Does your travel policy need to be more female friendly?
As the number of women travelling on business continues to rise, hotel operators and other travel companies are responding in different ways – from female friendly hotel rooms, to female only floors. But catering to the needs of women travellers is a complex business – and an issue that requires careful thought.
The problems businesswomen face when travelling are real.
1 in 4 women have suffered a negative incident while travelling on business, according to the Women in Business Travel report published in 2016 by Maiden Voyage and Business Travel magazine. Of the 205 senior women business travellers questioned, 31% had suffered sexual harassment on a business trip. Handbag theft was the next most common problem, and something 23% of respondents had experienced.
Worse, 79% of those surveyed felt under-prepared to deal with such incidents.
Improving Women’s Travel Experience
It’s clear that organizations have a real opportunity to improve the way women experience business travel. Not least in terms of pre-trip preparation and training.
Is the new generation of “female friendly” hotels the answer? Hyatt’s female-friendly approach involves more powerful hairdryers and curling tongs on request. Heading up the list of female friendly features offered by one city hotel is backlit make-up mirrors.
Comfort and convenience are, of course, important elements of any business trip, just as they are of any travelling experience. They have an important role to play in reducing the stress of travel, and employee wellness.
But are “curling tongs on request” really addressing the concerns of women travellers?
And is the approach sustainable? The Copenhagen hotel which in 2011 dedicated its entire 17th floor as a women’s only floor lost a legal challenge three years later for being discriminatory against men.
A Difficult Balance
Allan Agerholm, CEO of the company that owns the hotel, responded by calling the action a “petty case that should have never been brought” – claiming it detracts from real discrimination issues happening in society.
There is some truth to this, of course: for example, women’s pay continues to lag far behind men’s. And, if most other hotels in this market space are designed to suit the needs of your gender, can one floor of one hotel working to tip the balance in the other direction be considered discriminatory?
Yet the case clearly highlights a fundamental problem with developing a “female friendly” travel policy: men want to feel that their needs are being addressed too.
This tension has resulted in a tricky compromise at the Bella Sky hotel. It now markets the floor as “designed for women” but advises that men are welcome to stay – a hedge that makes something of a mockery of the floor’s upgraded secure access feature.
The simple fact is that a lot of women travellers still don’t feel safe when travelling; and the WIBT figures demonstrate that these fears are not without reason.
How can you balance the real need to address this, without being “patronising” to women travellers or making men feel that they are being excluded?
Perhaps the approach of Expotel has something to offer here. 20 years ago, the hotel bookings agency launched its “Women Aware” campaign in response to the emerging new 1990s’ generation of women business travellers. It aimed to make hotels safer and more user-friendly for women guests.
More recently, the campaign was relaunched as the “Lone Traveller Initiative” with a new focus on improving hotel stays for all solo business travellers – whether men or women.
Personalising Not Patronising
Every organisation has a duty to care for all its employees.
Pre-trip briefings, risk awareness and self-defence shouldn’t be the preserve of women only – they need to be rolled out across the board.
Well-meaning hotels need to understand that while some women might like “illuminated wardrobes”, so might many men. And, honestly, poorly lit wardrobes are not what keeps women up at night when it comes to business travel.
Safe locations, clean rooms, good service, simple transport connections, welcoming public spaces where you can dine comfortably alone, and high-speed connectivity are much more important; just as they are for men.
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