take long for the laughing to stop. Unlike multiday trekking, kayaking or canoeing can feel intimidating for first-timers—and Wild Women offered a solution for the curious, with a focus on empowerment and skills building.
Women want to get their feet wet,” says Haddow, who grew up in Newfoundland on the edge of Gros Morne National Park. “That was my experience. I had to get the introduction and then it lit me up and I felt really confident to go out on my own adventures.
By the time Haddow purchased the company in 2010—after taking her first kayaking trip in 2007—its itineraries had expanded to include British Columbia and the Maritimes, including paddling adventures to Haida Gwaii and the Broken Group Islands. More activities were also on offer, including trekking, cycling, yoga and horseback riding.
Haddow, who had a background in international development, saw room for further growth. Based on feedback from regular clients—Wild Women has a return rate of 30 to 40 percent—she identified it as the perfect time to go global.
What she’s done in less than a decade is as impressive as her ability to remember her clients’ names.
Wild Women is now the world’s largest adventure tour company for women
By 2019, the company will send 2,000 participants per year on one of 200 tours to 25 countries worldwide. In order to keep up with demand, Haddow now employs a staff of nine full-time employees, who work remotely across the country.
Although she’s reticent to put a valuation on the company, Haddow does share revenue has increased by over 2,000 percent since 2010. This puts its annual revenue well around the seven-figure mark—a profit Haddow projects will double in 2018-19. Not bad for a little canoe outfitter.
This rapid success hasn’t come without its speed bumps. “In Canada, there’s a lot of rockstar paddling guides, but finding local female guides in many international countries is one of the bigger challenges,” she says.
And despite the proliferation of women-only travel operators—with adventure tourism heavyweights such as Intrepid launching their own female-focused expeditions this year—stereotypes still persist.
“There’s this image of badass, sexy, fit 20-something travelers who are really only in it for the sport, which can send a disempowering message,” says Haddow. “We should be celebrating badass women of different ages and body types. We want kayaking and canoeing to feel accessible for 50-plus women too, who might not be hard-bodied athletes.”
This, And Promoting Environmental Sustainability, Is Part Of The Reason Paddling Remains A Central Pillar Of Wild Women’s Trips. For me, it was never about having mad skills with a paddle—it was about getting deep into the heart of a wilderness area,” says Haddow. “The only job I care about is helping women getting their asses in the bush.
Jessica Wynne Lockhart is a freelance journalist and contributing editor of Verge Magazine, a publication devoted to travel with purpose. She’s passionate about ethical and responsible adventures.