“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” This famous quote by Susan Santong speaks of millions of women worldwide, who are breaking barriers, crossing borders –of their homes, national, international and mostly of stereotyped mindsets. That the number of women travellers is on the rise is reflected in travel reports worldwide which throw up some rather interesting findings.
While many studies are available on the increasing contribution of women to travel, TravelScapes went a step ahead and spoke to top women professionals as to what is it that, they feel, women travellers want, and what it takes to get their business.
Ts Gurpreet K. Sekhon
IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN TRAVELLERS
Be it with men, for business or leisure, in groups or solo −the number of women travellers is growing and most studies on the subject concur that over 50 per cent of travel decisions are made by women. The women professionals we spoke to also agreed on the increasing importance of this segment while giving some interesting perspectives on how important, they feel, this segment is.
Madhu Joshi, Director of Marketing, AccorHotels India feels that women are an increasingly important group for hotels today as they are earning more, spending more and influencing all levels of the travel industry. Maulina Gupta, General Manager, Hyatt Place, Gurgaon, backs her claim with real numbers when she says that there was an impressive 45 per cent growth in 2016 over 2015 in the number of women travellers who stayed at the Hyatt Place, Gurgaon. She further goes on to say that as the segment is extremely valuable, the significant number of women travellers, impacts the hotel’s guest service; which is customised to suit their needs.
The third hotelier, Evgenia Boyankova, Group Director of Business Development, Sun Siyam Resorts, takes a different stand when she says that both men and women are equally important to the business. She, however, goes on to acknowledge the fact that if their needs are taken care of, women make more loyal customers.
Anjum Lokhandwala, Founder & Director, Outbound Konnections, feels that the number of women travelling for both leisure and business is increasing and a forming a significant proportion of people travelling. She also points out that 48 per cent of travel website visitors are women. Komal Seth, Director, Outbound Konnections, feels all women groups are fun and goes on to say that women travellers are growing by five to 10 per cent each year.
Vaijayanthi Kari, India Representative, Tourism Fiji shares, that Fiji has experienced a two to three-fold growth in the number of women travelling solo or in all-women groups in the last five years. She says that given the three-fold advantage of unique experiences, luxury offerings and an extremely low crime rate, Fiji has much to gain from this trend.
Hanneli Slabber, India Country Manager, South African Tourism says that women, especially Indian women have come to play a significant role in the travel industry. She feels that South Africa has witnessed a rise in the number of women to the destination and predicts that the trend would continue well into the future.
Nidhi Gupta Mondal, Director, Lots of Vacations, a travel startup based out of Thailand, feels the segment has potential.“Today women-only travel groups may be one per cent of the Indian travel market, but we predict a faster growth in this profit-making travel segment,” she says.
CHANGING PROFILE OF WOMEN TRAVELLERS
The average adventure traveller is not a 28-year old male, but a 47-year-old female. And she wears a size 12 dress, says a prominent survey debunking many a myth. 75 per cent of those who take cultural, adventure or nature trips are women. It is no surprise there has been a 230 per cent increase in the number of women-only travel companies in past six years.
When asked about how they feel the profile of the women travellers has evolved, our travel professionals have interesting, though somewhat contradicting, views.
Hanneli agrees with the quoted study and says, “Not only are women travelling for business and leisure but also to experience and explore local cultures and customs. A rising number of women are also choosing international destinations for their bachelorette and wedding celebrations. This is especially true of Indian women.”
There seems to be a variation in opinions here, as Komal says, “ Women of all ages are travelling now, be it for hen parties, 30th birthday celebrations or for bridal shopping tours. The percentage is increasing each year by five to 10 per cent.” She goes on to say that women have a preference for Europe or the Far East.
Evgenia is not on the same page as Komal and feels that geography is not a criterion, as she has witnessed a growth in the segment even in a traditional ‘honey-moon destination’ like Mauritius. She has another interesting point to make as she says, “Women travellers are not loners, they are bold and independent women who seek adventure and new experiences.”
Madhu has a more balanced view and presents it lucidly, “Indian women travellers have evolved from their traditional roles to influencers and are now emphatically both, decision makers and travellers in their own right. Indian women are intrepid travellers –keen to discover the nuances of a destination, learn a new skill, indulge in engaging experiences while having fun.” She also feels that the trend of solo woman travellers has witnessed a steady growth over the last few years.
WHAT WOMEN TRAVELLERS SEEK
When sharing their opinions on what women travellers seek, our travel experts concur on some points and differ on others.Nonetheless it’s an interesting debate!
Anjum kicks off the discussion with a rather interesting point −what women travellers do not want. “Women are not seeking preferential treatment over men, just a different type of service,” she stresses. “Security is the main worry for women travellers in hotels, on airlines, in airports and when renting a car, women travellers don’t want to be treated rudely and want equal service. Women do not want to be treated exactly the same as men. Neither do they want to be treated as entirely different. They want travel agents and tour operators to give them a similar approach to men, but be aware of their special needs, and cater to them,” adds Anjum.
That security is of primary concern, is something that all participants agree upon unanimously. “ Safety is always on the top of the priority list. Factors like quality of service, the location of the hotel they are staying at, and readily available transport, as well as the overall destination experience, are some of the important factors that influence their choices,” opines Madhu.
Maulina agrees, “ Women primarily look at safety, budget friendly options, ease of access to the hotel, proximity to office and cultural hubs, sightseeing and shopping facilities”
Vaijayanthi speaks from a more personal perspective, “When deciding on my next travel destination, my prime concerns are with respect to my safety. When planning my itinerary, I look for a good mix of experiences – beaches, adventure activities, cultural activities, local food and cuisine, among other things. I always look to try a new activity on all of my travels, for example, on my last visit to Fiji, I took an amazing cooking class on Fijian cuisine which I am a big fan of,” she shares.
While Komal brings it down to two critical factors, safety and shopping; Hanneli feels that although wellness and shopping have been traditional motivators for women to travel, women travellers have matured and are willing to go beyond the traditional touristy itinerary. Sharing a rather surprising fact she adds, “South Africa offers unparalleled wildlife experiences at our numerous game reserves and the Big five safaris have been enamouring women travellers, especially from India.”
Nidhi brings in a rather interesting perspective, as she observes, “All the major players in the women-only travel market concur that these groups offer a one-stop solution to address issues of companionship, sorority and freedom.”
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE “WOMAN-FRIENDLY”
One of the most critical questions, rather the point of the entire discussion is what would it take for a brand or an experience to be preferred over the other by women. Research shows that insincere marketing efforts to reach women may alienate them from a brand. Also, clever-packaging might not be enough to make a brand woman friendly. Authenticity, experience, voice and visuals are critical in that order of priority.
Here is the perspective of some of our women participants and a look at what makes their brands woman friendly.
“Do not intimidate her, impress her!,” says Madhu.It seems Madhu has her pulse on what women want as she espouses her philosophy, “Treat the woman guest like you treat every guest in the hotel. Pay attention, offer great service focus on safety and security and deliver what you promise as a brand. A woman dislikes having things labelled for her, she definitely likes to feel special but not different.”
Maulina says that at Hyatt Place, Gurgaon, there are a lot of women-oriented initiatives at the core as well as community level. Also, in addition to the expected − like handpicked amenities, the women leadership makes sure to connect with women guests to establish a better connect.
Safety is paramount for Sun Siyam Resorts says Evgenia. She further goes on to state that the group relies on a variation of experiences across properties −where each property is unique− and women have the liberty choose a vacation that is as quiet or as active as they want.
Anjum speaks both on behalf of women travellers and Outbound Konnections as she states that even though efforts have gone in by travel companies, there is still a lot of untapped potential. She also feels that women do not seek preferential treatment, just a different type of service. Anjum elaborates,” Getting this balance right is not easy but the firms that
achieve this fine balance are the ones
that will gain clear market differentiation and stand out as a brand for woman travellers.”
While Anjum says that happy women travellers bring them good referrals, repeat clientele and PR; her colleague Komal gives more specifics and shares that kickbacks, spa offers, yoga retreats and cooking classes are the way to get to them.
Hanneli says, “ To be labelled as a ‘women friendly destination’, it is imperative for tourism boards to cater to women’s changing needs and provide a holistic experience, while taking utmost care of their security.” She also feels, “ Connectivity within the location is also important.”
Talking specifically of South Africa, Hanneli shares that the destination is not only is it a high-end luxury destination with premium hotels but also has a plethora of world-class facilities, excellent infrastructure, distinctive attractions and unforgettable experiences which are essential factors to cater to the needs of this particular traveller set.
Vaijayanthi brings in a rather refreshing viewpoint and an obvious that no one is quite articulating. “ To qualify as a women-friendly destination, in my opinion, there needs to be a culture of respect towards women,” she opines. Talking about how Fiji is a good fit she elaborates, “Fijians are very traditional in the sense that every Fijian has a local village they are a part of and actively involved with. Women play many prominent roles in all local cultural activities and a very important role is villages.”
Nidhi shares her own set of rules, “The first rule is, design it for her and don’t offer her what you need to sell. Secondly, ensure safety and lastly remember that she has no rules and all rules are ruled out, as every woman is unique.”
Talking about her company she adds, “At Lots of vacations, we have carefully picked and mixed all essential ingredients for every woman to celebrate her womanhood, across age categories. “
While there are some agreements and some disparate views, there is but one conclusion. Deep down there are some things that women need, safety being one of them. Having addressed that −it is different strokes for different women!
While women professionals share some great insights into how women travellers are emerging as an influential consumer group, there is still not enough out there for them. There are both studies and initiatives that have gone into addressing this target group, however, these are few and far between.
Having said that, there is no denying that our professionals are thinking right and there both an interest and an acknowledgement of the potential of this sector, which is a massive step in itself and to use a cliché −a job well started, is a job well done and there are some very perceptive steps that have been taken.
While initiatives are welcome, everyone needs to be cautious and avoid clichés. It is time that service providers wake up to the fact that the colour pink is now used primarily for breast cancer awareness. More tangential, out of the box, thinking is needed. To reiterate a point, a beginning has been made, what is needed is more work. There are ways to make a woman happy but no one said it was going to be easy!