A 2014 Skift Report, titled “The Rise of Female Business Travelers,” noted several key factors about female business travelers, a group poised to make up a large share of the business travel market in the coming years. Women business travelers already control 60 percent of the wealth in the United States and influence 85 percent of all purchasing decisions while being high-tech, mobile, connected and social. And 47 percent of women who travel do so for business. The essential finding: Attracting and retaining female business travelers is key for travel brands who want to maintain their competitive edge by getting ahead of this influential trend.
But how can brands attract this group? And just what are female business travelers seeking from their travel experiences?
Among the group of frequent female business travelers we chatted with for this article, the overwhelming response to our question, “Have you ever experienced an instance where you felt like you were treated differently than a male counterpart?” was “No.” Most of the women surveyed were also not attracted to female-specific amenities at airports or hotels — think women-only floors or overly floral, pink décor. And according to Skift, it’s not about being separate but being equal, noting, “Designing to improve the travel experience for women most often results in designing solutions which make the travel experience better for men.”
“Gender isn’t really something that should come into play for business travelers — what’s required, and expected, is safety, top service, excellent in-room technology, a good business center and great on-property dining options,” agreed Debra Bokur, a frequent traveler and journalist.
According to the report, the key factors of importance to female business travelers include security, reliable and empathetic personnel, privacy, healthy options, accurate guides, conveniences, cleanliness and amenities — sentiments emphasized by those we talked with about their travel and travel habits.
“I think the in-room amenities are much-improved, though I admit, I more often than not pack all my bottles and lotions,” said Lori Holland, director of public relations, Four Seasons Resorts Lana’i. “Sometimes I do believe that a female perspective is lacking, especially when it comes to design or placement of items in rooms. For example, is the makeup mirror easy to access, does it have good lighting and magnification, are there skirt hangers in the closet?”
“Menus are another place for tailoring — men and women often don’t eat the same size entrées,” Holland continued. “Here on Lana’i, many of our restaurants offer half portions on entrées, so if you want to enjoy an appetizer or dessert along with your meal, you can, without sending food back to the kitchens or overindulging.”
A 2012 Women’s Report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor pointed out that women entrepreneurs base travel decisions on the perceptions they have of particular brands and the comfort and loyalty they feel for a particular provider. Furthermore, according to Skift, women are far more likely to participate in points-based programs and sign up for credit cards tied into a travel brand because they value the membership benefits.
Lisa Holladay, vice president, brand management and guest experience, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., looks for hotels and airlines to make her travel experience enjoyable and as stress-free as possible When the brands show extra attention to detail, they secure her loyalty.
“I was recently flying first class and had a very tight connection in a large international airport,” Holladay said. “The airline I was flying had a cart waiting to transport me to my connecting gate to ensure I didn’t miss my flight. Because of that level of anticipatory service, I am now loyal to that brand.”
Security — the No. 1 factor of importance to female business travelers. Little things matter, such as double-locking doors or not placing women in ground-floor guestrooms.
“At many hotels, the clerks still say your room number out loud,” said Lois Friedland, travel writer. “I’d like more front desk clerks to be sensitive and just hand me the key in a packet with the room number written on the inside.”
Those are the types of aspects noted by Maiden Voyage, an Internet networking site for women business travelers. Security lies at the core of their hotel inspections. For the inspectors, certain properties can promote a “general bad feeling,” even if they meet all the criteria of a safety checklist.
Across the travel industry, security concerns should be a priority for providers. Inadequate lighting in hotel hallways, airport parking garages and car rental parking lots were cited as common concerns. Also key in ensuring a feeling of safety in female travelers is sensitivity training, prompting staff to properly respond when safety concerns are raised.
“I travel often to smaller localities that do not offer security. I often worry going up an elevator and down long hallways late at night,” said Dorothy Wood, member of Global Traveler’s Globility Board. “But I think this would be a concern to men who are traveling alone, also.”
Female business travelers must go where the business is, even if it is a locale where women are expected to conform to certain societal restrictions.
“I travel to parts of the world that can be quite risky, so I have participated in security training, which was quite helpful,” said Donna Childs, member of Global Traveler’s Globility Board.
Even though a female business traveler may arrive in a destination fully prepared, Skift recommends travel providers take extra steps to ensure added peace of mind: “Business women will do their homework about their destination before departing, but travel brands can make this homework easier by providing guidance on local factors a woman might want to be aware of at the time of booking.” Suggestions ranged from offering driver services to providing additional guides or maps on arrival.
The report also noted female business travelers are far more likely to order room service. Ensuring the staff sent to a guest’s room to accommodate their needs is of the same gender provides a small step in aiding guests’ feelings of safety and reassurance.
Hotels and airlines noticed that amenities are extremely important to women. Some hotels today provide power hair dryers, magnifying mirrors in bathrooms, full-length mirrors in the room, herbal teas and healthy menu options. Airlines add moisturizing creams and lip balms to amenity kits and place well-lit mirrors in the lavatories while adding premium seats with more privacy.
“Do you believe not all hotels have full-length mirrors? That is my pet peeve,” said Laura Davidson, owner, Laura Davidson Public Relations. “I like hotels that offer healthy menu choices for breakfast and give me free bottles of water in my room. Free WiFi is expected. Better amenities for female business travelers are lacking, like hair straightening irons along with hair dryers.”
These were sentiments commonly noted among the female business travelers we interviewed.
When asked what she looks for in a hotel, Maxine Albert, travel journalist, said, “I want good WiFi and good bathroom lighting. The makeup mirror should be easily adjustable if mounted on the wall, bath salts, healthy in-room snacks, soft bed linens, easy-to-operate light switches.”
Many travel providers already go above and beyond for female travelers. What began as research for a study on what people look for in an ideal travel experience became a catalyst for change at Hyatt. As the research continued, Hyatt found defining an ideal travel experience for women — who make nearly 80 percent of all travel decisions — was of critical importance. Women hold just more than half of all management, professional and related occupations in the United States, and Hyatt listened.
“We set out on an 18-month series of facilitated group discussions with travelers from around the world,” said Sara Kearney, senior vice president, brand, Hyatt. “This listening exercise, which was the largest we have ever done in our history, helped us to gain a better understanding of how people felt about their overall travel experience. One of the most significant insights from this listening exercise was that the travel experience is not always well-designed for women.”
In response, Hyatt implemented a number of new initiatives across the portfolio. Guest request cards allow housekeepers to provide personal confirmation of a cleaned room and open the door to communication. The Hyatt Has It initiative offers essentials including teakettles, curling and flat irons, steamers, nail polish remover wipes and more to buy, borrow or keep. In a recent hotel survey, the high-powered hair dryers were most appreciated by women. Hyatt’s new smart menus include fresh juices and smoothies, balanced portions and “create your own” options. Lastly, Hyatt upgraded its amenities across its brands, introducing products from Kenet MD Skin Care, Le Labo, June Jacobs and Aromapothecary.
More boutique properties are also working to tailor guest experiences. Boston’s XV Beacon’s Oh No Women’s Kit includes any essential a female traveler may forget — tweezers, tampons, eight different pain relievers and more. A female staffer delivers the kit, and the in-room minibars include healthy treats. MGallery’s Inspired by Her program provides services designed for women, and Burlington’s Hotel Vermont has added female-friendly amenities as well.
At the end of the day, female business travelers still do face a balancing act, juggling the responsibilities of both work and home. Organization, according to the frequent travelers interviewed, is key to keeping up with all of life’s demands, home or away.
Tips from Female Travelers
“Every Sunday night, whether I am home or on a business trip, I spend one hour just prepping for the week for both personal and business so I can start the week on the right foot.” – Laura Davidson
“Don’t overpack; invest in a great carry-on suitcase and never check your luggage. Don’t let the stress of business travel stress you out. There is nothing you can do about delayed flights and missed connections.” – Lisa Holladay
“Stick to a basic color wardrobe-wise and add color with accessories.” – Ellen Clark, travel journalist
“Make time to phone your family — with time zone changes it’s easy to lose track of the time at home, so set your alarm so you don’t miss a call.” – Lori Holland
“It can be challenging at times, but staying focused on what is in front of me is what helps me stay balanced. When I am at work, I am committed to it; and when I am at home with my family, that is my priority.” – Sara Kearney
“I have checklists for travel (stop newspaper delivery, hold mail, packing lists and so on) ready to go, so I am sure not to overlook anything.” – Donna Childs
“I do notice when a hotel or airline pays particular attention to women’s safety needs or even just offers great bath amenities. It makes me feel as though the hotel recognizes the concerns women travelers have and is working to provide them with additional comfort and peace of mind.” – Allison Voigts, travel journalist
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