Get Paulomi Bhatt talking about travel, and you’ll easily see what led her to start her own business.
The subject ignites a great passion in the former marketing manager, who launched women-only travel group The World at her Feet in 2011 to offer women safe, secure, and – most of all – fun travel experiences.
“Ever since I was little I’ve had a real passion for travel,” she explains.
“Visiting new places is what it’s all about – new destinations, new people, new cultures, new food – it’s really amazing, and it became obvious to me that I had to make travel my life and work.”
The World at her Feet came into existence after a friend of Bhatt’s started a similar business in India, prompting her to pursue her own version in the UAE.
She says: “My friends started Girls on the Go Club in India, and wanted somebody to take the concept forward.
“We approached [travel agency] High Flyer about it and asked them if they liked the idea of having a division which focuses on women’s travel. They took to it well and we started just over two years ago in the Middle East.”
Bhatt was clear about the company’s purpose from the get-go. As a women-only group she wanted to offer more options for females who don’t want to visit new places alone.
She says: “I really felt that more and more people wanted to travel as part of a group, to have that support and camaraderie.
“Some women don’t think twice about going off and doing things on their own, and they have a lot of options available to them, but there is a particular genre of woman who don’t like to travel by themselves. We cater for them.
“We found that there are a lot of women who like to travel as part of a gang, whether it’s a group of existing friends, or meeting up with new acquaintances.
“And also there is a category of women who haven’t travelled as much as they’d like for other reasons, whether they are divorced, widowed, or whatever, and need a helping hand.”
Safety was a prime issue for Bhatt in setting up The World at her Feet, not only to help give women peace of mind when travelling abroad, but also opening up new destinations that some may have originally felt too dangerous.
“It’s understandable that so many women don’t want to push off on their own,” she says. “Women just want to feel safe wherever they are, and really and truly there are some places where women are probably not as welcome as they should be – where they don’t feel as safe as they should.
“That completely changes when you have a gang mentality. Travelling with a group changes your mindset and makes things much easier. You do feel that little bit safer, especially when you consider that the trip has been organised by us and our partners who are really experienced.
“The fact is that today’s woman should be able to unwind when they go on holiday. They shouldn’t have to think about safety aspects, or who is going to handle hotel booking, and what the itineraries should be.
“Their travel experience should leave them feeling relaxed.”
Having spent the first year of operations getting The World at her Feet’s name out there, Bhatt explains that the second year was focused on building different itineraries, and forging ties with worldwide partners.
She says: “I travel to trade shows all the time, such as Arabian Travel Market, and things like that. Relationships are formed and strengthened at these shows, and you can really find some great partnerships.
“Meeting these partners face to face helps a lot because when you do women-only travel it’s better to be able to explain things in person – you can really sell the concept, as well as emphasising the safety aspects.”
The World at Her Feet has already attracted customers from various parts of the world, but Bhatt is under no illusions that she can do anything other than take her eye off the regional market at the moment.
“We started local, and need to make sure we keep doing things right in this part of the world first,” she said.
“It’s great that people overseas have heard of us through the world-wide web, but we’re yet to expand properly. We would like to expand across the Middle East, and then go on to major cities of the world.
“There are no targets as such. It’s never been about the business, in those kinds of terms, but about getting the women out there. The goal has been to get the name across and get the women to feel secure, not to look at the finances. If we do a good job for the women, the financial side of things will soon follow.”
For Bhatt, ensuring the itineraries are as good as they can get is paramount.
“This is how people will come to us, but making sure we give them some incredible experiences,” she says.
“We put on the website the entire year’s itinerary, so people can everything from January onwards. We plan everything the year before that, working with our partners to put together the best trip possible.
“We’ve had a great response for this year’s trips already. Our trip to Iceland has got a lot of attention from people – it’s one of those places that’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists. We’re hoping to see the Aurora Borealis – that’s the aim of the trip. We’re very excited about that.”
Being part of High Flyer has helped Bhatt maintain that excitement without having to worry about nasty surprises.
She says: “We’re fortunate to have their services if we need them, and we have the benefit of worldwide partners who can help us if we need them to.
“It means we’ve had no unpleasant surprises so far, touch wood. We have had quite a few pleasant surprises, the main one being that the concept is something women have taken to so well, and that it means to much to them.
“I received a lovely letter from recently widowed lady which said in a nutshell that she thought she’d never be able to travel again, that being widowed had left her at a low ebb, but that through The World at her Feet, ‘hope springs’.”
As sincere and heart-touching as customer plaudits may be, Bhatt refuses to suggest The World at her Feet has reached its full potential.
“I can never say it’s as good as it gets,” she says. “If you say that, then the whole business can’t evolve.
“There are so many more miles for us to go, and so many things for us to do. As an example, we want a representative in every major city in the Middle East. We want to expand, and we’re always going to be looking to do more.”
Bhatt points to the organic way the company has established itself in the first couple of years’ of operation, explaining that the way she generated business was “generally on word of mouth.”
She continues: “On the first trip there was about fifteen of us. People talk to people, and they talk to people and before you know it we’re being talked about by huge numbers of people. There are some very active women’s group out there, so people go to know what we do and what we’re about.
“We’ve had no advertising, nothing like that, and when it comes to investment we would only welcome investment that would bring a real difference – not just for the capital, but real value.
It’s this natural approach which has also led to developments in the business’s offerings, taking on board the opinions, lifestyles, and constraints on the women it aims to serve.
Bhatt says: “We’re branching out into new areas with shopping trips and family trips too.
“This was brought up with a lot of thought because in one year of operations we saw that, for whatever reason, a lot of women will not travel during the holidays, but either just fly back to their families, or go on holiday with their families.
“We decided that we should accommodate that and give a family option too. If a woman doesn’t want to be away from her family, then let’s have family trips.”
It’s an approach that appears to be genuinely geared towards women’s needs, and what’s more the company tries to be accommodating in terms of payment - something Bhatt believes also makes good business sense.
She says: “We want people to think ‘I want, and I’m going’. We don’t want the women to have to stop and think whether they can afford it or not, so we try to make our trips affordable for everybody.
“People can find amazing opportunities on the internet that are affordable, and we try to be one of them. We offer things like monthly payments, for example, which is often a better way for somebody to pay for the trip.
“If a woman wants to go to Tuscany in June, let’s say, then they can pay monthly from January. That way there’s no shock of having to pay straight away, or when the full bill comes in the summer.
“We just want women to be able to travel without any stresses.”
So far, it appears that stress is the last thing Bhatt is dealing in, with The World at her Feet already flying high.
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