Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
What facilities are on offer for the female traveller, and do they need or want to be treated any differently from their male counterparts? Beverley Fearis finds out
So, men are from Mars and women are from Venus - but do they need to be treated differently while on a business trip? And, more importantly, do they want to be?
Around 40 per cent of travelling executives are now estimated to be women but, according to a survey by our sister magazine Business Traveller, 65 per cent of them do not feel hotels cater adequately for their needs.
Our quick straw poll of a dozen or so corporate buyers, however, found that most believe there should be no distinction. Buyers (male and female) argue that each traveller's individual preferences should be taken into account, regardless of their sex. Only a handful hold the view that female travellers do have specific needs while away on business, particularly when travelling alone.
Among suppliers, views also appear to be divided. While most hoteliers say products and services should be the same for all guests, others have launched initiatives aimed specifically at the female market. But are these being dreamed up by marketing departments in a bid to generate a few column inches of publicity, or driven by a genuine demand from women guests? Indeed, in several cases, hotels have launched female-centric initiatives with a fanfare, only for them to be abandoned shortly afterwards.
Six years ago the London Hilton on Park Lane decided to dedicate its 22nd floor to women only. Female guests were invited to check in at a private area in the hotel lobby, all bedroom doors were fitted with spyholes and more secure locks, and any food ordered from room service was delivered by a female member of staff.
Today, however, the 22nd floor is open to all. According to a Hilton spokesperson, the concept was abandoned after a few years because it was not as popular as hoped. "Our female guests were not happy being restricted to just one room type, and felt secure enough in other parts of the hotel," they explain.
In the case of the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, Michigan, the idea of incorporating a women-only floor was abandoned before the hotel even opened. Despite 90 per cent of the hotel's female guests saying they liked the concept, the hotel's developers were put off by the objections of the remaining 10 per cent.
Those against complained it was patronising to cocoon women in this way and argued that men would equally appreciate the chenille blankets, high-spec hair dryers and luxury bath products that the floor promised to provide. Crucially, among the fiercest objectors was outspoken Los Angeles discrimination attorney, Gloria Allred, who warned that any hotel with a women-only floor risks a lawsuit, which might have explained the hotel's change of heart.
According to the official Marriott line, the decision was down to practical reasons. "For example, keeping a whole floor for female guests could mean turning away male guests or mixed groups even if the hotel had rooms available on that floor," says a spokesperson. "Would you prevent female guests on that floor having male visitors? Would all female guests automatically be allocated that floor?"
Sarah Makings, European category manager, travel, for KPMG, is among those who believe female-only floors might actually make women more of a target. "We have not had any complaints, but as a female traveller myself, I don't like female-only floors. They highlight that all females are on that floor and personally I don't feel the need to be segregated."
Feroz Khan, senior buyer, BT procurement and supply chain, agrees. "Not that anyone has complained, but women feel that female-only floors highlight they are alone."
Research from Expotel, the hotel reservations, travel and event management agency, found that the biggest security gripe among female travellers was having their room number announced at the hotel reception, for all to hear. "But this complaint wasn't just from women. It came from men, too," says a company spokesperson. In response to women's specific concerns, Expotel launched a Women Aware campaign in 1994, which it claims is still thriving (see 'What women want').
When it comes to protecting the safety and security of travelling staff, many corporates rely on specialist companies to keep up to date with the risks. Most of these will provide specific guidelines for female travellers, if requested.
"The responsibility should lie within the organisation to ensure their travellers, male or female, are given an appropriate level of training so they can understand the risks and how to mitigate them," says Dominic Welsh, security director for Travel Security Services, a joint venture between International SOS and Control Risks. "Most of the feedback and interest I get from female travellers is less about response - that is, self-defence - and more about avoidance: how to avoid danger and not expose themselves to unnecessary risks."
International SOS is holding a debate entitled 'Are female employees more at risk when travelling?' in London on November 11 and has invited corporate buyers to attend (for more details, email [email protected]). One of the speakers lined up for the event is Zahara Heckscher, co-author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas, who also frequently writes articles about safety overseas, especially for women.
Heckscher believes the most useful advice comes via word of mouth from other women, particularly those who live and work in that destination. "It's important to involve females who live in that culture to share advice," she says. "And female hotel staff also have a key role to play here."
When Heckscher was travelling in Mexico City, for example, a local woman told her that when women are in a park, they will sit together on a bench, even if they don't know each other. "That way, you're much less likely to be harassed," she says. "And although I haven't been to Albania, a friend told me that she was warned that if a woman is seen smoking in public, or having any kind of alcoholic drink, she is automatically regarded a loose woman."
According to Heckscher, corporates should be making more use of this first-hand advice, particularly as it is now freely available online. "Most will look up the official government advice, but user-generated tips are the best way to go," she says. "Female travellers should make full use of social networking websites, blogs, and their company's intranets to share advice."
Websites such as maiden-voyage.com, the Executive Women's Network Lounge within skylounge.com, global-dinner-network.com and ladiesaway.com are all aimed at frequent female travellers. Some give women the opportunity to make contact with others who are visiting a city at the same time, so they can arrange to share a table at dinner or simply hang out together.
Safety and security, however, are not the only ways in which hotels have spotted an opportunity to make themselves more appealing to women guests.
When the Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi opened earlier this summer, it secured more column inches in the media than most new hotels, largely down to its decision to incorporate some female-friendly rooms.
On the same floor as the health club and spa facilities (so women don't need to make the self-conscious trip in their bathrobe), rooms are decorated in a more feminine style and boast ultra-high-powered hairdryers, padded hangers (for silk blouses) and make-up removal kits. Not only is there a mirror in the bathroom, there is a special mirror at the desk for women who prefer to apply their make-up in natural light.
It's not a new concept. US hotel group, Kimpton Hotels, for example, has long positioned itself as a female-friendly chain through its Women InTouch programme, spearheaded by chief operating officer Niki Leondakis. The programme offers extra in-room amenities, including complimentary eye make-up remover pads and a salon-style hair dryer and, for a small fee, other amenities such as nail polish and nail polish remover pads. More recently, Kimpton hotels have begun hosting a daily complimentary wine hour, where women are invited to come and enjoy "an Italian Pinot Grigio, a dry French Rosé or a California Merlot".
But Zahara Heckscher believes hotels have to go further than just adding an extra make-up mirror and brand name conditioner.
"Yes, it's nice to have the little things, like luxurious shampoos and face creams, but it has to follow through to training the staff to adapt the service. Sometimes it's just the same old product, but instead of painting it green, they paint it pink."
What women want
Expotel's Woman Aware campaign was set up 15 years ago in response to feedback from female clients. The hotel booking agency said many women travelling alone on business were made to feel unsafe and vulnerable at hotels and identified a number of ways in which hotels could make a difference.
It decided to undertake a survey of its clients and, as a result, drew up a list of 10 criteria for its UK hotels.
Hotels have to be nominated by three guests and are then inspected. If they meet all the criteria, they are presented with a certificate to display in their lobbies and will have the Woman Aware accolade added to their details in all Expotel listings.
Around 20 per cent of the hotels featured by Expotel are now Woman Aware. "The criteria is not always easy for hotels to fulfil," says a spokesperson for Expotel. "A hotel might be wonderful, but if it doesn't have peep holes in its doors, it won't be classed as Woman Aware."
"We are going out to tender at the moment, and décor and toiletries would not be a factor. As long as a hotel is clean, comfortable and convenient, is suitable for a business traveller and has all the right services, such as wifi, that's fine."Sarah Makings, European category manager, travel, for KPMG
"Anything that supports women and makes us safe is great, but this applies to both men and women."Caroline Strachan, AstraZeneca global category leader, business travel, and ITM chairman
"Before accepting a job, you [male or female] would generally know that you have to travel and, if this makes you nervous, then you should talk things through with your manager, personnel and travel manager to establish what support can be offered." "We treat all travellers with the same level of consideration for their safety when travelling." "We do not treat females differently, unless there is anything 'preference-wise' in their traveller profile." "We do not feel we should be doing anything differently and have no plans to change." (Anonymous comments are from members of the ITM Press Panel, a group of buyers for companies such as Airbus, E.ON, John Lewis Partnership, JP Morgan , Omnicom, UBS and The Wellcome Trust)