If you ran a hotel chain, wouldn't you pay special attention to the fastest-growing segment of the business travel market? That seg- ment is women, and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has stepped way out in front of its hospitality peers with the Women on Their Way program, created in 1995 to explore the needs of women business travelers. Last summer, Cary Jehl Broussard was named to the new position of director, Women on Their Way. ICP Editor Alison Hall spoke with her recently about women on the road and the future of business travel.
ICP: Why did Wyndham create a full-time position to direct its focus on the female business traveler?
CJB: We created the position not only to send a message but to have a champion inside the organization. We believe that by listening and responding to women, we are creating a better hotel chain (inside and out). Wyndham's top female executives sit on our advisory board. That's how important they think it is for the company. [Find a list of board members at www.womenbusinesstravelers.com.]
ICP: What surprised you in researching women business travelers?
CJB: Forty percent of all women business travelers are either the primary or sole wage earner. I think we would all be amazed if companies did internal surveys asking employees if they were the primary or secondary wage-earner. It's a well-kept secret. Talk about a paradigm shift. The way this relates to the hospitality industry is that it is truly an economic and social imperative to meet the needs of our travelers, whether it's business or leisure travel.
More than half of women business travelers said the number-one benefit of business travel is networking. Most women also think business travel makes their jobs more interesting and they like having some time to themselves. I can identify with these findings, but it surprised me that I was not alone!
ICP: Where are hotels making the biggest strides in accommodating women business travelers?
CJB: The biggest strides are a combination of small things adding up to make the overall experience better. Some of those small things: data ports, voice mail, iron and ironing boards, hair dryers, upgraded bath amenities, better food, more nonsmoking rooms, better lighting. I like to think that this program is creating positive change for women and men who stay with us--and who work for Wyndham.
For instance, our advisory board told us they'd like to have a pre-call before room service was delivered. So now room service calls the guest's room five minutes prior to delivery. Not only does the guest appreciate the pre-call, because he/she is prepared (out of the shower, off the phone) but the room service attendant isn't waiting while the guest scurries around to find a robe with the meal getting cold and the attendant getting behind schedule.
ICP: Where do hotels still need to improve in serving the business traveler, male or female?
CJB: Probably in the balancing of personal life and business life. Make it easier for people to travel. Give the business traveler the opportunity to handle personal needs on the road while traveling, so when the person returns home, stress has not built up because bills haven't been paid, grocery shopping hasn't been handled, dry-cleaning is backed up. Make the travel experience itself comfortable. Don't put a stiff chair in a hotel room just because it looks good. Keep in mind the guest is going to use that chair--in addition to throwing clothes on it!
ICP: With ever-improving communication technology, some observers see a decline in business travel ahead. Do you?
CJB: Technology is changing the way we do business but I don't think it will change the basic need for human contact. Ironically, one type of business travel that is increasing is among people in the high-tech industry. With all of these businesses trying to raise capital, sell advertising, and obtain clients, they're traveling like crazy. We don't see that slowing down--we see it continuing to build.