Hotels need to do much more than put skirt-hangers in closets to woo the female traveller.
On your next business trip, take a good look around the airport lounge and in the aircraft’s business class cabin. Chances are you’ll find around one passenger in three is a woman.
Take the same snap poll at your hotel of choice and the numbers should take similar shape.
So why does it sometimes seem that airlines and hotels are ignoring a third of their market?
Advertisement: Story continues below
According to Roy Morgan Research, 35 per cent of Australia’s estimated 2.1 million domestic business travellers – people who’ve made at least one business trip by air within Australia in the last 12 months – are women.
Women also represent 31 percent of Australia’s half-million international business travellers.
A Cornell University report claims that while female businesspeople expect to be treated equally to men, their travel needs are not the same.
“Given the dramatic increase in women business travelers, addressing the needs of this market segment has become increasingly critical for hotels” says Judi Brownell, from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
“Women are developing a clear and consistent message about the need to feel safe, comfortable, empowered, and pampered.”
Brownell says hotels need to do much more than put skirt-hangers in closets to woo the female traveller.
Up in the air
There are some interesting trends in gearing travel towards the female flyer.
Virgin Australia was one of the first airlines in the world to install a ‘Ladies Only’ bathroom in the business class cabin of on its Boeing 777s.
“The Ladies Only bathroom provides additional space and lighting and is valuable when wanting to present a fresh face on arrival after a long haul flight” explains Alison Chalmer, Virgin Australia’s General Manager of Product.
And while a handful of airlines are moving towards unisex inflight amenity kits, Virgin’s female amenity kits for international business class include make-up wipes and a hairbrush.
Another smart touch is the inclusion of a mirror for each seat in Cathay Pacific‘s new business class.
“The mirror is a little touch we added during passenger testing” says Alex McGowan, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Product.
“Ladies said that it would be nice if they could do a little touch-up, and men said that it would be nice if the ladies weren’t doing their makeup in the bathrooms!”
Hotels are also starting to think about female business travellers as more than a person who ticks the ‘Ms’ box on the checkin form.
The Pan Pacific at San Francisco offers female guests a discreet security escort from the lobby to their room.
Wyndham and Loews hotels have set aside ‘networking tables’ in hotel restaurants for solo women who prefer to dine with others rather than sit alone.
And in typically glam style, W Hotels’ ‘Wonder Woman’ packages include three lip glosses, a signature fragrance, black mascara, a silk eye mask and free cocktail.
The bloke-free hotel floor
Some hotels are even opening women-only floors from which all men – not just guests but male porters and room service staff – are barred.
“Women-only floors can be a good idea in cities where women may feel vulnerable when travelling alone” suggests Suzi Dafnis, Community Director of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network.
“If that choice was available to me, I’d probably take it” Dafnis says. “I don’t know any woman that would say no to a room with high-powered hair dryers, a good quality cosmetic mirror and lighting, beautiful bath salts or healthier options on the menu.
“London, Vancouver, Singapore and New York – four cities that where hotels have this feature – don’t strike me as cities where it’d be out of a sense of safety that women would choose to stay in a women-only floor.”
Dafnis also suggests that “Australian standards are also such that safety wouldn’t be the main motivator.”
A business travel survey by the UK’s Barclaycard indicated that only 24 per cent of female business travellers wanted women-only floors, with improved gyms being a higher priority.
That can also include in-room fitness gear for women who’d rather not visit the hotel gym.
Some Hilton and Marriott hotels let you borrow low-tech workout equipment such as mats and weights, while Westin’s dedicated Workout Rooms come with your choice of a treadmill or stationary bike plus extras such as dumb-bells, a yoga mat, Swiss ball, jump rope and even fitness DVDs.
Hong Kong’s Metropark hotel in Wanchai boasts a women-only ‘She’ floor where the rooms are decorated along female lines with ‘themes’ of flowers and ballet and Thann cosmetics.
But women-only floors have met with mixed results as well as mixed response.
In early 2011 Brisbane’s Portal Hotel decreed its fifth floor would be a ‘man-free zone’.
Each of the 11 rooms was stocked with fresh flowers and candles, female toiletries like a cleanser and face mask, hair straighteners and magazines such as Madison, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
There was even a ”Pamper Bar’: think of a mini bar stocked with organic beauty products instead of booze!
While the concept appears to have been well received by guests, the doors to the female-only floor were thrown open to men (and the raft of women’s touches scrapped) when the Portal was rebranded as part of the boutique Diamant chain.
Copenhagen’s Bella Sky Hotel, a conference hotel in the city’s Orestad district, faced legal action last year when a court ruling by the Danish Gender Equality Board decreed that its women-only floor was discriminatory and therefore illegal.
“We have 814 other rooms, and there are 20 reserved for women. That means there are 794 rooms for everyone” said hotel chief Anders Dueland, who has flouted the ruling and continues to keep the ‘Bella Dona’ floor as a haven solely for female guests who value the scented rooms with flowers, and bathrooms fitted with “spacious showers, lots of mirrors and large hair-dryers”.
“In Denmark, there are running races reserved for women, there are bicycle races reserved for women, there are pools where the changing rooms are just for women or just for men” Dueland argues. “There are toilets just for women. Is that discrimination?”
How good are airlines and hotels at catering for women business travellers? And are women-only floors really discrimination or a better way to cater specifically for their needs?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.