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Travel industry responds to women's security needs
Dawn McCoy-Ullric

woman traveling alone

Security became quite an issue for me during a recent stay at a large hotel. As I entered the hotel from the parkade, a man carrying a mop was getting on the empty elevator. He held the door for me. Feeling somewhat rude, but concerned about my personal safety, I politely declined to ride with him. As the elevator door closed, he shook his head.

Although some may think I was being overly cautious, the reality is that in this day and age, women have to take extra precautions to stay out of vulnerable situations that could lead to physical or emotional harm.

I didn't always concern myself with personal security issues. Like most independent women, I believed I was capable of taking care of myself and never considered the potential dangers of parking in hotel parkades or walking alone at night in strange cities.

All that changed several years ago when my stepsister responded to a request for help in a Calgary parkade from a man who claimed his vehicle needed a boost. When she turned her back to open her car door, she was attacked and stabbed repeatedly. Although she survived the incident, it left her physically and mentally traumatized.

Personal safety has become a major issue in the marketplace over the last decade as the number of women traveling solo increases. A 1998 Total Research survey suggests the percentage of women who travel on business grew to almost 50 per cent the prior year from just one percent of all business travellers in the 1970s. And of those, 78 percent were women travelling alone.

Because women have been outspoken about their needs, many in the travel industry have risen to the challenge of addressing security concerns. Some hotels, car rental agencies, airlines and travel providers have developed marketing programs aimed at a female clientele, not just because their numbers are increasing, but also because their allegiances are still forming. The Total Research survey found that 81 per cent of 217 female business travelers surveyed said they would be more loyal to companies that address their special needs.

"True," said JoAnn Hines, executive director of Women in Packaging Inc. "Once I have found a hotel I like, I rarely change my routine." Hines appreciates hotels that go out of their way to make a woman travelling alone feel comfortable and said she travels light to avoid carrying heavy bags and appreciates the extras like coffee pots, blow dryers and irons in the rooms.

Women should not be afraid to admit to travel agents, car rental agencies and hotels that they have additional safety requirements. Valet parking or escorts to parkades ease safety concerns at check-in or checkout times. Women should not be reluctant to use the bell service -- women are more vulnerable when they're carrying luggage because, with their arms full, the ability to defend themselves is limited.

Pan Pacific San Francisco Hotel
The Pan Pacific San Francisco offers female guests escorts to their rooms, among other services and amenitites.

As a security measure, most hotels insist that front desk clerks refrain from announcing room numbers out loud. Many have installed electronic locks with numberless keys and security codes that are changed after each guest leaves. In-room fax and data ports, voice mail and exercise equipment in the hotel allow travellers to maintain daily routines or keep in touch with the office without leaving the safety of the hotel.

Many American hotels have already taken measures to meet women travelers' needs. The Pan Pacific San Francisco supplies female guests with a personal escort to their room, and each room is equipped with an easily accessed button to summon emergency help.

Loews Hotels and the Wyndham Hotel in Itasca, Illinois are among those that set aside networking tables in their restaurants for solo travelers who prefer to eat with others. Also high on "frequented" lists are hotels that provide business lounges with space for safe, neutral meetings.

Wyndham also started giving guests a ring five minutes before room service delivery upon the suggestion of its advisory council. Guests don't have to worry about being in the shower or having to rush to get dressed for someone coming into the room.

Exercise-conscious guests can hire a jogging partner at the Omni Hotel in Detroit and at all Loews hotels. Running escorts for joggers at the Luxury Collection Hotel in Houston are provided on a complimentary basis and the service includes chilled bottled water, fresh fruit and a plush towel upon return.

New York's Barbizon Hotel (where
the majority of guests are women) has elevators that strictly limit access to guest floors. The Barbizon also offers escorts for walking or jogging in nearby Central Park. While these services were often developed in response to women's concerns, they have also been a benefit to male business travelers.

Businesswomen say additional safety measures and onsite amenities benefit both genders. "You ought to cater to women but (only) as an ongoing policy of meeting basic needs. I'm not sure that basics, like having a hair dryer in the room, is catering to women," said Kathryn Morrison, spokeswoman for the National Association of Women Business Owners.

When businesses respond to women's suggested improvements, including additional office equipment in guestrooms, business lounges with meeting space and better security, everyone benefits. It just makes good business sense!

Take precautions

· Request a room with a peephole, dead bolt and chain lock. Make sure it has no connecting door to another room.

· Select hotels that take extra measures to ensure personal security.

· Travel light. Women should wear comfortable, flat shoes so they can move quickly through terminals.

· Read or work while travelling; you look less vulnerable if you are busy.

· Use crowds to be inconspicuous. Stand in a group while waiting for a cab or subway.

· Whenever possible, make arrangements to arrive before dark.

· Before driving away in a rented car, make sure the gas tank is full, the tires are properly inflated and all doors are locked. Take a cell phone for emergencies.

· When booking a suburban hotel, be sure it's in a safe neighborhood.

· Use valet parking whenever possible. Self-park only in well-lit areas. Ask for an escort to your car if valet parking is not available.

· Never give out your room number. If a clerk announces it out loud, request a room change.

· Keep some money in an outside pocket to avoid fumbling through your purse for tips and other expenses.

· If you're expecting take-out food or a package from outside the hotel, have it delivered to the front desk or concierge.

· Ask to have a five-minute warning phone call before room service or other deliveries are sent to your room.

· When going out, leave the lights on and the closet doors, bathroom door and shower curtain open. If you notice a change when you return, leave the room immediately and request a security check.

· Do not invite strangers or acquaintances to your room. Meet in a public location, such as the lobby or the hotel restaurant.

· Keep a clear head; restrict or avoid drinking alcohol.

· Make sure people at home have your schedule, hotel information and phone number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn McCoy-Ullrich is a business owner and writer based in Canada. Her business, E-Lynx Web Concepts Inc. (www.elynx.ca) specializes in human resources, business analysis and communications consulting. Dawn is writing her first book "Landing a Job for Canadians" for Dummies.

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