Women Travelers: Meet Greether, An International Sorority Project
Greether is an international sorority project for women travelers. Its founder, Vanessa Karel, is an experienced globetrotter who created the platform with the mission of helping other women to travel more safely, regardless of whether they are traveling alone or not.
The platform has local and expert guides in more than 80 countries who go through a verification process to validate their identity and other credentials in the tourism area. They show their users hidden gems, share cultural nuances that are not always accessible as a tourist, and offer a unique and safe experience.
Sound interesting to you? Then this international sorority project for women travelers could be what you are looking for.
Meet Greether an app to support female travelers
Ali Verástegui – Tell us a little about yourself and how your passion for travel eventually led to the creation of Greether.
VANESSA KAREL – From a very young age my parents made traveling together frequently a priority. I saw my father travel a lot with his work as a journalist, which is a big factor in my way of looking at things in life. I started living alone when I was 17, which made me a very independent person. When I was 19, I made my first trip to Europe, thus beginning my story as a traveller.
Honestly, traveling alone had never even occurred to me. I had never met a woman who did it at the time, it just wasn’t done much around me. When I got an opportunity to live and work in Iceland temporarily, my life changed forever. I fell in love with the freedom and possibilities that come from venturing into the unknown without knowing anyone and returning with endless stories and new friends. This experience awakened a deep desire in me to visit more places.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel around 30 countries but I only went to places with a good reputation for female travelers. It was not until the pandemic that I realized that I had been missing something during all those trips. I needed a tool that would allow me to connect with local people in a safe way, and that would offer support if I needed help while being alone and so far away from home.
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Greether: A bumpy Trip to Morocco During a Global Pandemic
AV – We know that the inspiration for Greether came during a bumpy trip in the midst of the pandemic, can you tell us more about this experience? What were the first steps in creating your company?
VK – I like to say that I was destined to create Greether. For whatever reasons, life and destiny brought me to Morocco in November 2020, at the peak of the pandemic. While I had traveled to Muslim countries before, this was the first time I was doing so alone and without any reservations or plans upon arrival. Like many travel stories in 2020, my flight was canceled leaving me stranded in Casablanca, Morocco, in the middle of the night. It was a very difficult moment for me. I will always remember the anguish and anxiety I felt at that airport in Malpensa, Italy, before boarding the flight to Casablanca. I cried so much because I had no idea of what I was going to do. When we landed, the only thing I could think of was to go through my contacts and see if anyone I knew was traveling in the area, but there was no one around.
That’s how the idea for Greether started. And how a trip, once again, changed the course of my life.
My trip to Morocco was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life so far. I was lucky enough to tour the country without other tourists – something almost no one gets to experience. I was the only guest in every riad (Moroccan hotel) I stayed in and it made my stay very authentic. I made local friends and learned how incredible it is to have an authentic cultural immersion in order to better understand a foreign country. I will not pretendeverything was perfect. Like many other places, the country has problems with gender inequality and insecurity, which exposed me to public harassment a couple of times. Some men chased me in the streets and yelled things, and, as a solo, woman traveler, that can be very scary.
In an attempt to avoid having to face this, every city I traveled to, became a city where I looked for female guides. Unfortunately there weren’t many available out there.
I came home months later with a book draft that I’m still working on, where I share travel stories and talk about the importance of women traveling the world. Of how essential we are in the development and promotion of sustainable practices in tourism.
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What’s the biggest concern for women travelers?
AV – As an experienced traveler, what have been the moments when you have felt most vulnerable while traveling?
VK – In hindsight, I have had to take risks to live experiences, but I don’t regret it. However, I know the numbers, I know I’ve been lucky as a traveler. I know very well that two women were killed taking the same route that I took towards the Sahara. Fortunately, I didn’t know anything about this until I got back from the trip, because I might not have gone if I had. The most vulnerable moments while traveling have been when I have had to trust that the intentions of a stranger were good and, I repeat, I have been lucky. I have met wonderful people who several times have even opened their doors to me.
AV – What are the biggest fears of female solo travelers based on your research?
VK – When I returned from Morocco, I had a meeting with my best friends. It is important to mention that, out of all of us, I am one of the only ones who travels completely alone. So I decided to ask, why? What was it that they were worried about? The answer wasn’t rocket science: we’re all concerned about our safety when traveling alone.
But I needed to ask more women, so I interviewed over 500 women travelers and asked them: What is your biggest concern when traveling solo? 90% of them answered: “I am worried about exploring a place in a safe way”. The remaining 10% was divided between those who were worried “about how to get around and communicate” and those who were worried about not knowing “what to do if something happens to them”.
AV – In addition to providing safer experiences to female travelers, what benefits do you think could come from an app like this?
VK – Greether not only reduces security risks for women travelers, but also creates economic opportunities for women around the world. Unfortunately, tourism is one of the industries with the fewest opportunities for women. On our platform, we work towards two of the most important UN sustainable development goals (SDGs): reducing risks for women and increasing income for them.
We encourage women travelers to consider the impact they can have on the economy of local women wherever they may be. As a traveler, when you hire an expert “Greeter” somewhere in the world, your only concern will be to enjoy and discover the places you want to see.
AV –What pleasant surprises have you had since Greether has been operating?
VK – People’s response to our mission. Both men and women want Greether to exist. In less than a year, women have registered in more than eighty countries and three hundred cities. That is to say, in every continent of the world, women identify with the problem of wanting to explore places safely. They want our solution to their problem and they want to be part of our platform.
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Meet Greether and its Greeters
AV – What kind of filters or recruitment processes have you created for the Greeters? Is there a specific profile you are looking for?
VK – We use the same verification software used by world-renowned technology companies. Each user, both traveler and greeter (guide) is verified. We also do in-person checks to verify that they really are who they say they are. There is no company in the world that can prove that someone has good intentions, but at least we know that we take the necessary steps to reduce those risks and make sure that we know who both the traveler and guide is going to meet. Traveling is not just about safety; it’s about living experiences and enjoying yourself. So we look for women who identify with our mission, who speak more than one language, and who have some tourism-related experience. We love having certified and expert guides in destinations, because through our platform we can provide one more way for them to earn money in an ethical and safe way.
AV – How do you hope to see this international sorority project grow? How would you like to see it evolve?
VK – We would love to see support from tourism unions, government and reputable companies in the travel world. But more than that, I want Greether to be a tool for more women to dare to travel, alone or with others, and to know that they have our support wherever they go.
AV – What kind of comments have you received from friends, family and strangers with whom you have shared the Greether mission?
VK – Very good, most of the people in my personal and professional life know how difficult it has been to get this startup up and running, but they also know the great potential it has and the incredible mission behind it. It hasn’t been easy, but we are doing it step by step, and we know that this is only the beginning.