Women on the Move



hat do women who travel for business want? The same things men want, of course-except when they don't.

More women are traveling for business than ever before. That's forcing the travel industry to take women's needs and concerns seriously. Women make up more than 40 percent of business travelers today. Within the next few years women will be 50 percent of all business travelers, and they will travel more frequently, says Lalia Rach, dean of the Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at New York University.

Sticklers for Safety

High on the list of things women business travelers care about are safety and security. Female federal travelers often complain of having trouble finding hotels within their per diem rates where they can feel secure.

One federal office routinely approves actual expenses (above per diem) if a traveler has safety concerns. That office adopted the policy after two female employees were awakened at 2 a.m. by a man knocking at their hotel room doors. "Since they had adjoining rooms, one moved over to the other's room," reports a co-worker. "And they put chairs in front of the doors and called the [front] desk. However, they did not sleep the remainder of the night."

Many women say safety concerns limit their options for after-work activities on the road. This problem can be more extreme in countries where women customarily do not go out alone at night or where women and men do not socialize together.

Still a Man's World

Traditional attitudes toward women can be a barrier to effective or comfortable business travel even in the United States. Women business travelers routinely encounter harassment and second-class treatment. A poll cited in USA Today found that 61 percent of women travelers have received poor, inadequate or unacceptable service because they are women.

Women say they've waited to check in at hotels or pick up rental cars and been ignored while men receive service. If the customer speaks up, the clerk often says he or she assumed the traveler was with another traveler-a man.

"It happens all the time," says Nancy Blount-Keyser, a mechanical engineer for NASA who travels about a week every two months. "People will tend to serve a man before a woman." Bount-Keyser once was forced to move out of the exit row on an airplane because the flight attendant thought only men should be seated there.

NYU's Rach sees a pattern. "Most [people in the travel industry] still describe the business traveler as male, and that becomes part of the mind-set." In 1998, her center examined travel industry Web sites and found that car rental companies represented women only as counter clerks.

"They didn't show any awareness of women as business travelers," says Rach. "The only awareness of women was-universally-as waiting on men."

The center joined Wyndham Hotels and Resorts in surveying women business travelers. The hotel industry created "ladies only" services to attract women travelers, they found. "This created a 'separate but equal' situation where women were marketed to with [different] language and products. The wants and needs of women business travelers were defined based on their gender, not on the purpose of their activity," the report says.

Previous research has found that sex discrimination, rather than marital or parental status, is the likely reason for differences in the amount of overnight travel men and women do, according to the report. More men than women travel for business, and male business travelers on average take almost two times as many trips a year as female business travelers.

Wyndham is among those in the travel industry trying to rectify this situation. The company is training its employees to give women business travelers the same respect and level of service they do men. "If a man and a woman check in together," says Cary Jehl Broussard, who runs Wyndham's "Women on Their Way" program, "don't assume that she works for him-he could work for her. And certainly don't assume they're married."

Have Kids, Will Travel

More travelers are checking in with family members-their children. Children accompany a parent-male or female-on 16 percent of business trips, says Cathy Keefe of the Travel Industry Association. While most of those trips are a combination of business and pleasure (bring the spouse and kids along for that conference in Orlando), children sometimes come along because that's the parent's best option.

NASA's Blount-Keyser traveled with each of her two children when they were nursing. The people running one bachelor officers quarters where she stayed told her they had cribs available, but when she arrived they didn't have any. After her 6-month-old fell off the bed and had to go to the emergency room, Blount-Keyser took a portable crib with her whenever she traveled with a child.

Some employers are making it easier to bring children on the road: They're setting up child-care centers at regional offices, contracting with providers of backup child care, and providing kids activities at conventions and conferences.

Forcing Change

When all is said and done, what women want on a business trip is to get the job done efficiently and effectively. Security, comfort, services and amenities can help make that possible or the lack of them can get in the way. As the number of women in the paid workforce continues to climb, and the amount of business travel they do climbs along with it, the travel industry will be forced to make changes in the way it serves its customers. And that will be good news for all business travelers.

Fast Facts

Women business travelers:

  • Number more than 17 million and are more than 40 percent of all business travelers
  • Take an average of 4.4 trips a year (men take 8.6)
  • Make up 46 percent of frequent fliers
  • Take 37 percent of business trips, up from 17 percent in 1980
  • Make up more than 44 percent of frequent business travelers, an increase from
    34 percent a decade earlier
  • Stay an average four days per trip (men stay three)
  • Care most about service in picking a place to stay (men care most about location)
  • Are less likely to avoid overnight travel (52 percent vs. 63 of men), find business travel a hassle (40 percent vs. 55 percent of men), think business travel takes a toll on their effectiveness at work (21 percent vs. 34 percent of men)
  • Are twice as likely as men to order room service while traveling alone on business. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they did so for safety reasons or because they felt uncomfortable eating alone in a restaurant. More than half said they did so because it was fun, indulgent, or a way to pamper themselves.

Sources: OAG Worldwide/Travel Industry Association, National Business Travel Association, Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at New York University/Wyndham Hotels and Resorts