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Women travelers are now a pampered lot!

May 28, 2005

Well ladies, this one's for you. Your entry over the years in male-dominated professional bastions has caught the eye of the hospitality industry.

Where once this meant indulging you with a skirt hanger in the cupboard, or a magnifying mirror to help you with your makeup, gender equality is now resulting in welcome discrimination in hotels by way of additional security and facilities.

The rising number of women business travellers in recent years has made the hotel industry sit up and take notice, sensitising their services as per women's needs, reorienting them to be in-tune with the industry's international trends.

Since security is a primary concern, most hotels have incorporated free pick-up and drop services from the airport for their women travellers. Rooms are offered nearer elevators where its is usually well lit and a guard is present.

Video phones to check the identity of any person seeking entry into the guest room, and screening of telephone calls, is likely to become an industry norm.

But the recent, more dynamic trend has been of entire floors being dedicated for the individual woman traveller.

Says Prathima Vasan, manager communications, ITC Maurya Sheraton & Towers, New Delhi, "Earlier, single lady travellers were few and far between. At that time we conceptualised the Eva rooms, but the response from lady business travellers fostered the creation of a full-fledged Eva floor."

At Maurya Sheraton Towers and other ITC hotels with Eva floors, what is interesting is that without the room key card, one cannot even stop at the Eva floor. The card needs to be swiped in the elevator to direct it to the Eva floor, allowing limited entry and optimal security. Men, sorry, you are barred from these floors.

ITC business hotels have been the first in the country to dedicate entire floors with standardised facilities for women travellers. A recent addition is the ITC Grand Central Sheraton & Towers in Mumbai dedicating its 26th and 27th floors as Eva floors.

Says Anil Malik, general manager of the hotel, "We even have smoking and non-smoking rooms in these floors." Other hotel groups like the Taj and the Oberoi (and its second tier Trident Hilton) have sensitised services rather than floors or rooms for women travellers.

Hotel chain Taj caters to discreet check-ins and allots no room with an interconnecting door in its business hotels. Taj has consciously avoided dedicating specific floors for women business travellers as, at times, they may be accompanied by male colleagues and may prefer to have their rooms on the same floor.

"The average traffic of single lady travellers is in spurts," says Rohinton Commissariat, general manager, sales and marketing, Taj Business Hotels.

"Sealing a floor does not give us the leverage to be flexible. What we offer are different category rooms with all facilities for the lady traveller without additional charges."

Kingal Solanky, a senior executive with HDFC Standard Life Insurance and a frequent business traveller says, "Entire floors with high security is taking it too far. A desk to check in or out on the floor itself without having to go to the lounge is enough."

Yet, one aspect that does intimidate women travellers is the presence of male butlers and house-keepers.

For the single woman traveller, therefore, hotels try to ensure that such services are catered to by female staff. Something that has the vote of Krishnakoli Dutta, frequent business traveller working with a leading MNC: "The concept is good," she says.

"My overseas lady guests sometimes get a bit uncomfortable with male attendants. Extra security concerns for the lady traveller are good but should not be very gender specific." Adds Solanky, "With lady staff, one isn't under pressure to be fully dressed."

Feminine needs like full-length mirrors, makeup mirrors, iron and ironing board, smaller hangers and bath robes, and an assortment of extra cosmetics, are provided especially for women travellers in their rooms, while other hotels claim it's a part of their standard facility.

The Eva floors at ITC hotels have elaborate tea-trays with an assortment of herbal teas and a chef's tray of light snacks in the evenings, so that the guests can have a bite at the floor itself. Also, they get the privilege of plasma television sets.

Industry experts put the figure of women travellers staying at luxury hotels at around 15 per cent on average, and confirm that it's part of a growing trend.

The emergence of specialised services has been seen over the last three years, though full-fledged, single woman traveller rooms and floors are around a year-and-a-half old. Says Malik, "This is an international trend and to be at par with world class services, one must have them."

Though most hotels are not charging a premium for the extra services, guests are still sceptical about it.

Says Solanky, "Sensitising to the needs of the single lady traveller is a good concept, but if hotels plan to charge a premium on these, then it's not good as women constitute around one-fifth of all business travellers checking in."

Such premiums may just be enforced when a hotel is full and male guests are turned away while there's still room at the inn for women. Till then, enjoy your own gender space -- singly.


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