Friday 16 November 2018

Female factor: Why hotels must up their game on the needs of travelling businesswomen

Solo female travellers need to feel secure in their choice of hotel when on work trips. Photo: Benis
Solo female travellers need to feel secure in their choice of hotel when on work trips. Photo: Benis
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

The percentage of women business travellers is growing - and hotels and travel management companies could be missing a trick by ignoring their needs.

Last week, Scotland got its first 'female-friendly' hotel - the Leonardo Royal in Edinburgh - with all-female rooms, serviced by female staff, on the same floor, providing peace of mind.

One advocate for change is Carolyn Pearson, whose own experiences on the road inspired her to seek change. Pearson - a former top IT executive with the likes of EasyJet, KLM and ITV - recounted one business trip to Los Angeles, saying: "By day, it was great, but at night, there were challenges. There was nowhere to go, it was just room service or an empty restaurant."

Leaving IT, she founded Maiden Voyages, a support organisation for women on the road. The group lists suitable hotels - "they come to us, we don't seek them out", she says - and they are inspected by her team, or rated based on previous members' experiences. The ratings range from what may seem mundane (but are important) - proper hairdryers, sinks that have shelving for toiletries, and proper sockets close to hairdryers and other appliances - to more serious issues.

Sexual assaults are a concern, and Pearson says hotels should cater for women with double-locked doors, and check-in staff who don't announce room numbers that can be overheard by anyone lurking in lobbies. "Room numbers being read out have led to one or two serious incidents," she says. The association has 80 ambassadors around the world, go-to people who can help with local etiquette and area knowledge, or just be there to avoid the loneliness of dining by yourself in a faceless corporate hotel.

Pearson also organises female safety training, and says duty of care by a worker's company or booking agency isn't just the right thing to do, it is also financially sound.

She recalls one company losing a £10m (€11.3m) deal because it wasn't on-message, and says a lot of travel management companies now work with her UK-based organisation to land contracts to provide travel services to corporations.

For now, Ireland has just one hotel on the certified list - the Radisson Blu in Belfast - joining hotels in Britain, North America, the continent and the Middle East. Heavily involved in the launch of UTV Ireland, her memories of Dublin involve a great hotel, but in an area where she felt unsafe, so there is room for improvement around the Republic. Business women looking for advice or networking, can contact her at

Read more: Women more likely than men to be underpaid - but less likely to moan about it

The one telling point Michael O'Leary made at last Monday's press conference was that Ryanair's booking system is half-filled with names of people who swore they would never fly with the airline again. More like 90pc, some travel industry professionals - perhaps jokingly, perhaps not - told me later.

But O'Leary has a point: the leisure traveller has a short memory, and if he is correct in saying that this issue of flight cancellations will definitely not crop up again, then a fares blitz will ease a lot of happy-clapper pain at the back of the bus.

But the corporate sector - a drop in the ocean for Ryanair, to be fair - is a different beast, where no flights can mean lost business for road warriors and where trust in the product is paramount.

Ryanair's Business Plus, launched in 2014, is a decent product, offering the essentials of fast-track access and priority boarding for a fraction of the prices charged by legacy carriers.

So will the corporate traveller be less forgiving? It's a mixed picture. One senior corporate booker told this column that business clients have already been hit. Uncertain over whether their flight would be safe, they had to book instead next week with a legacy carrier and connect to their destination city via a different country - a major issue where timeliness is a key factor. "The confidence has been shook for the corporate - corporates above all else want certainty," the source said. "Price is important - and service, too - but at the end of the day, it's 'can I be out Tuesday and back Wednesday?' and that confidence has been shot."

The industry source said that low cost is certainly a player in the sector, three years on from Ryanair's entry into the segment: "It took a while with the legacy carriers looking after them, but they got used to it [Ryanair] and it does what it says on the tin. Generally, the on-time is good.

"Leisure memory is very short, but if they don't sort it out quickly, clients are going to make other arrangements."

Another major corporate player said while legacy carriers still dominate among bigger firms and their booking managers, Ryanair is always an option, if not the preferred one. He said: "It has more of an impact on corporate. Leisure will just look to book based on price."

He added that businesses "can't have that uncertainty around booking trips" and said while leisure destinations like Barcelona have enough daily flights to minimise the disruption, it's tougher if business destinations like Brussels are affected.

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