Dukes Hotel’s new female-specific rooms highlight personal safety, but they also reinforce gender stereotypes. The bigger question is: Do they really think these measures are serving women better or is the real goal to use women as a marketing gimmick?
Dukes Hotel in London recently introduced its “Duchess Rooms,” making the establishment one of many to design rooms specially for solo female travelers in the past few years.
In an interview with CNBC, the hotel’s managing director, Debrah Dhugga, discussed growth in women’s travel coming from Asia, particularly into London and Dubai, where Dukes will soon be opening a new property.
Dhugga said that according to “market research,” which Dukes Hotel would only identify as an “independent market survey,” security is a primary concern for solo female travelers. The hotel addresses this with room service provided by a female employee rather than a male, as well as a corner table in the hotel’s restaurant for discreet solo dining.
Stereotypical perks include fresh flowers, glossy lifestyle magazines, and high-quality beauty products.
This type-casting relates to men as well. Dukes claims that, according to the same survey, male travelers are looking for sports on TV, beer in the fridge, and newspapers in their hotel rooms. Dhugga says that the hotel doesn’t provide male-specific accommodations because men’s travel habits have defined the industry from the beginning.
Dukes Hotel wouldn’t provide details on its “market research,” nor confirm whether the subjects of the survey were hotel guests or members of the general public.
In response to questions from Skift, Dukes Hotel sent a portion of an interview with Broadly, in which Dhugga stated, “I do not believe that Dukes’ Duchess Rooms, or the guests who stay in them, feel stereotyped or segregated in any way. In fact our feedback suggests quite the opposite.”
Along these lines, Richard Branson’s new Virgin Hotels was designed in part to serve female business travelers. Virgin’s safety-related features in its Chicago property include peepholes, well-lit hallways, and sliding doors to separate the female guest from a male employee delivering room service or luggage. Traditional gender roles appear again with the inclusion of increased closet space, extra makeup drawers, and a shower bench for easier leg-shaving.
“Male business travelers like to have females around,” Branson told The Wall Street Journal. “So it’s win-win.”
Women-Specific Rooms Is A Trend
AC Hotel Bella Sky in Copenhagen once offered a women-only floor, but to the surprise of many, it was later ruled illegal and discriminatory against men. The “Bella Donna” floor’s special amenities included steam irons, full-body mirrors, pantyhose and chocolate.
Some hotels in the U.S. offer women-friendly floors, including the Hamilton Crowne Plaza in Washington, D.C., which provides many of the amenities mentioned above with the addition of exclusive elevator key access. Atlanta’s Ellis Hotel describes its women-only floor as offering “the princess treatment” and numerous lithography prints of women on the walls.
Cheryl Rosner, co-founder and CEO of Stayful, suggests that many hotels are sensitive to their female guests in a far subtler way, without turning it into a marketing gimmick. For example, some hotel staff will notice that a woman is checking in alone and avoid announcing her room number out loud. Conversely, placing a solo female guest at the end of a dark hallway next to a fire escape isn’t terribly sensitive, but then again, it’s bad public relations for the hotel to expose any traveler, male or female, to an acute safety risk.
The media highlighted the risks of women solo travelers earlier this year during ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews’ lawsuit arising out of a stay alone at the Marriott Nashville at Vanderbilt University in 2008. A male stalker obtained her room number, booked a neighboring room, then rigged a peephole and videotaped Andrews while she was nude, and the video went viral. Earlier this year, Andrews was awarded $55 million in damages, to be paid by the hotel owner/operator and the stalker.
There may be additional risks for travelers who don’t fit the hetero-normative standard illustrated by Dukes, Virgin, and many other hotels. Meagan Taylor, a transgender woman who stayed at a Drury Inn in Iowa, was arrested and held for eight days when the hotel staff called the police on what the plaintiff alleged were false charges of suspicious behavior. The ACLU settled Taylor’s case using Iowa’s anti-discrimination laws.
In alternative accommodations, Airbnb both presents and addresses safety concerns for women. Some female guests have expressed finding a person’s home particularly safe, yet others say they feel safer with a 24-hour front desk and staff.
The Global Business Travel Association’s 2016 convention website summarized the difference between sending a female employee on the road versus a male employee: “Women have different risk profiles than men, and this needs to be taken into consideration before they travel abroad. Females have behavioral and dress considerations that men do not. They are 5.6 times more at risk than males are to be sexually assaulted and are certainly more likely to encounter sexual harassment, theft, and scams.”
GBTA’s Business Traveler Sentiment Index from June 2016 showed that more men than women feel safe on work trips, 60 percent versus 55 percent, respectively. The same index from the third quarter of 2015 revealed that more than 75 percent of female business travelers are satisfied with traveling for work, even though they feel less safe than their male counterparts. Additionally, that same index showed that 61 percent of female business travelers agree that safety has a big impact on their travel choices, compared with 41 percent of men.
According to Maiden-Voyage’s Women in Business Travel Report 2016, 31.4 percent of female business travelers have encountered sexual harassment while traveling, and 64 percent of female business travelers say there are destinations they would not travel to that they would travel to as a man, especially in the Middle East and South America.
It’s clear that women face different challenges than men while traveling alone, particularly in terms of personal safety. However, it remains to be seen whether hotels’ more stereotypical perks for women, like orchids or chocolate truffles, are truly improving the experiences of solo female travelers.
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Photo credit: A promotional image of a Virgin Hotel room. More hotels are targeting solo female travelers, some with an outdated mindset. Virgin Hotels