LONDON, England (CNN) -- It's no longer a niche market. Nearly half of business travelers are women, and the early lip service of an odd nail file in vanity bags and hotel doors with security peepholes, are no longer enough to give businesses an edge.
Airlines and hotels are innovating to attract an increasing number of traveling businesswomen
Hotels are thinking up innovations that go beyond the standard fare. Reception staff are better trained to be discreet when checking in women guests and avoid saying their room numbers out loud. Spas and fitness centers offer in-room exercise programs and treatments. Business centers provide webcams, which helps working mothers keep in touch with children. In-room facilities are improving, too, to include full-view mirrors and powerful hair-dryers (positioned close together), as well as skirt hangers.
But global market research firm Mintel says that the business environment and its facilities still require a touch of 'feminizing', with accommodation requiring better pampering products, as well as childcare facilities for working mothers on the road.
Their research found that hotels are, on the whole, less inviting to women, who may prefer to return home rather than stay away overnight. It can be more difficult for women to dine and drink alone in a hotel as they can be the target of unwanted attention. While room service is an option, it can be a lonely one. Hotel maitre d's can play a vital role in welcoming single female diners and, for example, placing them together at a table.
Businesswomen may still be underserved by the travel industry but hotel booking agency Expotel says life for the lone female is improving. They launched a Woman Aware campaign a decade ago, flagging up "female friendly" hotels, which fulfill ten key criteria and have been nominated by three independent female travelers. Currently, seven of the ten criteria relate to security, including a well lit, secure car park or valet parking, and permanently lit corridors.
"We had a lot of feedback from our female clients saying they were feeling unsafe in hotels,' says Expotel's Sharon Smith, "especially when they were unfamiliar with a city. Hotels were not addressing their concerns, most of which were related to security. But in the last ten years, many hotels have embraced our campaign and really made an effort."
London's Hilton Park Lane now has a whole floor that is women-only. All the Radisson Edwardian hotels require key cards in elevators to ensure only room guests get access to non-public spaces.
Expotel's Sharon Smith says it all boils down to security: "We hoped our Woman Aware program might become redundant, which would be a sign of its success. But unfortunately security is high on everyone's mind today. The top seven of our ten criteria are all related to security. When we do our next survey, I suspect the top nine will be."
One of the first hotels to launch women-friendly policies was Wyndham. In 1995, they established the 'Women on their Way' program, dedicated to the emerging woman business traveler, and they created innovations such as a courtesy call alerting guests to imminent room service delivery.
Women now account for half of all Wyndham travelers, a figure which has doubled since the program began. More than a third of the company's business travel base is women.
Smith says that is the same across the industry. "When I ask hotel managers what percentage of their guests are lone female travelers," she says, "it's now forty to fifty percent. You don't ignore a group of that size."
German air carrier Lufthansa has begun publishing a magazine specifically for its female frequent flyers. Woman's World features business travel topics, as well as stories about shopping, fashion and hotels' well-being facilities. "It's been very successful," says Woman's World's Claudia Weiss. "We realized there are a lot of women business travelers that fly a lot and we wanted to serve our frequent flyers." According to Lufthansa, more than 180,000 women in Germany fly at least then times a year.
With a growing segment of women making up the traveling business community, it has become increasingly worthwhile for travel companies to focus on women's concerns. New businesses are also springing up to serve this burgeoning market of lone female travelers.
Networking site Ladiesaway helps to match up traveling businesswomen who are staying in the same hotel or neighborhood. "It's easier for men who can go and hang out in the hotel bar," says Ray Lehky, the company's founder. "But I was hearing from businesswomen who told me they just went to their room to watch TV and order room service."
With Ladiesaway, like-minded members can get in touch with each other, plan to dine together and business network. They can also share travel experiences online, recommend hotels with women-friendly policies and offer travel tips to each other.
"I've had a lot of interest," says Lehky. "When I started the business, it was for the UK market. But I have had to expand the database to make it a global site and include hotels in the U.S. and Europe. Now I've got members all over the world, in Mexico, Australia and Canada."
Again, safety is an important priority. "I do have a verification process," Lehky says, "which requires a note from your employer or another member. If you're self-employed, then I interview applicants by phone."
Security is playing a more important role in all business travel and that is no different for the women's share of the market. There is already an open dialogue between women business travelers and an increasingly-aware travel industry. Women on the move need to make sure they voice their demands, offer feedback and explain exactly how they want to be treated.
Top ten tips for women business travelers
Never put personal details on business cards. Use covered luggage tags and insert either a business card (without a mobile phone number) or a card with your name, airline, flight number, embarkation/disembarkation points and date of travel.
Pack lightly. You need to be able to carry all your luggage on your own. There will not always be a porter available and it is better to avoid asking someone for assistance.
In hotels, ask the receptionist to be discreet when handing you the room key and to avoid saying your room number out loud.
At night, ask a member of the hotel staff to escort you back to your room.
Use the 'Do Not Disturb' sign at all times. If you need maid service, call housekeeping. If you are waiting for room service, ask the kitchen to telephone your room ahead of the delivery.
Take a magazine when you go to the hotel restaurant or bar. It can be a good excuse to help ward off unwanted attention.
Use the hotel taxi service. Get a map of the local area, find your destination and follow the driver's route. Always carry a mobile phone.
Make friends with the concierge. Ask them to book your restaurants and to warn the managers that you are coming/eating alone and will need a taxi back to the hotel.
Carry your important documents and money in a concealed money belt. Leave everything you can in the hotel safe.
Be modest in dress and wear no jewelry. The exception is a wedding band, which can be a useful accessory -- for the unmarried, too! E-mail to a friend
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