What women really want and need while on the road
In 1979, the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly reported on a travel industry conference where a major airline revealed that women accounted for only 16 percent of its business. Today, women make up nearly half of all business travelers — and that number is projected to increase in the decades ahead. The growing importance of this burgeoning market sector can be seen in small but significant ways — from ladies- only bathrooms offered by several airline carriers to new lighter-fare menus at hotels. Websites catering to female business travelers are also cropping up, including Maiden Voyage, founded by Carolyn Pearson, who recognized that women traveling solo often ate in their rooms to avoid the discomfort of dining alone in public places. Her online social network helps professional women connect, dine together and find other engaging activities to share while traveling.
Pearson says the travel industry’s increased focus on better understanding gender-specific travel needs is a welcome change. “In an age of personalization, it’s important to understand that a one-size- fits-all approach doesn’t work anymore — especially for women,” she notes.
Despite early attempts to better accommodate women, experts say the task has been challenging, largely because little is known about how women perceive the travel experience and what will best serve them.
In a quest to truly listen to travelers, Hyatt launched an intensive 18-month project to dig deep into the emotional aspects of the guest experience — an often subconscious but powerful driver for women. The hotelier held more than 40 focus groups around the world, looking for ways to better meet guests’ needs and help them maintain their momentum. Several of the ideas from this listening exercise were tested at nine Hyatt “lab“ hotels from New York to Scottsdale, Hong Kong to São Paulo. These real Hyatt hotels were designated as “lab” hotels meant to incubate innovative ideas before rolling them out globally.
“Momentum is a big topic for travelers,” says Sara Kearney, senior vice president of brands for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. “In this digital age, the pace of business is nonstop. For Hyatt to become a better brand for women, we realized we needed to become part of the overarching travel experience and remove the barriers that women experience when they travel.”
Hyatt’s research shed light on a seemingly small difference between male and female travelers: women are more reluctant than men to seek assistance when they forget something at home. While missing a favorite pair of earrings can easily be overcome, being without something such as a phone charger can disrupt the flow of any business trip and cause considerable stress. This insight was the catalyst of a new service, Hyatt Has It, which enables guests to quickly borrow, buy or keep essentials such as a phone charger, curling iron, yoga mat, makeup removal wipes and razors. The research also indicated that women want assurance that their guest rooms have been cleaned, and want the opportunity to voice their needs to hotel personnel.
As a result, Hyatt guests will now find communication cards that allow housekeepers to provide a personal confirmation of a thoroughly cleaned room. In addition, this will open the door for guests to share any additional comments they have during their stay. “We want to change the conversation and inspire our guests and staff to be more engaged in a dialogue,” Kearney says.
The notion of “the double Cs”— cleanliness and communication — resonates with Pearson. “One thing that differentiates women from men is we react with our senses, and we’re wired to pay much more attention to cleanliness, smells, aesthetics, fabrics, tastes and sounds,” she says. “It’s the details that we notice.”
REMOVING PAIN POINTS
One detail that can go a long way toward creating a satisfactory travel experience for women is the ability to maintain healthy and comfortable routines on the road, particularly as it pertains to food selections. “If you arrive at your destination at nine o’clock at night, most women don’t want a huge meal,” Kearney explains. But too often, Pearson confirms, hotels feature “menus of high-carb, meaty dishes that can turn some women off.”
Hyatt is addressing this with new menu offerings that include fresh juices and smoothies, balanced portions and “create your own” options. Guests will also receive upgraded bath amenities from KenetMD Skin Care, Le Labo, June Jacobs and Aromapothecary, after the hotel chain listened to women express their desire for high quality toiletries that help them look and feel their best.
An interesting element of the research is that, in some cases, the needs that might seem to be more skewed toward women also reflect what many male travelers want. “The feedback on the desire for higher quality bath products was gender neutral,” says Kearney. “We designed the products through the lens of women, but men are going to love them, too.”
While innovations that respect the differences of women travelers send a strong message, the ways in which they are incorporated into the travel experience are likely to be understated. “Our research shows that women travelers don’t want to be left out but they also don’t want to be called out,” says Kearney. “The basic needs of male and female travelers are similar but there are subtle differences. The traveler should just have a sense the trip is going well without realizing that a pain point has been removed.”
In Pearson’s view, this captures the ultimate desire of female travelers: to be accommodated — not as a special subgroup — but as a matter of course. “The hotels are providing the things that women tend to value more, like yoga channels in the room and a proper hairdryer,” she says. “But, in many cases, they don’t call attention to the individual items. They create a holistic experience that speaks for itself.”
Joe Mullich has received more than two dozen awards for writing about business and other topics.