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Executive Summary

Companies from across the travel cycle — corporate travel agents, airlines, car rental companies, hotels, meetings/conventions — are changing to meet the needs of female business travelers. We’ll look at these changes and analyze the scope of this trend, considering the features of product and design which matter most to women including critical matters of security, and other travel experience features. We will also review how to develop advertising and marketing strategies which will appeal to women, and focus on how women use technology for travel planning and bookings, and how actively women rely on social media, from sharing travel intelligence to rating hotels.

  • Women represent just over half the world’s population and 60% of the wealth in the U.S.
  • Women influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and account for 58% of online sales.
  • 47% percent of women who travel, travel for business.

If we believe the advertising of most sectors in the travel industry from hotels to transport, then business travel is the exclusive domain of suit and tie wearing, greying white men — and Asian and Middle Eastern men, too, from time to time — who appear to be pondering the weighty matters of life.

When women appear in these advertisements it is often as the companion of the man in the commercial, or as the wife this businessman comes home to, usually with a golden-haired daughter running to greet him. On occasion, this presentation varies to include a non-caucasian couple and the child running to greet the father is sometimes a boy.

These same commercials run on endless-loop at hotels on their branded channel, often already playing when the business traveler arrives in the room, disregarding the reality that increasing numbers of the business travelers checking into those rooms are women who do not see themselves or their lives in the “idealized” world of those commercials.

This stereotype is perpetuated in traditional media and reflected in the products and services offered and in the design of the facilities. Breaking away from this stereotype, and dealing with the traveler profile in an objective manner that acknowledges the rise of women as business travelers, will benefit travel brands.

There are significant business opportunities available to smart brands who cater to the needs of this female business traveler market segment. To help savvy travel brands capitalize on the opportunity this demographic represents, we will focus on the needs of female business travelers, present some examples of product features which will be of added-value to the female business traveler, and suggest advertising and technology strategies for brands which want to increase their appeal to women who travel.

Introduction

Women are mobile even at rest / Source: Flickr, Luciano Meirelles

Women are mobile even at rest / Source: Flickr, Luciano Meirelles

Women mean business. They control a significant portion of the wealth both within the U.S. and internationally, and control how that wealth is spent.

Paula Froelich, Editor in Chief of Yahoo Travel and a travel writer on her blog “A Broad Abroad,” explains that more women are traveling alone and more women are traveling for business. Speaking to Skift, she emphasized the growing influence these female business travellers have in the travel spending decision, not only for themselves, but for their employees. She also detailed a number of key requirements women have while traveling for business ,which are shared in this report.

Chris Nurko, Global Director of FutureBrand, explains that a growing segment of business travelers are not corporate employees, but entrepreneurs. He predicts that these up and coming self-service focused business travelers which he has categorized as “TREP Travelers” will be on the rise and require different products and services than their corporate counterparts.

And a significant portion of those rising TREPs are women. According to the most recent 2012 Women’s Report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM):

  • In 2012, an estimated 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies around the world. In addition, an estimated 98 million were running established businesses.
  • šese women are creating jobs for themselves and for others. A projected 48 million female entrepreneurs and 64 million female business owners employ one or more people in their businesses.
  • In addition, these women plan to grow their businesses. A predicted seven million female entrepreneurs and five million female established business owners plan to grow their businesses by at least six employees over the next five years.

And this, despite the same report highlighting current social limitations and impediments on growth for women entrepreneurs in various regions of the world. Even when facing difficulties, women are determined to move forward in business and make their mark.

Travel is an essential element of any business, and the travel industry can benefit by encouraging these rising women entrepreneurs to travel more often to expand their business reach.

Because, as the GEM report points out, women entrepreneurs are starting businesses and hiring, the perception they have of particular travel brands and the comfort and loyalty they feel for a particular travel services provider will influence their decision on travel bookings for their enterprise as a whole. šis reflects the importance Froelich placed on loyalty programs when speaking to Skift. She indicated that women are far more likely to participate in points-based programs, sign up for credit cards tied into a travel brand, because they value the membership benefits.

Before the travel industry can cater to the needs of the female business traveler, it must understand those needs in depth. To ensure that we reflect those needs as actionable take-aways, we will avoid the generic term “comfort.”

Though comfort is mentioned as a consideration by female business travelers and groups representing them, it is painted with a very broad brush and is subjective.

Instead of using this problematic term, we will look at concrete elements of the customer experience which affect how comfortable a woman feels.

These key factors which, when combined, constitute comfort, consistently came up in conversation with our experts:

  • security
  • reliable and empathic personnel
  • privacy
  • healthy options
  • accurate guides
  • conveniences
  • cleanliness
  • amenities

We should point out that generalizations of any demographic are no means to establish a branding, product or service strategy. While women have certain different needs from men when they travel for business, they also have some in common.

The Female Business Traveler Product

Flower prints aren’t necessary. This Swissotel, Geneva has good marks from Maiden Voyage because of its security, proximity to spas, and pleasant atmosphere / Source: Swissotel Press

Flower prints aren’t necessary. This Swissotel, Geneva has good marks from Maiden Voyage because of its security, proximity to spas, and pleasant atmosphere / Source: Swissotel Press

The best way to define a product which will appeal to women (female business travelers for the purposes of this report) is to say what it should not do:

  • It should not pander to stereotypes.
  • It should not (necessarily) be pink.
  • It does not need to be scented with sweet flowers.
  • Nor embossed with flowers.
  • Nor named after flowers.
  • It need not be dainty or quaint or cute.

Products targeted at women should do the same thing products targeted at men do: solve problems.

While most of the problems facing women when they travel for business are identical to the problems faced by their male counterparts, there are some additional complications for women which brands targeting this demographic can gain by addressing.

Principle among these additional problems is security.

Security

Society has not yet evolved to the point where women can feel as safe as men in like circumstances. The daily news is full of accounts of the perils women face merely by being alive. These perils can become pronounced when women leave the (relative) safety of their routine to travel, whether on business or pleasure.

As Nurko tells us: “For female travelers — the key is to consider their needs, and that men are the biggest threat while traveling, and remove safety fear/anxiety.”

Maiden Voyage makes security the core basis of their site evaluation when inspecting hotels for its members. Pearson tells us that no hotel can receive a high rating from Maiden Voyage inspectors if it does not provide double-locking doors to guests. Additionally, properties can be marked down for issues which affect a woman’s feeling of security including placing women on the ground floor, and saying the hotel room number out loud when handing over the key to the guest. Hotels can also be rated poorly if an inspector finds that the property is located in an area which the inspector judges as unsafe or undesirable.

Because Maiden Voyage looks at these specific safety factors for each hotel they inspect, Pearson explains, Maiden Voyage does not currently rate hotels by brand. “Individual properties can vary,” she tells us. “A brand may be good but not all properties might be located in a good area.”

In addition to the ratings from the group’s formal inspectors, which are always announced to the property before they take place, Maiden Voyage includes feedback from members who have stayed at a particular property as part of an overall rating.

“Even if a hotel passes everything on the inspection checklist,” Pearson says, “if an inspector has a general bad feeling or finds poor aesthetics, a hotel may not pass.”

Producing “a general bad feeling,” can be attributed to something as simple as inadequate lighting. Public areas of hotels, airports and train stations, parking lots and hallways should be illuminated. Coach services and tour buses should ensure that the various stations they select for stops are located in well-lit public areas.

Parking garages should be well lit, so women feel safe / Source: Kuwait International Airport Parking, Wikimedia Commons

Parking garages should be well lit, so women feel safe / Source: Kuwait International Airport Parking, Wikimedia Commons

Airports should consider convenience and security features to enhance a women’s travel experience, and this is especially true of airport parking areas where lighting can often
be dismal though these areas are largely unattended and security personnel impossible
to find or non-existent. Likewise, car rental companies located at airports should ensure that transport services to the rental lots and that the lots themselves consider the security of women as a priority. Again, the same applies to other transport services.

Another important safety consideration for any travel brand is crisis management. Froelich emphasized the importance of responsive personnel to address any concerns or safety issues a woman raises or highlights. While mentioned in the context of a hotel experience, this applies to all travel services. The emphasis here is on staff training.

Staff must receive sensitivity training to respond to women guests properly when they raise an alarm or express concerns over their security. If women have run into difficulties, tour operators, hotel staff, airport and airline personnel, cruise staff, car rental staff and any other customer contact points along the journey must understand how to appropriately respond to the woman’s distress.

As Lauren Wolfe wrote in her The New York Times story “Women Alert to Travel’s Darker Side,” victim blaming is part of the problem women face after being attacked. The response to women raising concerns or reporting incidents cannot focus around concepts like: “she should have known better,” or “she shouldn’t have dressed that way,” or “she had no business being there.”

Female business travelers, by definition, have business going places where men are often in the majority, and which may not be ideal environments they would choose to visit on vacation. Like their male counterparts, female business persons must go where business goes. Whether that is at conferences where there is predominant male attendee base and where those males may drink to excess and get rowdy, or in a part of the world where women have a disadvantaged social standing, female business travelers have no choice but to go in order to advance their business objectives.

Assistance, Guides and Information

Brands which cater to these conferences and meetings, should ensure that women attendees feel as secure as male attendees. Hotels located in regions where women are expected to conform to certain social restrictions, should ensure that doing so is straightforward for a traveling business woman. For example, airlines, airports and hotels in regions where it women might find it difficult to hire a taxi, can provide driver services which a business woman could hire for the duration of a business trip. Something as simple as advising the female business traveler that such a service would be necessary to ensure that she can get to and from her meetings on time can be beneficial information.

Emirates Airlines and other Gulf carriers, as an example, provide driver service to their passengers traveling in First Class and sometimes also in Business Class. These drivers, who are accustomed to providing service to visitors of both genders, can be hired for the duration of the trip. This same service can be packaged as an additional purchase option for women who travel to the region, and hotels in the region can ensure that similar services are available.

Froelich highlighted that information is essential to providing good service to a female business traveler. Business women will do their homework about their destination before departing, but travel brands can make this homework easier by providing guidance on local factors a woman might want to be aware of at the time of booking. That information can be complemented by additional guides provided on arrival; making maps available and ensuring there are qualified persons on staff to answer questions at all hours.

Dedicated Service and Social Areas

At hotels, female business travelers will prefer that staff sent to their rooms are women whenever possible, especially for room service. As Pearson tells us, female business travelers are far more likely to order room service while away than their male counterparts.

Maiden Voyage was founded to address the needs of female business travelers who would like to find another woman to spend time with when visiting an unfamiliar city, because female business travelers may feel uncomfortable dining alone in a restaurant or, especially, going to the hotel bar by themselves.

Understanding this need and catering to it, even creating dedicated lounges at airports or hotels, or dedicated floors and fitness areas at hotels, can improve the travel product and make it more attractive to some female business travelers.

Not every woman traveling alone will look for this level of customization in the product, but both Froelich and Pearson identified it as beneficial, and it could provide an opportunity for brand differentiation.

Design with the Female Business Traveler In Mind

The female business traveler will appreciate having herbal tea selections included with the coffee service, as that little touch extra / Source: Asian Teapot and rosebuds, Hyatt Press

The female business traveler will appreciate having herbal tea selections included with the coffee service, as that little touch extra / Source: Asian Teapot and rosebuds, Hyatt Press

Nurko points out that some hotels in the Middle East, like the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh, provide dedicated floors for women. In some cases of hotels making these accommodations, however, Nurko tells us:

“This tends to mean separate, not equal or better. The segregation has meant more attention being paid, but often only superficially. The product is still designed by men and often with ‘pink’ stereotypes including flowers/chintz and tissues.”

Going beyond these design stereotypes requires creativity, and some travel brands are getting creative.

The Hyatt hotel lab is one example. Hyatt has dedicated a number of its properties to experimentation, trying on a number of changes to design, product configuration and services to evaluate their appeal to customers.In fact, a number of hotels, including Marriott, IHG, Swissotels and Westin have introduced labs on their properties . Outside designers and in-house product managers contribute ideas which are deployed in limited rooms and areas of the hotel so that guests and staff can test them and determine if they work. These labs have introduced product and technology innovations which benefit to female business travelers and male business travelers alike.

Features like revamping check-in procedures, personalizing through “host” associates, ensuring these hosts can cater to the needs of travelers on arrival will appeal to both men and women.

That is a key point we must make. Designing to improve the travel experience for women most often results in designing solutions which make the travel experience better for men.

But both Froelich and Pearson point out that women will appreciate certain design and product features particular to their needs which may have no impact to the travel experience of men, or which may appear superfluous to men, but these extra features are “final touches” and easy to implement. Certainly, double-locking doors, improving lighting and positioning peep holes so that women can see out of them address the security needs of female business travelers.

Men might be indifferent to these changes. Providing special amenities including items which women may need or appreciate, like including toiletry items for women, providing power hair dryers and magnifying mirrors in the bathrooms, installing full length mirrors in the room, adding herbal teas to the coffee service, and healthy options in the room service menus would improve the travel experience for women. Men might like them too.

Airlines have realized that amenities are important to women, and many provide customized kits which include items women are more likely to use onboard, like moisturizing creams and lip balms. Some airlines have also introduced female-friendly elements to their Business Class and First Class cabins, like bathrooms which include larger well-lit mirrors and seats which provide a higher degree of privacy. Just like male business travelers, not all female business travelers fly First Class or Business Class. Airlines have also improved cabin elements in Economy, like accessible storage bins and providing catering which includes healthy meal options.

Nurko has suggested that airlines consider the needs of TREP travelers (both male and female) by providing a cabin product more appropriate to their particular travel needs. This would be a cabin section which falls more into the Premium Economy category (with wider seats and better pitch) and which could feature complimentary Wi-Fi as part of the ticket price, seat power outlets, and amenity kits. This section of the cabin might also be established as a child-free zone and separated from the main cabin to reduce noise. Because, as we’ve said, a growing number of entrepreneurs are women, women are also more likely to appreciate loyalty programs, and women drive decisions for both themselves and employees based on travel products they like, this TREP Cabin Class could prove to be a winner for airlines.

Lounges

Let’s talk lounges for a moment. Though the number of women traveling for business is on the rise, many airport lounges are still a very masculine domain, and designed accordingly. Business women are as interested in attending airport lounges as business men.

Korean Air introduced a dedicated area for female travelers in their Prestige Lounge at Incheon International Airport in 2011 . At the time, Korean Air’s spokeswoman Mi Hyun Kim told Airlinetrends:

“These days more and more female travelers are traveling around the world. In order to respond to their increasing needs, we have designed a special area fully dedicated to female travelers, which includes a female restroom, sleeping room and powder room.”

The airline also went one step further by including women-only bathrooms on their long-haul aircraft.

Again, segregation may not be necessary (or even desirable) for female business travelers, but providing female friendly features in mixed lounges can be beneficial.

We mention this example because it is notable that Korean Airlines was sensitive enough to the growing influence of women travelers back in 2011 to make changes to their product. It demonstrates foresight and a deep understanding of growing travel trends.

Advertising to Women

Korean Air makes special efforts to cater to the needs of women travelers on the ground and in the air. Source: Tier1 Comfort Print Ad, Korean Airliness Press

Korean Air makes special efforts to cater to the needs of women travelers on the ground and in the air / Source: Tier1 Comfort Print Ad, Korean Airliness Press

In a recent article for AdAge, Mia von Sadovszky, senior VP-strategic planning director at advertising agency RPA, Santa Monica,CA, elegantly encapsulated the influence of women as consumers . She suggests that the different ways women interrelate affect how they respond to products and services, and of course to advertising campaigns.

“As women have increased their economic power in society and taken on more and more leadership roles — and leading on their own terms, not men’s — we are seeing a culture-wide embrace of traditionally “female” values, such as empathy and community,” she points out.

Certainly, the rise and growing influence of social travel intelligence sites, like Maiden Voyage, prove that women value community. Started by a female business traveler who identified a need for social connections for women while traveling, the site has grown to include not only the hotel reviews we mention earlier, but also an international team of Ambassadors who provide helpful travel information on capital cities to members.

Their LinkedIn group is active, with women sharing information they find on the internet which might be of special interest to fellow female business travelers.

Sadovsky defines the growing influence of women as the New Matriarchy. Some women might take issue with what could be described as a highly optimistic view of how far ladies have come, but many of her key points are beyond dispute.

“As marketers, we now talk about engaging in dialogue with our consumers. We cede control to customers. We want to help them create communities around our brands and causes. We strive to engage vs. persuade. We focus on aesthetic value and visual cues across every touch point so we can break through,” she states.

Travel services which manage their social media presence well, ensuring that it complements a woman’s preferences for sharing information and inspiration, are far more likely to succeed with this particular demographic.

The Critical Importance of Technology

Source: Flickr, Timothy Krause

Source: Flickr, Timothy Krause

Women use technology throughout the day to stay in touch, stay informed, and stay on the move.

While women will use all technological resources available to them throughout the day, they are mobile. The advancement of tablet devices, which now have very similar functionality to laptops, has led to women often preferring to use tablets when they travel. Even when they carry laptops with them on the road, tablets and smartphones are likely to be their first resource for communication. The convenience and size of these devices encourages this trend. They allow women to stay connected, without burdening them with weight. And women are taking advantage of the high functionality of these devices to make transactions which might traditionally be done only on desktops or laptops.

A study by eMarketer shows mobile travel sales will represent almost 30% of digital travel sales. Because women are comfortable conducting transactions on their mobile devices, many of those mobile travel sales will be made by women. It’s something to keep in mind when designing the UX for travel booking apps.

Because today’s business travelers need to be flexible, apps which facilitate immediate bookings and changes will become increasingly popular, especially with women who are accustomed to dealing with sudden changes to their plans, and adjusting to them quickly.

Women actively use technology to find what they need and acquire it, and they like to use search engines to find what they need. Improved SEO practices lead to improved rankings lead to more bookings from female business travelers. It’s that simple.

This reliance on technology as a problem solver also means that female business travelers will want to stay connected at all times. The importance of connectivity to women cannot be overstated.

Availability of a reliable (even free or “freemium”) Wi-Fi connection is an essential service for women. Brands who encourage this habit by women and facilitate it by providing connectivity solutions in all areas will gain directly by building brand preference, and indirectly through women’s proclivity to share details of their travel experience on social media.

If the product is strong, travel brands can gain great brand ambassadors from the female business travelers they attract. It becomes a perpetual dynamic: women are happy with the product, they are connected so they can share that experience with friends and colleagues, other women are influenced by this information and are likely to book similar products and share it with their friends.

In the 80s, Faberge Shampoo reflected this concept perfectly in their popular commercial: “And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on.”

Today, women don’t just tell two friends. Each time they share, they share with hundreds if not thousands at a time.

Insights and Strategies

  • Women Take Charge of their travel experience, and savvy travel brands will support their inclination to do so by providing them solutions to their product search and booking needs. Because of the preference women have to shop online, and often on a mobile platform, brands seeking to gain more loyalty from the female business traveler will benefit from smart SEO management and developing apps which allow full transactions to accommodate last-minute bookings and changes to travel plans. As women are inclined to share their experience with other women, brands should focus on building strong social media platforms which inspire and inform the female business traveler.
  • Women-Friendly Spaces, aside from certain features and amenities which women would find nice to have, such as amenities, toiletries, and healthy food and beverage selections, the prime focus of brands should be on addressing the security needs of women and training staff on how to properly and empathetically address the security concerns of female business travelers. For hotels, that means, at a minimum, ensuring that double-locking doors with adequate peep-holes are installed in the room, and also ensuring that the front is manned by qualified personnel at all times. Well illuminated parking lots, hallways and stairwells are also very important, and women should never be booked for a room on the ground floor. The safety and security of the female business traveler should also be a priority for other sectors of the travel industry, including organizers of meetings and conventions where women may be confronted with a mix of male counterparts who may behave in an inappropriate fashion, “letting off some steam” from the office environment, and perhaps consuming an excess of alcohol.
  • Appealing to the Female Consumer is dependent on tapping-in to women’s desire for community and free exchange of information. Brands designing advertising campaigns should note that women see the world and their lives not as compartmentalized chunks of time, but as an intertwined series of overlapping priorities and multiple roles. Women not only multi task, but they multi-think; seeing everything around them as part of a larger picture and making connections between what might appear to a male consumer as unrelated items. As an example, women are likely to consider not only how a business trip may advance their business objectives but also how it might help them enrich their lives.They may extend a trip, when possible, to tour the city or to shop. They will consider how their menu while away will affect their daily regimen and look for menus which maintain their healthy standards. If they are focused on exercise and well-being in their daily lives, they will appreciate having facilities for exercise available and even somewhere to get a spa treatment, or simply have their hair done and refresh their manicurea. It should be said that women are sometimes uncomfortable working out in mixed facilities in unfamiliar places, and they appreciate separate facilities or the availability of equipment in their room.The most important takeaway is to remember that women like to share and will share whether what they share is positive or negative. Brands which satisfy the needs of women and reach out to them effectively on social media, will gain ardent brand ambassadors. Female business travelers will also make decisions, not only for themselves but for their staff (female or male), based on their particular preferred travel brands. Many female business travelers also appreciate the intrinsic value of loyalty programs, and once part of these loyalty programs are bound not only to take advantage of rewards, but also to become regular customers in order to qualify for more rewards.Women are both influential and influenced, they consider positive reviews from other women and are likely to give a brand a try, to see whether the experience meets their expectations. If they are satisfied, they are very likely to pass on their recommendations to friends and colleagues. For brands thinking that this is a free pass to use key women as influencers for a hollow-product offering, a word of caution. Women have high standards for credibility. They may be open to try something out, but if disappointed they are unlikely to forget or offer a second chance. If an influencer has given bad advice in the past, or shown to have an unreliable bias, women are likely to turn on that brand ambassador quite strongly. Bad reviews spread as quickly as good reviews, and women are not naive.
  • All business. Those are the key words to remember when considering female business travelers. Business is the operative word. Women will expect to be able to conduct their business freely and constantly. Female business owners often have to work much harder than their male counterparts to satisfy the needs of their clients, and to combat the prejudices still present in society which view women in business as somehow less serious, less grounded, less business-like.This is a dangerous fallacy for anyone conducting business with women, or trying to gain business from women, to believe or act upon. Women will expect adequate facilities to work, will appreciate constant connectivity to keep them in touch with staff and clients, and support with coordinating meetings.As we’ve shown, women represent a significant portion of the developing entrepreneurial business sector, generating jobs, as well as control a significant portion of the wealth. They are motivated to spend that wealth on improving their businesses, and will look for brands which cover their need to do so well.Women are highly technical, and use technology throughout the day to simplify and streamline every facet of their lives. Ensuring that women can use that technology, by providing them adequate power outlets, connectivity services, and helpful apps is a recipe for success. Yes, we repeated connectivity. It’s that important.Women mean business. Keeping up with trends and social responsibility aside, the business of catering to the needs of the female business traveler is good for the bottom line.

Endnotes and further reading

  1. Infographic on Statistics for Single Women Traveling Solo by Paula Froelich, A Broad Abroad.
  2. 2012 Women’s Report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)
  3. Maiden Voyage, a social networking and review site for savvy female business travelers.
  4. A Broad Abroad, blog by Paula Froelich.
  5. Lauren Wolfe, “Women Alert to Travel’s Darker Side,” The New York Times.
  6. Love of a Good Businesswoman, ebook by Buuteeq
  7. Hyatt adapts with high-tech innovations, Jena Tesse Fox, Hotelmanagement.net
  8. Designing a good night’s sleep, Sean O’Neill, BBC Travel
  9. How Korean Air is catering to the growing number of female passengers, Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com
  10. Marketing in the New Matriarchy: Women Have Never Had It So Good, Mia von Sadovsky, AdAge
  11. Slow and Steady Continued Gains for U.S. Digital Travel Sales, eMarketer
  12. 1980s Commercial for Faberge Organics Shampoo with Heather Locklear