Women in Business Class? the Travel World Wises Up
Connie Glaser, in her sleek black pantsuit, was settling into business class when her seatmate leaned over to make a few requests. He asked her to take his coat, fit his bag into the overhead bin, and perhaps find him a pillow. "I was a woman in business class, and he assumed I was a flight attendant," sighs Glaser, 51, an often-traveled author and consultant from Atlanta. "And this was last year--we're not talking a decade ago."
The ranks of female business travelers have swelled in recent years and are still growing: Fully half of all business travelers are expected to be women by 2002--up 10 percent in a mere three years. And they're big spenders, too. But women still routinely report second-class service, both in the air and on the ground.
In one recent study by New York University, men and women agreed that flight attendants, gate agents, and hotel desk clerks tend to treat men with more deference. "Most hotels I visit are fine, but there are places I won't stay anymore because they've made it clear that I'm not as valued as their male clients," says Lisa Negri, a trade-show talent coordinator from Detroit. As a result, Negri has learned to take steps such as requesting female concierges, who recommend restaurants where women can comfortably eat alone. And she rewards travel companies that are truly accommodating.
With significant business at stake, the travel industry is taking steps small and large to appeal to female business travelers. Hotels are stocking minibars with pantyhose and fruit juices, offering jogging companions for daily runs, and redesigning the ubiquitous terry-cloth robe to better fit women. In a more concentrated effort, airlines have launched programs such as Delta's Executive Woman's Travel Network, for which demand was so great that the airline created a waiting list. And hotel chains including Crowne Plaza, Wyndham, Westin, and Ritz-Carlton are convening advisory boards of female business travelers and retraining their staffs in an effort to hone service.
In the process, some travel companies discovered that past efforts to reach out to women were viewed as mere window dressing. "Women told us uniformly that they weren't represented properly in promotional material. They were either on a beach in St. Thomas with a tank suit on, or in an old 1980s business suit with the little ruffled bow tie," says Robert Mayer, vice president of marketing for Crowne Plaza hotels. This time, they're trying not to stereotype. "Just because a guest doesn't look like something out of a Brooks Brothers catalog doesn't mean they aren't to be taken seriously," says Mayer.
Security remains a top concern for female travelers. Negri says she's "always amazed" when hotels give out her room number within earshot of others. "Then I have to request another room," she says. "Others don't have deadbolts so I've had to jam chairs under my doorknob." Hotels are getting more safety conscious. The Omni Los Angeles Hotel instructs staff to write down room numbers, not announce them. It has also installed lighting above each guest room door "to make it easier for women to find keys in their purse," says Michelle Bolton, a hotel spokesperson.