Ladies First

25th July 2006 (Last Updated July 25th, 2006 18:30)

After decades of catering to men, many luxury hotels are introducing women-specific services. It is hope that this will help attract a new breed of discerning, and affluent, female guests.

Ladies First

Dimly lit bathrooms, broken hairdryers and intimidating bars have plagued female hotel guests for decades. But as women increasingly become a force in the world of business, with status and salaries to match, hoteliers are sitting up and taking
notice.

Female travellers now account for $1bn worth of travel each year and are demanding a more customised service from hotels to earn their patronage. For some, this may take the form of increased security or assistance with transfers and luggage. For
others, it means a good selection of ‘women-specific’ products in hotel rooms and restaurants.

“Several hotels have now taken the step of designating women-only floors.”

Several hotels have now taken the step of designating women-only floors. The question is whether this is just good customer service or also a revenue winner.

In 2003 the London Hilton in Park Lane was one of the first European hotels to dedicate an entire floor to the needs of its 10,000 lone female guests. This number has doubled in the last decade and the group expects to see this continue to grow by as
much as 5% annually.

According to general manager Michael Shepherd: “The number of female travellers has increased dramatically in recent years, and it is a big growth area for the future. We want female travellers who have concerns about travelling alone to feel
safe, comfortable and discreetly catered for.”

The hotel features increased security, with a private check-in for single women, discretion when issuing room keys, double locks on bedroom doors and extra security cameras.

The decor is more floral, and extras include magazines such as Vogue, powerful hairdryers and make-up mirrors in the rooms. Dining alone is one of the more intimidating aspects for women, so the hotel has also introduced healthier options on
its room service menu.

Hot on the heels of the London Hilton, the five-star Grange City in East London turned a new 68-room extension into a ‘female-friendly’ environment last year. The move followed a six-month consultation with its customers, half of whom are
women.

The rooms feature enhanced CCTV in corridors and public areas; female staff; make-up mirrors; larger, illuminated wardrobes; duvets; cotton wool buds; tights in the mini-bar; and women’s magazines such as Marie Claire.

“It’s been very well received,” says spokesman Barry Wishart. “The hotel has a 100% occupancy rate anyway and the female-friendly rooms have been no exception. We found that our research was backed up by other research
from airline frequent-flyer programmes, so it’s an economic as well as a customer satisfaction issue. Any successful business listens to its customers, and this is no different to satisfying any other large segment of your market.”

The female executive market is growing at a rapid rate; according to British Airways, the number of women travelling on business has doubled in the past five years.

Wishart says new female clientele have been attracted to the hotel since the launch last September, partly as a result of the global publicity generated by the move.

At the Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel in Dubai, the ‘women-only’ floor is one of the property’s biggest money-earners. Launched last year, the floor is staffed by women and was the first floor entirely dedicated to the ‘fairer
sex’ in the Middle East. However, its exclusivity comes at a price, with a £40 surcharge.

“Industry reports have shown that the number of female executives travelling alone has increased considerably, and this creates a very attractive niche for hotels,” explains general manager Doris Greif.

“We were influenced by the increase in average spending by women travellers on an annual basis, as well as their heightened expectations when it comes to quality service.”

The rooms include lavish beauty products, a cosmetics fridge, fragrances, flowers, and a yoga mat and DVD.

However, men would be hard pushed to accuse the Emirates Tower of favouritism, as the hotel opened a male-only spa called H2O in March this year. Fitted with an oxygen bar, treatment rooms, a relaxation area and flotation pool, it is
designed to relax male travellers after long-haul flights, lengthy meetings and late nights.

In South Africa, the five-star Royal Hotel in Durban also offers female guestrooms on a women-only floor, but again charges a premium.

General manager Allen Munsami says the floor was launched principally for security reasons, to alleviate the ‘uneasiness’ often felt by women travelling alone: “We want women to feel confident about their safety.”

The hotel provides female staff and offers extra facilities such as manicure sets and magnifying mirrors for make-up. The dedicated floor in the 251-room hotel is periodically changed for added security.

SPECIAL TREATMENT

However, exclusively female rooms and wings are not seen as the answer by all hotels. Research carried out by Starwood Hotels and Resorts led it to the conclusion that female travellers did not want to be treated differently or patronised.

Spokeswoman Amalie Craig is unequivocal: “As an industry, we need to create subtle messages underlining the equality of female travellers in the business world and create a business environment which is aimed equally at both sexes, rather than
just men in suits.”

In smaller hotels, such as the 89-room Sheraton Belgravia in London, the size and friendliness helped female travellers feel at home without resorting to ‘segregation’.

“We don’t make special provisions or distinctions for female travellers, as that could mean discriminating against our male travellers, but the environment and atmosphere of the property means it is conducive to female guests feeling at
home,” adds Craig.

“”As an industry, we need to create subtle messages underlining the equality of female travellers in the business world.”

“Many female guests don’t want special treatment; they just want everyone to be treated as individuals.”

When Lady’s First Design Hotel opened in Zurich in 2001, it was designed specifically by and for female executives and aimed to create opportunities for unemployed women.

General manager Daniela Balmelli says the hotel features a female wellness area, female-designed bathrobes and slippers, high-quality bathroom products, larger hair dryers and healthy menus.

However, after two years the hotel decided to open its doors to men as well. “After 9/11 the hotel economy suffered tremendously and requests for a women-only hotel were very low,” explains Balmelli.

“The potential request was only 50%, but today the situation is different, although we still have more female guests staying with us. The area where we have seen the biggest increase is couples.”

However, there is still a viable market for women-only sections, with the hotel reserving its fourth floor and wellness area exclusively for women.

Meanwhile, several hotels that have stopped short of women-only floors nonetheless provide female-specific services.

The Hotel de Crillon in Paris offers La Femmetastique, a women’s package with ‘no limitations’, according to spokesman Jonathan Sabban.

The complementary programme includes free women’s magazines according to nationality and a welcome from the housekeeper, who offers help with chores such as unpacking suitcases and arranging clothes.

In addition, a guest relation team offers advice on where to shop, guests receive a VIP welcome in many shops and menus can be tailored to the individual.

At the UK Quality Hotel in Stafford the emphasis is on safety, with parking spaces adjacent to the hotel entrance reserved exclusively for women. General manager Claire Knapton says the scheme had been well received, even by men, and is being extended
to the group’s other hotels.

All in all, things are looking up for female travellers, as the best hoteliers in the business try to answer the age-old question of just what will make a woman happy.