Ensuring Women Guest Safety

A valuable growing niche segment for Hotels

Given the dramatic increase in women business as well as leisure travellers, addressing the needs of this market segment has become increasingly critical for hotel companies. The main requirements of this sector are safety and security. A recent survey by metasearch engine iXiGo reveals that apart f r o m location and cost, security is a prime criteria for selecting a hotel. Most of the hotels – in metros as well as tier II and tier III cities – are now taking Single Lady Traveller concept seriously and have introduced amenities to make their – as well as the female staff who are employed in shifts to serve the guests 24x7 – environments safe and comfortable.  Ashok Malkani finds the various methods used by the hotels to ensure safety of females – whether guests or employees – and discovers that they go a step further than just allocating a floor or an area for female guests. 

There has been a dramatic increase in solo women travellers – be it for business or leisure. As per industry experts, about 20 per cent of their guest comprise of single women travellers. Hotels have understood that single women traveller is a fast growing, niche market in India and it has a tremendous potential. Addressing the needs of this segment has thus become a necessity for the hospitality industry.

Suman Gahlot, General Manager, Aloft New Delhi Aerocity, declares, “With the rise in number of women professionals, the number of women travellers has also risen. Women travelling, especially solo, have increased across the nation by 75%, majorly in Tier 1 cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad & Bangalore, which give hotels a strong hold on this segment of travelers.”

Devesh Rawat, General Manager, Indore Marriott Hotel, states, “Globally and in India, there has been an emerging interest of more and more women travellers seeking adventure and travelling by themselves. We have been witnessing a considerable rise since last year and the reason behind this is the increasing diversity in the corporate sector resulting in more independent female travellers, higher purchasing power and active decision-making.

According to Pinterest, women looking for solo travelling options have increased by 350%, making it one of the best opportunities for the hospitality industry to serve these (women) travellers. At Indore Marriott Hotel, we have hosted more than 3,500 solo travellers since our official launch.”

Shilpa Kosambia, Director of Housekeeping, Sofitel Mumbai BKC, says, “Women today, are more risk-taking, courageous, adventurous and independent than they were earlier. As they grab job opportunities and make decisions on their own, they are now willing to travel further, not only within the borders of their own country but internationally as well. At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we have a significant percentage of solo women travellers on business and vacation purposes, and are witnessing a steady increase in the trend of solo women travelers for leisure and rejuvenation. A recent survey by iXiGo on ‘What Women Want’ concluded that in 2018 Indian women are travelling as frequently as once in every two months, and we believe this trend will be on a steady rise.”

Abigail Vaz, Human Resource Manager, Le Meridien Goa, Calangute, avers, “We have seen a growing number of women travelling alone. While this increase in metro cities could be attributed to travel for work, we see this trend in leisure markets too. Solo travel has become a trend with millennials and we see many women taking this up, exploring a destination all on their own.”

Rayan Aranha, General Manager, Grand Mercure Bangalore, opines, “While single women travellers are not necessarily tracked as a segment, there has been an increase in Female travellers especially in India. According to the Indian Consumer Travel Report by Phocuswright two in five females go for solo trips and 2x more Indian women take more solo trips compared to other Asian women travelers.

Grand Mercure Bangalore is an ideal place for solo lady travellers; they can stay at the hotel’s Princess Floor, which offers extra security and added amenities. Nowadays there are travel groups and agents providing female only group tours and travellers. It can be observed that over the last decade many hotels have introduced women-only floors with amenities that consider travel essentials that women need during their stay.”

Himanshu Bhatnagar, HR Manager, JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, disclosed, “At Marriott, we focus on our core value “Putting People First”. We encourage our staff in enhancing women safety.”

Safety Ensured

With so many women travelling alone, the question arises whether hotels are safe abodes for women travelling alone and what are the measures adopted by them to ensure safety of their single women guests?

Abigail iterates, “At Le Meridien Goa Calangute, safety of our guests is a priority second to none. We adhere to strict safety regulations that are in compliance to both state and international standards. For single women travellers, they are assigned rooms close to the elevator. We ensure that one of our female associates f r o m the Guest Relations team is assigned as the single point of contact for the entire duration of their stay, to make them feel comfortable in reaching out for any assistance. All floors are monitored by CCTV and our patrolling guards on the floor keep an eye out for any unwanted attention/trouble makers. When there are requests for travel outside the hotel, we organise hotel cars only for their transport.”

Devesh reveals, “Safety has always been a topic of discussion, especially if you are travelling alone or to an unknown destination. For a woman traveller the adventure of exploring a country or a city alone can turn out to be a security concern if not being careful of the surroundings. The hospitality industry often witnesses such situations and hence, we at Indore Marriott Hotel, prioritise on making all the necessary arrangements for the safety and security of our women travellers and lady colleagues. We have incorporated a couple of facilities that have been introduced to ensure their safety.

For our women traveller, we have a well planned documented itinerary and below are the steps we take to ensure it all goes as per plan:

• The Indore Marriott Hotel staff gets into action once the booking of any solo women traveller has been done

• An experienced specialist contacts the guest and explains about their services and records if there is any query of the guest

• To keep in mind the safety and comfort of the woman traveller, Indore Marriott Hotel appoints a ‘Lady Chauffeur’ who is assigned to make sure they pick the guest f r o m the given destination

• An experienced lady specialist would be present at the hotel to greet and assist the guest throughout her stay. The role of a specialist is to make sure that every service that the guest receives would be f r o m a lady attendant; be it, housekeeping, In-room food or any restaurant service

• Apart f r o m these personalised safety experience, Indore Marriott Hotel also has made sure that:

• Security cameras are installed in and around the hotel premises and on every floor which is supervised 24×7

• Separate lady frisking areas in the hotel

• Separate floor for the single lady traveller

Shilpa states, “The safety at hotels for women largely depends on the staff employed internally and the secure technology in the hotel. A high level of discretion is essential when catering to women guests. Along with this, smaller details such as adequate lighting across the hotel space at all hours and the presence of women staff goes a long way in making a woman guest always feel safe and secure at the hotel.

At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we have female staff at all our outlets to ensure they are comfortable; the property also addresses special requests for specific rooms on floors to ensure they feel secure. We also have a separate check in and check out at the Club Millésime Lounge for our most discerning guests who appreciate exclusivity and privacy. The efficient key card locking system (Electronic Locking System), which is directly interfaced with the Property Management System of the hotel, ensures that the guest room access can be supervised. For added extra security of the guests in the hotels, all the employees carry their photo ID at all times during their shift.”

Suman asserts, “I would say that hotels are ‘Safest abodes’. Safety of our guest is of utmost importance and there are number of measures which are taken by the hotels for single women travellers such as rooms equipped with video phones, separate wings for single lady travellers and many more such as screenings of calls/visitors. We at Aloft New Delhi Aerocity, have a woman chauffer on request, separate accommodation for the single woman, lady guard patrolling in every two hours and a welcome card placed in the room with the Duty Manager and local police station number.”

Rayan, reveals, “Hotels have several security measures in place to ensure the safety of their guests which include women travelling alone. We ensure that at Grand Mercure Bangalore, like all our Accor Hotels properties, are in areas with well-lit surroundings and we provide certified taxi agent cars. We also have security cameras in all public areas and these are closely monitored as well as routinely serviced to ensure they are working properly.”

Exclusive Reserved Floor

Some of the hotels have a separate floor/section dedicated to single women travellers. Is this sufficient to assure their safety? How do the hotels ensure that no men violate this area?

The hoteliers insist that being in the women’s floor is a sense of ease for the ladies as the whole staff is female. Besides the elevator is so digitally designed that it stops at that floor only if you have an entry card of the room on that floor. 

Rayan states, “In a hotel, having a ‘woman only’ floor is an additional step in creating a safer and more secure environment for our lady guests. Staff at the hotel is trained to understand the need to additionally safeguard the privacy of women travellers and ensure that there are no lapses in security and safety measures.”

Himanshu however, does not believe that a women only floor is necessary to ensure safety of ladies in a hotel. He adds, “At Marriott International, we treat all our associates equally and build a healthy work culture. Dedicating a separate floor for women will not resolve the problem if the culture is not right.”

Suman declares, “While designating a floor only for women is undeniably helpful in assuring their safety, I believe there are other factors that can also be taken into account.

• We could restrict access to the floor itself.

• Train staff and ensure there are no blind spots as far as security cameras are concerned.

• Try and have women assigned as service staff all across the floor.

• Also, ensure that the staff is stationed, such that anyone seeking help is always within earshot.”

Shilpa says, “In today’s date, there is a growing segment of women who regularly travel for business, and hotels must recognise and accommodate their requirements. While it is a good initiative to keep one complete floor for women to make them feel more at ease and comfort, this is not enough to ensure their safety. There are further finer elements that need to be considered, such as complete privacy, accomplished by displaying the “Do Not Disturb” card on the door, measures such as corridor CCTV, on request staff for emergency situations and more.”

Devesh concedes that “It has become a common practice in many luxury and mid-level hotel properties to keep a separate floor and female staff dedicated for women travellers and that is the same case at Indore Marriott Hotel. However, we believe that keeping separate floor is not the only safety measure that a hospitality brand should initiate to make their solo travellers feel more secure, but there are different measures that need to flow in series along with this one.”

Abigail avers, “A dedicated women’s only floor is a step in the direction of ensuring safety, although that alone is not enough to make women feel safe.”

Sensitising Staff

Many hotels are sensitive to their female guests in a subtle 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. Sensitisation of staff to women’s needs and requirements is a task that has been taken up by almost all hotels.

Shilpa disclosed, “Hotels follow a strict female-guest policy that includes detailed procedure in terms of service to all women guests that enter the hotel. From the point of check-in to the end of the female guests’ stay, this policy is strictly adhered to. Regular briefing sessions to the hotel staff, training modules, mock drills in evacuations to help people in endangered situations and monitoring of staff movements are put in place to ensure the safety of women guests.

At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, 6-7 per cent of our guests comprise of single women travellers. It is very correctly said that Hotel is a “Home Away From Home” for the guests, so the guests want to receive no or minimum dissatisfaction during their stay in the hotel. We believe that this is a niche market that has tremendous growth potential, and may be an important source of revenue in the near future. We ensure to be receptive and cater to this growing customer base through our personalised service to guests. The boutique hotel’s ‘Cousu Main’ - service culture f r o m the heart - adds an exquisite personal touch to all our guests’ requirements. It involves understanding the guests’ needs and expectations and thereby deepens relationships creating an emotional bond, delivering more value to our guests. Single Lady Traveller kits are placed in all Lady guest rooms pre arrival or during their stay.”

Devesh asserts, “As soon as the booking of a lady guest is received, an experienced (lady) specialist connects with the guest. The call basically helps us in understanding the guest’s requirements and if there is any special request.”

He adds, “Guest custodians, primarily the housekeeper, front office manager, Lady chauffeur, specialist are carefully selected during the arrival meeting that is held a day prior to the guest’s arrival. Single lady travellers are allocated rooms on a separate floor and provided with services on request.”

Abigail revealed, “We are proud to share that we organise periodic training to our associates on how to gauge if a lady guest is in a distress situation. Right f r o m how to recognise signs of human trafficking to escalation and reaching out with help; our teams are trained f r o m time to time.”

Suman states, “Hotel teams are imparted special training which includes safety, service security measures to be aligned to ever changing requirements of the complex environment of today. “

Himanshu declares, “At the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, as a part of the TakeCare wellbeing, we organise various activities like self-defense sessions by trained professional for awareness. Our Loss Prevention and HR team pays close attention to ensure women’s safety without any compromise. We also conduct monthly sessions with our female associates and address their feedback, complaints along with timelines.”

Rayan says, “In hotels nowadays all the staff members are given behavioural training, and all security trainings also focus on safety of women travellers. There are many guests that have a specific set of requirements and preferences, and we strive to meet all expectations to enhance guest experience. It is our constant endeavour to ensure that we pay attention to details and meet the needs of all our guests. We are equipped to handle any special requirements or requests.”

Commercial Viability

Providing special services to ensure that single female guests are safe as well as satisfied are likely to add to the operational costs of the hotel. So is it commercially viable for more hotels to try and attract female guests?

Suman declares, “In our globalised world today, I think it would be commercially viable. Women are becoming more and more savvy when traveling. They are more likely to seek out hotels that offer a little extra for them be it for work or leisure. It’s human nature then, to favour a hotel that offers more value for money! “

Shilpa maintains, “It is essential that hotels are reaching out to the growing women travellers and are satisfying their needs as this becomes an important segment for the hotel’s customer base. A hotel, perceiving their customers as mostly men, could lose clientele if their facilities are not tailored to suit female travellers.”

Devesh asserts “Providing special amenities for women travellers is definitely commercially viable, keeping in mind the increase of solo female travellers. Women travellers prefer hotels that provide such features. With growing concerns on the safety of solo women travellers, the Indian Hospitality Industry is increasing their attention towards their demand and making sure about their security. The amenities such as separate frisking area, lady staff at every level, security cameras may come at a high cost initially, but in the long run, they benefit us and looking at this increasing trend, these amenities are very important for all hotels to target them.”

Female Employees Safety

Hotel industry is faced with the dual responsibility of not only providing safety for its female guests but also the feminine staff, as they have to work in shifts. There are numerous steps being taken by hotels to ensure that the female staff feels safe and secure.

Abigail avers, “We are committed to empowering our women associates and increasing their number in the workforce. As part of this initiative, we have actively taken measures to ensure that we provide a conducive environment that nurtures women and helps them thrive. Mostly, women feel limited mobility owing to familial concerns, where they are unsure of their safety. To encourage more women to work with us, we offer complimentary accommodation for our out-of-town associates and to make it more convenient for them. This accommodation is a mere two-minute walk away. At night, one security is sent along with them to ensure that they are secure and comfortable.

We understand that for an associate to be productive, it is important that they feel they are heard and respected. With our open door policy, female associates can voice their opinions, suggestions and reach out for assistance without the fear of ridicule and retaliation.”

Himanshu disclosed, “Out of their 24 hours in a day the female staff spend a good amount of time in hotel. We believe in maintaining the work life balance. We try and create a positive working culture so that they feel happy and motivated to come to work. Also as per Marriott International’s initiative the TakeCare Wellbeing we conduct various activities which help them maintain their daily routine effectively.

At the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, we take utmost care of the safety of our women associates. We ensure their security is very well taken care of. For instance, if there is any sudden change in shift, a drop home is provided along with one security guard to ensure safety.”      

Rayan reveals, “The industry is constantly evolving and the focus on women’s safety is a priority. Hotels have committees and governing bodies to protect women and their rights, in addition to constantly ensure equal opportunities for women.

To achieve our equality objectives, there is a key role played by our international diversity network Women at Accor Hotels Generation (WAAG), which has 4,200 members worldwide. Through the WAAG, we combat sexist stereotypes via internal awareness actions. We also help our female employees at Grand Mercure Bangalore to become more confident, notably through the support of a mentor, training and the sharing of experience.

Additional precautions are taken for women who work in night shifts, with secure transportation being provided by the hotel.”

Suman states, “We, at Aloft New Delhi Aerocity, are always considerate when it comes to scheduling late night shifts. Ensuring they don’t have to travel to or f r o m work at unearthly hours or alone as much as possible and providing safe and secure transportation at all times. They are provided a guard f r o m the hotel to the drop location. And we also avoid in-room dining service to be done by women staff.”

Shilpa affirms, “Sofitel Mumbai BKC highly values the safety of its staff. For women who work in shift, the hotel provides home drop facilities with a security escort as well.”

Devesh declares, “We at Indore Marriott Hotel consider safety an important element not only for our guests but also for our lady associates. Some of the measures taken are:

• We provide accommodation facilities for lady associates in a gated society

• Facility of pickup and drop at odd working hours, especially in the evening (Pickup starts at 5: 30 AM and drop service could be availed post 8.00pm)

• A security guard accompanies the ladies till society gate

A monthly surprise inspection is conducted at the ladies accommodation to make sure that everything is fine

Provide various self-defence trainings to make them capable to protect themselves in any risky situations

Initiated a Woman in Leadership (WIL) program where we conduct various sessions that focuses on different good ways of earning your livelihood on a monthly basis. A forum where the ladies can address any issues they have. “

Summing up

There is no doubt that travelling alone can be a rewarding experience as one does not have to compromise on one’s desires or preferences. You can eat and drink what you want, when you want and where your want. You can move at your own pace and obey your own whims and set your own rules. However, one aspect that most women travelling alone have to be careful about is the safety in the hotel that they plan to occupy. It is found that they indulge in thorough study of the property, f r o m the safety point of view. And to meet the demand of single women travellers, whose percentage is rising each day, the hotels have started measures to see that there is no stone unturned to ensure their safety.

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