What a woman wants

More hotels catering to women


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Hotels know that businesswomen are a lucrative market: high-income, fiercely loyal and willing to pay more to have their needs met.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2010 (4745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hotels know that businesswomen are a lucrative market: high-income, fiercely loyal and willing to pay more to have their needs met.

But what they’re just beginning to figure out is exactly how to capitalize on what these women want.

From toiletries that suit the female traveller to plush robes and vanity mirrors, mainstream hotels have gradually been doing more to cater to the female market. And now several hotels around the world — including one in Vancouver — have added women-only floors.

It’s a market well worth pursuing, according to MaryBeth Bond, an expert on women’s travel and author of 11 books.

"With 67 million participants, the potential of the women’s market exceeds $19 trillion annually," Bond says on her website The Gutsy Traveler.

And while statistics from the Hotel Association of Canada’s 2010 Canadian Travel Intentions survey show that leisure travel is down four per cent, the survey forecasts that business travel will be up by three per cent this year over last, putting more businesswomen in more rooms.

The question, then, is how to respond to the niche market of female business travellers.

"How do you attract people?" asks Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada. "You find out what they’re looking for and you give it to them."

But can you distinguish between the market needs of women business travellers and their male counterparts?

Penelope Trunk, CEO of the Brazen Careerist, a social network site for Gen Y professionals, says you can.

"Men want their room to be a something where they dump their stuff; they go out drinking, they come back and watch porn," says Trunk. "The women want it to be a spa."

Trunk is an example of exactly the kind of traveller hotels want to attract. She travelled to two different cities every week in 2008 and doesn’t bat an eyelash at paying $500 US a night for a hotel room. But she says most middle-tier hotels still cater more to the needs of male travellers than female ones.

"Women use treadmills and men use weight-machines," says Trunk. "So if there are only two treadmills in a big hotel, it’s catering to men. But almost every woman I know who travels a lot works out a lot."

Trunk says hotels often have better bars than gyms, something that is more likely to please the male business traveller than the female one.

Both Trunk and Kelly Fallis, 33, president of The Remote Stylist, a Toronto-based online company specializing in home decor, say they are loyal to a hotel chain that meets their needs.

Every time Trunk goes to a city, she stays in the same hotel (if she had a good stay there before).

"The more consistency you can have in your travel, the less disorienting it is."

Fallis, who sometimes visits as many as four cities in one week, does the same, and says she has favourite chains she seeks out in different cities. "The W is on my list. The Kimpton is on my list."

These travellers also expect to be rewarded for their loyalty.

"Loyalty is huge," says Trunk. "I stayed at this one hotel in New York City probably 50 times. They have no loyalty program. So I said, well, just give me five nights free. And they didn’t. I was outraged. Totally ridiculous. I’m making a commitment to them. They need to make a commitment back to me. It’s a deal; a partnership."

While many women go for higher-end hotels because of the superior levels of service and amenities, for Annie Crombie, founder of Ottawa-based Re-Think Strategic Consulting, it’s more about safety.

"I’ll look for a 4- or 4.5-star," says Crombie. "I don’t want to get there and find out that it’s a shady place."

Crombie has noticed subtle changes over the years that she’s been a business traveller.

"There have always been a lot of male-related toiletries when I travelled in the past. Now it seems to be more equitable."

But many hotels these days are going much further than special shampoos and lotions in their efforts to cater to female business travellers. Everything from thick bathrobes, curved shower-rods, vanity mirrors, yoga mats, gourmet coffees and teas and satin-covered hangers are being added to the rooms of higher-end hotels around the world.

Not everyone agrees that women’s needs and wants are different, though.

These kinds of extras were mocked as silliness on a travel blog called Gulliver on the The Economist’s website recently.

"Women have been travelling for business for years, and both sexes need the basic things a hotel provides," said the blog. "Everyone wants a safe, comfortable place to sleep, wash up, and maybe get some work done."

And Crombie says some concerns, such as safety, are important, no matter your gender.

"Hotels need to find an approach to make sure that all of the guests that are staying at their hotel are secure and that they’re safe."

But those in the hotel business, such as Pollard, say some of the things the The Economist blog referred to as silly actually have statistics behind them.

"For instance, women will typically want to order up breakfast to their room more than men do," says Pollard. "So if you are catering to a large group of women, make sure you have more room-service waiters available for breakfast."

Trunk agrees. Not only does she want room-service meals available at all hours to accommodate shifting time zones, she also wants to have a robe to throw on for when her meal arrives.

"You want to take off all your clothes and not put them on again until your next meeting," says Trunk. "Nobody packs pyjamas. If you’re travelling all the time, you pack only business clothes and workout clothes. If you get up in the morning and there’s no robe, it’s totally annoying. You have to put on your workout clothes to answer the door for room service."

Taking the concept of catering to women a step further, several hotels around the world have recently begun to offer women’s-only floors.

Pollard, of the Hotel Association of Canada, says he’s surprised the concept seems to work.

"Sure, if you’re running a hotel at 55 per cent occupancy, maybe it could work," says Pollard. "Otherwise, from a logistical point of view, it becomes challenging."

Pollard says rooms are assigned for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with gender, such as preferences about floor levels, proximity to an elevator, participation in a conference, or housekeeping requirements. He also adds that the logistical challenges are compounded by privacy laws in Canada that prevent a hotel from asking a guest’s gender when he or she is booking.

But more women-only floors are being offered — and winning customers.

Women can choose to stay on female-only floors in the Jumerirah Emirates Towers in Dubai, the ITC Maurya in New Delhi and The Fleming in Hong Kong. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, an entire female-only hotel opened recently, called the Luthan Hotel & Spa.

Closer to home, The Premier Hotel in New York’s Times Square and Crowne Plazas in Washington, D.C., and Bloomington, Minn., also now offer floors exclusively for women.

The Hampton Inn & Suites in Albany, N.Y., unveiled its Empire Floor in 2008 based, according to its press release, on the rapidly increasing number of female business and leisure travellers in Albany.

Two years later, the hotel says the experiment has been a success: The special floor is extremely popular and has a high proportion of repeat customers.

It’s perhaps because of that kind of experience that, just three months ago, the Georgian Court in downtown Vancouver added a women’s-only floor as part of large-scale renovation that made the whole hotel feel more welcoming to women.

"Before the renovations, the look was more European and almost old boys’ club," says Susan Leung, director of sales for the hotel. "Now, the lobby has a clean and crisp feel to it."

The decision to create an Orchid Floor — 18 rooms on the hotel’s 10th floor that are available only to female guests — was made on instinct rather than data, says Leung.

"There are more and more women in the workplace now, and I think we don’t pay attention to their needs as much. Our hotel wanted to move away from a generic offering and create something different."

Rooms on the special floor have fresh orchids in them. And Leung says that, by providing such items as fluffy robes, a ladies-only emergency kit containing pantyhose and tampons, a flat iron for straightening hair, a curling iron, magazines and large sizes of Aveda products, the hotel has given women more space in their suitcases for shoes.

"One of our guests was so enamoured with it," says Leung, that when the woman’s husband showed up at the tail end of her business trip, she was a bit reluctant to leave her lovely women-only-floor room, complete with yoga mat, so she could share a room with him. "She had a hard time deciding between it or her husband."

More seriously, Leung says the response to the new floor has been "positive, positive, positive."

— Canwest News Service



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