When she travels on business, Arati Mukerji, 39, checks the locks on her hotel room doors soon after she checks in. When you’re in your room, she says, “You want to be secure.”
As the head of public relations for Motorola India Pvt. Ltd’s mobile devices division, Mukerji’s job involves visiting cities such as Mumbai, Lucknow, or smaller destinations at least twice a month. She is among the growing number of women for whom business trips are a part of life. Some top-end hotels, as a result, are increasingly trying to meet the needs of women travellers, emphasizing security and privacy, and providing amenities they believe women need, such as complimentary face wash and sanitary napkins available on request.
“There has been a substantial rise in the number of single women travellers. The numbers have doubled in the last three years to at least 10 guests per day,” said Rohit Khosla, general manager at the Taj President, a business hotel located in South Mumbai and run by Indian Hotels Co. Ltd.
The hotel plans to increase the number of rooms that will be dedicated to single women travellers. “By April 2008, we will start renovating some of the floors to make them more suitable for single women travellers,” added Khosla.
ITC Ltd has gone as far as to set up special women-only floors in several of its hotels. ITC’s The Grand Central in Mumbai has two floors dedicated to “single women travellers,” said Anil Malik, the hotel’s general manager.
“Even I am extra cautious when I make my rounds on these floors,” he added.
Delhi’s ITC Maurya also set up a floor called “Eva” two years ago, said hotel spokesperson Prathima Vasan. The 440-room hotel has about 30 women guests a night, accounting for approximately 10% of the hotel’s guests—and revenue, added Vasan.
The floor, which is currently being renovated, has 14 rooms to cater to primarily business travellers, both foreign and domestic.
“With… globalization, women got through the glass ceiling and were making their presence felt in boardrooms. Hence numbers went up. So in the order of natural progression, the Eva floor came into being,” Vasan wrote in an email.
ITC Ltd has taken steps to provide security for the women on the floor by restricting elevator access to the floor to only those with room keycards, maintaining a team of all-women staff on the floor, and an “interactive doorbell” that allows room guests to see who is at the door.
The Eva floor is one of a handful of Indian hospitality products that has been certified by a UK-based organization called Expotel Hotel Reservations Ltd that runs a campaign called “Woman Aware”.
“A lot of the feedback we were getting from our female clients was that hotels were not always making them feel safe,” said Sharon Smith, the public relations manager and the head of the Woman Aware campaign for the company.
Among the criteria that Expotel looks at are secure room locks, hallways that are lit at night, and discreet conduct in announcing the woman’s room number during check-in.
Expotel’s list also focuses on amenities that it believes women travellers might want, another component of what some Indian hotels attempt to provide their women guests.
“The Oberoi, Mumbai, places special lady’s amenities in these rooms, which comprise a cane basket containing bath salts, emery board, nail cutter, comb, khadi rose-scented soap, bindis and headband elegantly adorned with an orchid,” said Rattan Keswani, a spokesperson for EIH Ltd, the primary owner of the Oberoi Group.
ITC’s hotel in Mumbai also makes provisions for food and drink that attempt to meet the perceived needs of women travellers. The hotel offers tables at its restaurants for single travellers, both men and women, with magazines and books. The tables, said Khosla, “are better attended then the other tables and the lady hostess interacts with them more often.”
Additionally, “for… single lady travellers who might feel a little awkward about having a drink alone at the bar, we have introduced a special “knock-knock service”, where a woman (room service staff) with a trolley goes to each room on these two floors and offers them a drink between 6pm and 8pm every day,” said ITC’s Khosla about the company’s Mumbai hotel. ITC Maurya in Delhi also has a cart that visits the rooms on its women’s floor daily with “petit fours” prepared by the hotel’s chef.
The Apeejay Surrendra Group’s boutique chain, The Park Hotels, makes available “special Kottakal Ayurvedic massages by lady masseurs from Kerala,” at its Kolkata property, said Rupa Thomas, a company spokesperson.
With an increasing number of women at the workplace, however, companies could face higher costs from business travel by their employees. Rack rates for women’s rooms at upscale hotels such as the Taj President are as high as Rs10,000 per night.
Berggruen Hotels Pvt. Ltd wants to offer a lower-price option to companies that have to find a place to stay for their women employees in the company’s upcoming budget and midmarket Keys Hotel chain, said Sanjay Sethi, the managing director and CEO of the company. The hotels’ rooms will be priced between Rs1,500 and Rs2,500, he added.
“The absence of branded budget and mid-segment hotels means that companies have no guarantee on quality and security for their single lady travellers. Many such companies therefore prefer to book the employees in five star hotels,” he said in an email.
Sethi said his hotels’ focus in serving women travellers will be on security, expecting up to 12% of his hotels’ business traffic to come from women.
Charu Sachdev, director, TSG International Marketing Pvt. Ltd, which brought Moschino, the Italian luxury brand, to India, was recently in Mumbai to attend a conference and stayed at The Grand Central’s women’s-only floor.
“I had never experienced that before. I have travelled extensively and nowhere in the world have I seen such facilities for single women travellers. A woman would definitely feel more safe and secure, and, in a way, it encourages more independence among working women,” she said.