Does your company have separate policies in place for female travellers?

Our mystery buyer asks should all policies and programmes meet duty-of-care requirements regardless of gender…

I once spent four miserable evenings in a hotel room dining off service-station sandwiches and packets of crisps because there was no room service on offer – and if that sounds like something out of TV’s Would I Lie To You, you would do well to hit the ‘true’ button.

Of course the hotel had a perfectly good bar serving light bites, and an equally good restaurant serving more substantial – and doubtless delicious – suppers, but I was on my own, and I did not relish the prospect of being leered at, chatted up, propositioned, or worse.

Although the number of female business travellers is on the increase, we are still outnumbered by our male counterparts – in my own programme there are some UK hotels where more than 90 per cent of guests would be men, and while the overwhelming majority would be impeccably behaved, it only takes one to ruin the evening.

We women are more vulnerable. We may not like it, but – sadly and infuriatingly – it is still a fact of life. As a colleague pointed out recently, it’s much easier to snatch a handbag than it is to “lift” a wallet. If you’re bent on causing trouble, do you pick on the six-foot guy who weighs in at 14 stone, or the five-foot-something female who struggles to hover around the nine-stone mark?

From a travel management perspective, facing up to these realities is like negotiating a minefield. Although I have no hard evidence to back this up, I guess that most female business travellers would object to being treated differently to men, and trying to incorporate female-friendly “exceptions” into a travel policy would raise all kinds of discrimination issues.

It’s not as if men aren’t vulnerable, too. A male colleague tells of a stay in a budget hotel (which shall remain nameless, for obvious reasons) where the associated restaurant was on the other side of a large and ill-lit car park. It was no more than 50 or 60 yards away but, even at that relatively-short distance, an awful lot can go wrong. He walked very quickly…

Where business travellers are concerned, it’s not a question of making allowances for women, but of making sure that our policies and programmes meet the duty-of-care requirements of all employees, regardless of gender. It’s about common sense and sensitivity and, as always, education and communication.

Hotels and, more particularly, serviced apartments that do not have reception staff on duty around the clock should be an obvious no-go area – out-of-hours phone numbers are of little or no use in the case of emergencies.

No-one – male or female – should be required to use public transport, especially after dark, to make the journey between airport and city-centre hotel. Of course most such trips are incident-free, and taxis (reputable firms only, please) are a greater drain on ever-tighter budgets, but employers and employees alike should always prepare for the worst.

Furthermore, employers and travel managers need to recognise that although travellers are repeatedly told not to appear to be potentially-lucrative targets – no flashy jewellery or wristwatches – but there are plenty of destinations around the world where even an overnight bag is a dead giveaway. Don’t get me started on mobile phones…

Of course, most potential threats – criminal or otherwise – can be minimised, if not eliminated, by pre-trip communication. I recently read of a traveller who was subjected to considerable abuse simply because she was wearing a sleeveless top, and “bare arms” were an affront to the local religious sensitivities.

Business trip briefings should be standard practice, and travellers should not merely be directed to some website or other and left to fend for themselves. There are many destinations where even subtle cultural differences need to be communicated, but even familiar places can pose problems – try taking the tube across London when a Premiership rival game is about to kick off!

As I say, we women are more vulnerable. One would hope that we might get to a point where women are treated in a same way and with the same levels of respect all over the world, but we are not there yet, and employers and travel managers need to acknowledge that fact and respond accordingly.

Speaking purely personally, room service is a prerequisite. I’ve had enough service-station sandwiches to last me a lifetime.

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