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02 December 2023

Female business travel takes off

By Primrose Skelton




In a recent survey 65 per cent of female travellers said hotels did not adequately cater to their needs – which in a market where 40 per cent of people travelling for business are women is not good news.


It is for this reason more and more companies are deploying methods to attract the discerning female traveller. In some cases, the pitch is overt, like women-only hotel floors. In most cases however, hotels are broadly incorporating improvements with special female appeal such as upgraded beds and linen, lighter diet menu options and small conveniences, such as wash gloves instead of cloths and extra fresh flowers in every room.


In Dubai, business hotel Jumeriah Emirates Towers has a women-only floor catering to the “executive woman seeking sophistication, luxury and exclusivity.” With yoga mats, a cosmetic fridge and all female staff, it is a new initiative for the emirate and the region.


A similar idea is in place at the Sheraton in Mumbai, which has an all-women butler service and female in-room check in.


The Business Traveller survey conducted in the Middle East found the main worry for women travelling alone was security with many citing special access keys, a peephole and a door chain as essential.


Hans Heijligiers, general manager at Jumeriah Emirates Towers hotel, believes women- only floors are a welcome facility for female guests and make them feel safer when travelling alone. “With the number of female business travellers increasing all the time, we wanted to offer something unique to women. Women have different requirements and we cater to that by having all female staff, extra security in the form of a special floor access card – only available to women, and, of course, luxuries inside the rooms.”


Figures show internationally women account for nearly half of all business travellers, but this is rising steadily year-on-year according to the Travel Industry Association. They tend to be well-heeled consumers with higher expectations than men and have more income to spend on hotels – making them particularly valued customers. “Top female executives have requirements that some hotels just don’t offer and our research suggested there was a gap in the market for this type of service,” says Heijligiers.


In 2005 the Hamilton Crowne Plaza In Washington DC turned its 11th storey into a women-only floor on week days and began stocking rooms with items of special appeal to some female guests: chick flicks, glossy magazines, slippers to go with a matching silk robe, potpourri in the bathroom and a special diet and healthy room service menu. Last year it extended the service to include weekends as it was so popular. “Our specially designed women’s floor offers thoughtful amenities for women and the feedback has been fantastic,” says a spokesperson for the hotel.


However, the female business travellers we spoke to were not looking for something so specific as women-only floors. Laura Wilde, 40, a marketing executive living in Abu Dhabi, believes such concepts are patronising.


“I can see it might be something that appeals to women of certain religions, but I have no problems staying on a floor where men are. If hotels want guests to feel safe, it might be better to have controlled access to the building and visible guards or cameras in lifts.

These sorts of things would actually help make all guests feel safer.”


Guests who have stayed in the women-only floor at Emirates Towers say they are not drawn by the girly frills but they do appreciate the restricted access. However not all female-only floors have been a success.


In London, the Hilton Park Lane’s women-only floor floundered when female guests, offered the choice, declined it. “We found female travellers wanted access to the hotel’s full range of room types, not just those on any one given floor,” says a spokesperson for the hotel. “We do, however, personalise our service to meet the needs of the female business traveller including providing special hairdryers, magazines and flowers.”


In Michigan in the US, the JW Marriott hotel shelved plans for female-only floors because of negative feedback.


Nina Hooten, 29, has been travelling for five years as a sales person for Hewlett Packard. Although her travelling is mostly in Europe she says she is usually disappointed by her room. “I typically stay in chain hotels that cost around Dh750 a night. Almost all hotel rooms are poorly designed around women’s needs,” says the Briton, citing poor lighting in bathrooms and too few electrical outlets. “Some don’t have hairdressers, others not even a full-length mirror.


“It may sound silly, but when you’re working all week away from home these things are important.”


Daisy Omissi

'Business facilities are key'


Daisy Omissi (pictured above), 33, is the Senior Account Director for If Communications in Dubai. She travels two to three times a month between the Middle East, Europe and Asia.


What is the number one thing you look for when travelling for business?

—Location is the most important thing. When I travel for work I need to make sure the hotel is in a central location and easily accessible to the centre of the city, where  my meetings take place.

I also look for business facilities, such as easy access to wireless and a good internet connection.

What else do you expect from the hotel?

—I am a bit of a gym freak and love working out when I am abroad. I also think food and drink are important. When I arrive somewhere in the middle of the night I want to be able to have what I want, when I want and 24-hour room service is crucial. Service should be a mixture of attentive and discreet.

Some hotels have installed women-only floors. Is this something you look for in a hotel?

—I have been travelling for business for eight years in my capacity as both a PR director and in my previous job as a magazine editor and I have to say this is not something I look for. I am sure for Muslim women it is great, but to be honest this service is not something I have thought about and it wouldn’t make a difference to where I chose to stay.

Do you think hotels should do more to cater to female business travellers?

—Hotels that have nice toiletries and cosmetics always make an impression on me, especially at the moment with the current flying restrictions only allowing products under 100ml. If I get to a hotel and there are luxury products it’s always a bonus.

What is the worst thing about travelling for business?

—Catching up on sleep and recovering from jet lag can take a long time, especially when I don’t really have time to do either. As soon as I touch down I have to hit the ground running, so there is not any time to relax. I also have a one-year-old daughter and I miss her when I am away.

Name your two favourite hotels.

—The best for business is the Four Seasons, Doha, Qatar. The best for leisure is the Four Seasons, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.