NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Tour operator Marcia Miller has just completed a grueling homework assignment.
The Portland resident spent the past week scouting shopping locations in Paris for an entirely new type of itinerary that her company is assembling.
For 15 years Miller's company, You Go Girls Travel, has served the unique needs of women travelers, organizing journeys and itineraries designed specifically to cater to their interests and sensibilities.Now Miller is branching into an even more specialized segment of that demographic - trips specifically designed for plus size female travelers. It's a portion of the traveling public, Miller says, that is vastly underserved, perhaps even entirely ignored.
"We've looked all over, nobody else is offering tours like this," says Miller of the luxe Paris shopping tours for curvy women that she will soon be launching. "I think there's a ton of opportunity for this travel segment."
Indeed, because it can be a sensitive topic, the issue of weight and travel is one rarely talked about - unless it's within the context of new airline policies pertaining to weight that occasionally pop up and make headlines.
For instance, Uzbekistan Airways found itself in the media spotlight in August after announcing it would begin weighing passengers and their carry-on luggage prior to flights in order to calculate how much weight is being added to the plane. A statement issued by the airlines about its new policy did not make clear whether heavier passengers would be penalized in some way.
Just last week Air India also caused something of a stir when it asked 125 of its flight attendants to lose a few pounds or be transferred to ground duty.
Samoa Air meanwhile, has a pay-as-you-weigh fare structure that made global headlines when originally announced.
The topic of weight and travel has long been a touchy subject for airlines and the travel industry as a whole, which may be part of the reason why tours designed specifically for plus size travelers have been a neglected opportunity.
But it's a particularly relevant issue now more then ever, because the average size of Americans is increasing. An analysis published by the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year revealed that 75% of men and 67% of women ages 25 and older are overweight or obese. (That's up dramatically from 20 years ago when 63% of men and 55% of women were overweight or obese.)
And plus size travelers face a variety of issues, with airline weight restrictions and seat sizes being just the tip of the iceberg.
Terri Fox Murray, a high profile plus size model who has spent her career jetting around the globe, says being viewed as the dreaded occupant in a neighboring seat, or facing discrimination, is not unusual.
And in addition to struggling with the width of tiny plane seats and seat belts that are too short. there are other issues such as lavatory doors that are so tiny, using the bathroom even becomes challenging on a plane.
While Murray isn't in a position to remedy these sorts of issues, she is the driving force behind the new itineraries being developed by You Go Girls Travel for plus size women.
Offering larger women fun vacations filled with fabulous shopping and exposure to great fashion is something she says is long overdue. Plus size women should be able to jet off on shopping bonanzas just like other woman, Murray points out. But that hasn't always been an option. Not only were there issues associated with traveling, but fashion designers also largely neglected the demographic until recently.
Over the course of three visits to Paris however, Murray noticed an increasing number of shopping opportunities for larger women, which eventually inspired the creation of the upcoming You Go Girls tours.
"We're providing access to the same fashion and style that every other woman has had access to all of their lives," says Murray of the trips. "We've been starved for great fashion for so long."
The fashion industry is finally starting to take notice of plus size women, and the You Go Girls itineraries in Paris will highlight those fashion houses and stores catering to curvy clientele.
The first trip, planned for April 2016, will be led by Murray and is aimed squarely at helping full-figured women unleash their inner fashionista, with a schedule that includes everything from attending fashion shows to learning about fine lingerie for full figured women and experimenting with accessories.
There will also be time set aside for sipping champagne on the Seine, wine tasting lunches and trips to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
"We should be able to buy fashion just as beautiful and stylish as any other women in the world, and that includes European designers and designers that are popping up all over the world," says Murray. "I love Paris, and the first time I went, there was very little fashion for plus size women. Now the plus size designers and women are rising up in Paris and around the world."
The itineraries will also be planned cognizant of plus size travelers' needs when it comes to hotel accommodations -- the need for slightly roomier bathrooms, example -- and will keep in mind the walking limitations that some travelers might have, says Murray.
The Paris shopping tour is just the first of the trips that You Go Girls has in the works for this demographic. Future possibilities include itineraries built around the plus size fashion week in New York City and possibly cruise vacations, says Miller, founder of You Go Girls.
"Since nobody is doing what we're doing, it seems to me really natural that it should catch fire," says Miller. "We've looked all over and can't find anyone else doing this."