GLOBAL REPORT—Although the influx of female travelers bodes well for the hotel industry, recent attacks on women travelers are forcing hoteliers to make their female guests feel safe in unsafe areas.
India is at the forefront of these issues, with women from the country and abroad being the victims of rape and assaults, including a 30-year-old American woman who was gang-raped in a northern resort town last month, the New York Times reported.
Because of this, visits to India from female tourists dropped 35% in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
“India has been in the news of late, but (female traveler safety) is a widespread problem,” said Victoria Lopatkiewicz, the U.S. State Department’s division chief in the office of American citizen services.
Crime, for the most part, is gender neutral, said Dave Wiggins, president of the California Tourism Safety & Security Association.
“The key exception is sexual assault. Women are many times more likely than men to be sexually assaulted while traveling,” he said. Although, he added, women are relatively safe from this in major hotels.
As a growing demographic, women’s safety is a top priority. In fact, female travelers are expected to increase by 400% in 2030, especially in Asia/Pacific countries, according to a study by Amadeus, the global distribution system.
“Many of our hotels have noticed a rise in the number of females traveling alone, or as part of an all-female group, particularly in (Australia, Russia, Japan and Switzerland),” said Tim Davis, global marketing director of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which represents 520 hotels in 70 countries. In SLH’s core markets, there’s been a surge of female bookings, with a 53% increase in roomnights booked by single occupancy females between 2011 and 2012, he said.
Taking preventive measures
While the number of women travelers is increasing, hoteliers need to be aware of threats to a female traveler’s safety, sources said.
Lopatkiewicz said hotels that are 4- or 5-star, well-known and reputable in the unsafe areas are most attractive to female travelers.
The Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh in Saudi Arabia took this into consideration with the launch of its women-only floor—The Pearl Floor—which opened in May.
Nada Atieh, public relations manager at the hotel, said part of the reason for the women-only floor is born from cultural mores where women aren’t allowed to mingle with men. But also, female travelers coming to the country often choose to stay on the floor because “it gives them a sense of security,” she said.
“The purpose of that is to give the ladies an opportunity to enjoy the hotel in a very private way,” she said. The 22-room floor of the 273-room hotel has a women-only gym, lounge and offers women recommendations on what they are allowed to wear in the country, even providing women with an abaya, a robe-like dress worn by women in parts of the Muslim world.
“I’m sure a lot of women coming to Saudi Arabia and Riyadh, especially if they’re not familiar with the culture, hear a lot of stories from the outside. But it’s not that bad from the inside,” she explained.
Originally conceived as a women-only hotel 12 years ago, Lady’s First Design Hotel in Zurich, welcomed men two years later, but it still focuses on the female traveler, reserving a floor and wellness area for its female travelers and employing an all-female staff.
Verena Kern, GM of the hotel as well as Hotel Marta, said Switzerland is a safe area, but the hotel still takes female safety into consideration.
“During the week women that are traveling on business” choose the 28-room boutique hotel, she said. “Women make the decision on what hotel to choose, and they appreciate the attention to detail.”
“Being in the women’s floor is a sense of ease. … The whole staff is female,” Atieh said of The Pearl at the Four Seasons. The floor has a special reception desk and floor manager who explains the country’s regulations to foreign travelers. Additionally, guests only have access to the floor they’re staying on. While in the elevator, guests use their access card to take them directly to their floor. Women who choose not to stay on The Pearl, however, still have access to it.
While women-only floors create a sense of security in some countries, Wiggins said most hoteliers are disappointed with the experiment because of inventory costs with keeping the rooms open for women only. “However, gender-specific floors can be quite beneficial for discrete periods and groups,” including conferences, conventions or tour groups, he said.
Protecting female travelers
“Hoteliers have a legal duty to provide a reasonably safe environment whether (guests) are male or female,” explained Chad Callaghan, safety and security consultant for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
One of the first things hoteliers should be careful of is calling out a woman’s full name and hotel number during the check-in process. “That’s not a good thing to do,” Callaghan said.
Wiggins encourages hoteliers to address security deficiencies, and then market safety and security features to guests and clients, particularly women.
“While nobody can guarantee safety, we do advise hoteliers to list their safety record and security features on their websites and in marketing packets to prospective clients,” he said.
Hoteliers should also discourage women from going out at night alone, as well as help them find a reputable public transportation company, Lopatkiewicz said. “The safety of public transportation varies from country to country. (Hoteliers) should advise women from not traveling alone and that taxis or minibuses can be unsafe,” she said.
Additionally, hoteliers can suggest female guests request rooms closer to elevators to avoid walking down long corridors alone, particularly if they’re checking-in after hours. “If (a hotel) has a bell person, it’s not a bad idea to have that person come up to the room (with the woman),” Callaghan said.
“Women traveling solo on business are the fastest growing market segment, and in the U.S. about two-thirds of all meeting planners and convention managers are female,” Wiggins said. “So, it’s simply good business to address their concerns and perceptions.”