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A New Attitude Toward Solo Women Travelers : Business Travel: The number of women making business trips today is 40 times greater than two decades ago, and this has brought about some changes in the travel industry.

There has been an astounding revolution in business travel over the last 20 years. Women now comprise 39% of business travelers, up from 1% in 1970, according to the most recent U.S. Travel Data Center survey.

Of this number, roughly a quarter hold professional or managerial positions, about a third are lower-level technical or managerial, a fifth are clerical or sales staff, and the remainder are self-employed.

For the business travel industry, this means a change in outlook and application of services.

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According to other business travel surveys, for women traveling on business the two highest priorities in choosing a hotel are location and security, including sophisticated security systems for the hotel, as well as for parking facilities. Women also want the availability of diet foods and beverages, 24-hour-room service and high-tech business services.

In the early 1980s, hotels responded to the increased number of women business travelers by mistakenly trying to anticipate and isolate the needs of the businesswomen. They tried to provide services they assumed all women would want or need.

For example, one program that died an early death was something called the “Westin Woman.” On paper, the program for the businesswoman traveling alone looked like a winner. “It was an approach that spoke to many of the privacy and security needs of women travelers,” said Dashiel Wham, Westin’s public relations manager.

“But the program backfired. By publicly identifying the program, we turned women off. Like all guests, women wanted to be treated with courtesy and respect, but they seemed to perceive the program as a charity case.”

Added Peter Bates, head of marketing for the Savoy Group of Hotels in London: “Most women don’t want to be singled out for what appears to be a particular weakness or need.

“In the same way, our handicapped guests don’t necessarily want to be assigned to a handicapped room because they happen to be in a wheelchair, unless they ask specifically for that room.”

Another failure was the program tried at the Hilton in Amsterdam. Officials there experimented with an entire floor reserved for solo women. Each room was redecorated to give it a more feminine look, irons and ironing boards were placed in closets, transformers in bathrooms, and each room was a single unit; there were no connecting doors.

But the experiment failed. As the Hilton discovered, women don’t want to be singled out. They want the same service as everyone else.

“The idea that women travelers want to be treated differently is a myth,” said Bill Marriott, chief executive of the hotel chain that bears his name. “They don’t want a separate floor, or a pink room with fluffy bedspreads and cute wallpaper. What they do want is security. That’s it.”

But programs such as the Westin’s weren’t total failures. Westin officials say they learned a lot about how to anticipate and fight certain sexual prejudices and assumptions.

“Our women guests do want recognition and security,” Wham said, “but we have learned that if they want assistance, they’ll ask for it.”

Businesswomen also want good food and beverages and comfort, according to most hotel surveys. Male travelers responded similarly. Although women traveling alone do not comprise a large percentage of the Westin clientele, the female traveler has had a positive effect on all guests.

“Women have suggested that we get brighter lighting for the hallways and parking facilities, a lighter cuisine and provide a home-like decor,” Wham said. “The response has been very positive . . . and the funny thing is, the men have responded most positively to the new changes.”

What Westin and many other hotels have found is that they shouldn’t make blanket assumptions about guests’ needs. They’ve learned to make things available if they are requested.

At the Pierre Hotel in New York, the focus is on security: Upon request, women are given rooms on higher floors or rooms close to exits and elevators.

Another growing trend concerning women is the number of them flying first-class.

“These women are not secretaries, wives or mistresses,” says a new manual for British Airways flight attendants. “They are successful business people who have noticed that female staff tend to look down at them and male staff tend to look at them as either chat-up-able or traveling with the chap next to them, but not as individuals.

“We have to bear this in mind and understand what the solo businesswoman’s requirements are in flight.”

In Asia, hotels have generally not gone out of their way for women travelers.

But times are changing. In a growing number of hotels in Thailand, massage--bona fide massage--services are now available to women. And hotel health clubs, especially those at the Regent and Mandarin Oriental hotels in Hong Kong, cater to a growing number of women business travelers. At the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong some new services have been added: heated hair rollers, on request, and a full-time seamstress.

In the past, the Mandarin kept a certain number of emergency kits on hand for their male guests whose luggage had been lost or delayed. The kits contained everything from toothbrushes to razors and shaving cream. Now, the hotel stocks special kits for women, too, and they are quite extensive. In addition to the usual toothbrush, the kit also contains a nightgown, sewing kit, panties, pantyhose, hairbrush and extra tissue paper.


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