How Hotels Are Capitalizing on Women's Fears of Traveling Alone
When two female backpackers were killed in Ecuador, people questioned why the pair were traveling alone. But despite the rise of hotels geared specifically towards female needs, many solo travelers say that the industry is letting women down.
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In March, a Spanish phrase started trending on Twitter and accumulated over 5,000 mentions within a few weeks . #Viajosola—translated as "I travel alone"—was tweeted by women around the world who had mobilized in outrage over the murder of two female backpackers near Ecuador's Pacific Coast and the victim-blaming around their deaths: questions about why they were travelling alone in the first place, and whether they were somehow 'responsible' for their own deaths.
According to police, María Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, had run out of money when they met two men who offered them somewhere to stay; two explorers bizarrely categorised as 'alone,' despite traveling together. Why? Because they were women traveling without a man.
I heard about 'women-only' hotel floors and spotted #Viajosolo on Twitter at roughly the same time. I quickly discovered that not only are women-friendly hotels a bit of a "thing", they've actually been around for a few years. In 2015,Richard Branson unveiled his new boutique Virgin Hotels chain in Chicago—a chain he said was designed for female business travelers that addresses both security (concerns over peep holes, better lighting in corridors) and convenience (extra closet space and larger showers with a bench that "makes it easier for guests to shave their legs," Raul Leal, Virgin Hotels' chief executive said at the time). "I don't think any hotel caters to the female traveler," Branson told the Wall Street Journal.
Branson's focus on female business travellers has cleverly acknowledged an upwards trend. In 2016 there are now a plethora of hotels around the world that focus on women who viajar solo—either on business or for leisure—and are concerned with security and/or convenience away from home.
In Mayfair, an area of London renowned for gentleman's clubs, the Dukes Hotel provides 'Duchess Rooms,' described on its website as "a discreet service tailored to female business and leisure guests." Feminine touches include: a female member of staff to escort you to your room, smaller-sized slippers, fresh flowers, glossy lifestyle magazines, and a quiet corner table in the dining room "should you wish to dine alone."
I ask the Dukes Hotel's managing director, Debrah Dhugga, why the establishment decided to create these rooms. "Wherever they are, I believe women should feel just as at home as men," she says. Although she admits that the majority of women who use this service are businesswomen, she insists its appeal spreads far wider to include elderly guests and first time travelers looking for "reassurance and security."
"No boys allowed! This one's for girls," another website declares. Generator Barcelona, a hotel and hostel in the Spanish city's Gracia district, tells me they had requests from young women who were travelling alone around Europe—mostly from China, Japan, Korea and the Middle East—and wanted to book rooms either alone or with other girls. "I think the main reason is for them to feel safer," reservations manager Esther Amatriain says.
How do these rooms cater for their needs? Amatriain tells me that all the female rooms are located right in front of the elevator to avoid women having to walk down hallways. They also offer a rack to hang additional clothes, a hair dryer, and a small area with a table and magazines. These rooms are popular; Generator Barcelona initially started with six but Amatriain says they added four more recently "due to high demand."
It's almost impossible to miss the so-called ladylike flourishes when it comes to women-only hotel rooms and floors—features including lifestyle magazines and hairdryers, pink walls, and fresh flowers. Over the last few years, some critics have accused the women-only trend of being more concerned with marketing gimmicks than safety. "Women-Only Hotel Floors: Insulting or Ingenious?" asked a Condé Nast Traveler article in 2013.
"Hotels need to work hard to avoid throwing pink on things and adding a glass of champagne and then saying it's woman-friendly," says Jason Clampet, the co-founder of travel news company Skift. "Kind of like how when bad designers want to say that something is Latin they stick a chilli pepper on it."
Pink issues aside, there are plenty of women out there who are looking to the travel industry to address their particular needs—and these include important safety concerns. Carolyn Pearson founded women's travel network Maiden Voyage in 2008 after a work-trip to Los Angeles left her feeling isolated. "I thought there are probably thousands of other women around the world who suffer every week," she explains. "And so I thought I'd create a network through which women can connect." It now has over 8,000 members.
When Pearson asked members what they most wanted from their hotel, safety was the overwhelming response. When I ask what Maiden Voyage are looking for in a "female-friendly hotel" she lists double-locking doors ("because if you lose your hotel key and the hotel doesn't block it, anyone can let themselves in"), 24/7 manned reception, and what she describes as "the little things... like not announcing your hotel room number out loud in reception or putting you on the ground floor or at the end of a corridor next to a fire exit."
Pearson tells me that 51 percent of the women they surveyed this year revealed they had felt vulnerable "at some point" in the hotels they stayed at on business. Maiden Voyage does more than just inspect hotel rooms against female-friendly criteria— it also provides a secure online network to engage with other professional women who travel globally and works with safety organizations to provide women with advice.
"Successful brands will think about 'female friendly' as a mindset rather than a demographic and do real research to identify how their hotel can best serve this mindset," advises Jason Clampet. "It works just as well to add female-friendly elements and amenities to all spaces, not just 'lady' ones."
At a time when women are defending their right to travel like men do, it's advice worth taking.