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How is the Business Travel Experience Different for Women?

Posted by Mike Atherton on 21 March, 2018

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The #metoo movement has opened many eyes to the frequency and depth of the inappropriate behaviour women often experience, but how have women who travel for business been affected?

With the entertainment industry unsurprisingly taking centre stage of the #metoo movement, it’s all too easy to forget that its roots lay simply in providing all women with the language they need to communicate their experiences, no matter what industry they work in – from farming and food-service to the aid sector and, of course, the travel industry.

While not yet encountering the level of scandal other industries are experiencing, there are far too many women in the world of travel with appalling experiences of sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, business travel is, and always has been, a potential breeding ground for harassment, with employees often finding themselves alone in unfamiliar locations. There’s also been a lack of top-down awareness of the issue because women make up just 26% of senior management positions in the hospitality, travel and leisure sector in the UK.

Women Feel More Unsafe When Travelling Than Men

A survey by Capita Travel revealed that 67% of women said they felt unsafe when travelling, compared just 19% of men. A Quick Take on Travel survey of over 400 women showed only 15% of women are very/extremely comfortable travelling solo, while 25% are not at all comfortable hitting the road alone.

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Despite these fears, recent studies show that, of women who travel, 47% travel for business, and are actually the fastest growing segment of business travellers. This demonstrates an undeniable need for businesses to take a more personal approach to fulfilling their duty of care, by considering women’s specific needs as business travellers.

Unsurprisingly, women fully agree, with:

  • 70% believing that travel suppliers should try harder to address the needs of women who travel for business
  • 77% agreeing or strongly agreeing that their travel programmes should take account of their specific needs as a woman who travels for business
  • 75% agreeing or strongly agreeing their companies should prioritise suppliers who pay special attention to the needs of women who travel for business

And with women now managing 80% of worldwide travel spend, travel players will have to either start catering better to women or risk falling behind competitors.

Sexual Harassment is a Huge Problem for Women Who Travel For Business

Simply thinking about sexual harassment when travelling alone is enough to make 43% of women feel uncomfortable and 24% feel unsafe. And, reading the experiences described in the comments sections of Corporette, it’s no wonder.

Whether it's having inappropriate language aimed at them, enduring an uncomfortably long hug, or receiving a vulgar proposal, between 1/3 and 2/5 of women have suffered sexual harassment during a business trip.

What's very clear is that travel managers are failing to protect women who travel for business, with the vast majority (79%) agreeing they aren't being adequately prepared to deal with these incidents.

A Greater Need for Security at Hotels

Over half of women who travel for business have reported feeling vulnerable when staying at a hotel, a serious issue considering so much of business travel requires a hotel stay.

Many women have now resorted to eating in their rooms to reduce the chances of experiencing harassment in the hotel bar or restaurant. Yet, sadly, even this isn't enough to ensure all women feel safe, with 24% saying it's very/extremely important that room service is not delivered by a man.

Recently, Maiden Voyage has begun listing “female friendly” hotels on its website to help women find accommodation they feel comfortable in. You can provide a more enjoyable and safe business travel experience for women by only booking rooms at hotels in this directory.

At the very least, you should ensure any hotels you book have suitable security features, with a recent poll of women who travel for business, showing:

  • 50% say 24/7 presence at the reception desk is very/extremely important
  • 50% say secure on-site parking is very/extremely important
  • 41% say staying on floors with access restricted to guests only is very/extremely important

What Can Your TMC Do?

Over half of the women who responded to the Capita Travel survey said TMCs were failing them by not making any allowance for their needs this should be a sobering statistic to all travel managers.

Protecting women who travel for business and ensuring they feel safe is an essential element of fulfilling your duty of care. This means adequately preparing them for what they should do if they experience gendered crimes, like sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape. You should also be providing women with in-depth information on the safety risk involved with travelling to their destination.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of women (65%) are having to research this for themselves, with 31% likely to reach out to other women who have travelled to that destination, 28% reading reviews on the topic, 18% consulting guide books or blogs, 16% looking at local crime statistics or visiting message boards and travel communities.

Good travel management now requires intensely personalising the business travel experience and it's essential that this includes risk-management that's specific to each traveller. Ideally, you should be including women in every discussion about how you can better manage the specific challenges of being a woman who travels for business.

If you aren't already cultivating women’s feedback on how best to ensure their safety during business travel, it's time to start. As Go Jane, Go, a website devoted to women who travel for business, says “Business travel was originally designed by men, for men. Not anymore!”

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Topics: Travel Risk Assessment, Travel Risk Management, Comment