Latifah and Tami Al-Hazza are a mother-daughter duo who own boutique women’s travel company, Femscape Sojourns. Together they offer unique and luxury group trips around the world. Some trips are designed for specific age groups, some are specifically for mothers and daughters, but all the trips are meant to serve as a vehicle for positive social impact by connecting women with other women around the world. Today the US-based Al-Hazzas’ are focusing on growth through new marketing and PR strategies, while remembering growth takes time and making sure to celebrate the small victories along the way.
The Al-Hazza’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
Latifah: I have traveled extensively with my mom and surprisingly enough, my friends have always thought it so unique that I actually enjoyed traveling with her…that I enjoy family vacations. They couldn’t wrap their minds around how I could survive everything a mother-daughter trip entails (ie, negotiating what we would do) and still be so close to my mom afterwards. On the other hand, I thought that it was strange people thought of this as difficult. In addition to this, my friends have often asked me to help plan their trips or have asked if they can tag along on my next trip because I travel to such unique places and partake in memorable experiences. These were the underlying factors that influenced the creation of a travel company for women that would enable other women to travel the way I travel and the way my mother and I travel sans any of the typical stressors.
Tami: In mid-life, I found myself traveling alone or with Latifah to exotic destinations for both work and pleasure. When I would return from these trips, my friends and colleagues would ask me if I felt safe traveling solo or with only my daughter. They expressed a desire to travel but were hesitant to travel alone and they didn’t want the large group impersonal experience. This made me realize that a small group women’s travel company could meet the needs of many women who have a desire to travel but who find themselves without a travel partner.
How do you define success?
We pride ourselves on redefining authentic travel experiences for women by creating a travel tour company that offers unique tours where advocating for women is our central focus. We primarily work with female owned or run establishments (hotels, restaurants, guides, etc.). We also ensure that our clients become familiar with the struggles and challenges of the women in the countries we travel to. We do this by going beyond the typical tourist experiences. For example, on a recent trip we traveled to a tribe in a remote part of the mountains of Morocco to chat with the tribal women, learn their craft, spend time in their homes and ultimately give back to them (via monetary donations, artisan purchases, or offering supplies to local schools). These experiences help dispel cultural misunderstandings, lay the foundations for acceptance and understanding, and forge bonds for lasting impactful friendships.
From connecting these two diverse groups, both are empowered. Through this exposure we believe that both groups of women will see alternative pathways to empowerment, gaining rights, achieving more visibility and gaining respect. Together, we can strive to enhance the overall development of society and improve the stature of women within all societies.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Our biggest success to date is having the courage to launch our business without a lot of financial means and no business background.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Sales and marketing has been our biggest challenge. We began by handling it all ourselves and we realized that after our family friends were on board we actually hadn’t reached anyone else. We then decided to outsource. We hired a social media marketing company (which we still work with) and we hired a PR person who ended up ghosting us mid-contract. We still haven’t found an affordable PR person to work with.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
COVID-19 affected our business.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
The elevator advice that we would give to new entrepreneurs is that a business isn’t successful overnight. One of our reality checks was that we expected to become popular within the first year and we took it a bit hard when that didn’t happen. Depending on your line of work, it is essential to first build a following before you offer goods or a service to the public. For women just creating their business, it is vital that they develop confidence and endurance and realize the time, monetary commitment and skills that it will require to launch a new business. They must anticipate that growth will take time. We advise that they celebrate every tiny success along the way as if it’s a huge accomplishment instead of a small victory.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
When we remember how empowered the women traveling with us were by the strength of the local women or when we remember how empowered the local women felt by recognition from the women traveling with us.
Who is your most important role model?
All credit goes to my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Both of these strong women always encouraged my mother that she could do whatever she wanted as long as she believed in herself and worked hard. They also encouraged her to help women whenever she could because society often gives men an advantage in every aspect of life. In turn, my mother instilled in me the same core values, so I have an unshakable belief in myself and a passion for forging bonds with other women in societies around the world. ◼