It's no longer a niche market. Nearly half of business travelers are women, and the early lip service of an odd nail file in vanity bags and hotel doors with security peepholes, are no longer enough to give businesses an edge.
Hotels are thinking up innovations that go beyond the standard fare. Reception staff are better trained to be discreet when checking in women guests and avoid saying their room numbers out loud. Spas and fitness centers offer in-room exercise programs and treatments. Business centers provide webcams, which helps working mothers keep in touch with children. In-room facilities are improving, too, to include full-view mirrors and powerful hair-dryers (positioned close together), as well as skirt hangers.
But global market research firm Mintel says that the business environment and its facilities still require a touch of 'feminizing', with accommodation requiring better pampering products, as well as childcare facilities for working mothers on the road.
Their research found that hotels are, on the whole, less inviting to women, who may prefer to return home rather than stay away overnight. It can be more difficult for women to dine and drink alone in a hotel as they can be the target of unwanted attention. While room service is an option, it can be a lonely one. Hotel maitre d's can play a vital role in welcoming single female diners and, for example, placing them together at a table.
Businesswomen may still be underserved by the travel industry but hotel booking agency Expotel says life for the lone female is improving. They launched a Woman Aware campaign a decade ago, flagging up "female friendly" hotels, which fulfill ten key criteria and have been nominated by three independent female travelers. Currently, seven of the ten criteria relate to security, including a well lit, secure car park or valet parking, and permanently lit corridors.
"We had a lot of feedback from our female clients saying they were feeling unsafe in hotels,' says Expotel's Sharon Smith, "especially when they were unfamiliar with a city. Hotels were not addressing their concerns, most of which were related to security. But in the last ten years, many hotels have embraced our campaign and really made an effort."
London's Hilton Park Lane now has a whole floor that is women-only. All the Radisson Edwardian hotels require key cards in elevators to ensure only room guests get access to non-public spaces.
Expotel's Sharon Smith says it all boils down to security: "We hoped our Woman Aware program might become redundant, which would be a sign of its success. But unfortunately security is high on everyone's mind today. The top seven of our ten criteria are all related to security. When we do our next survey, I suspect the top nine will be."
One of the first hotels to launch women-friendly policies was Wyndham. In 1995, they established the 'Women on their Way' program, dedicated to the emerging woman business traveler, and they created innovations such as a courtesy call alerting guests to imminent room service delivery.
Women now account for half of all Wyndham travelers, a figure which has doubled since the program began. More than a third of the company's business travel base is women.
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