The age-old stereotype of great men exploring the world makes up the historical narrative of travel, from Marco Polo to The Grand Tours of Europe undertaken by wealthy young men. Women were barred from such adventures, and when they did make it onto the ships and The Great Tours, it was with chaperones or with great danger to their safety. You have to dig to find their stories but rest assured they are formidable, like Lilian Bland built her own plane in 1910 so she could discover the world.
How is this relevant to modern-day travel and tourism? These stereotypes still pervade travel, and the industry’s understanding of women travellers is limited. “Gender-biased beliefs still exist, like women shouldn’t travel alone, women aren’t interested in active travel experiences, and that catering to women means hairdryers, bubble baths, and baby changing stations. This not only puts women at a disadvantage but the industry as a whole. The statistics show that women love to travel more than men: 64% of worldwide travellers are women, 36% are men. By getting to know women travellers, travel and tourism can see huge growth,” says Patricia Johnston, Area Leader for the KZN region, Flight Centre South Africa.
On that note, we asked the women travel and tourism experts what women really want from their travel experience.
From generic to personalised
Moving beyond generic features (like hairdryers for women or shoe-shining kits for men) can help travel businesses better connect with their market.
“A hairdryer is great, but really most amenities and features women value would be the same as what anyone would – despite their gender,” says Natalia Rosa, CEO of Big Ambitions. “For instance, having a USB charging spot next to the bed, a nice fluffy towel or two, a basin that’s not the size of a Tupperware dish, a TV that doesn’t require a doctorate to switch on and navigate, etc. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what gender you identify with, there are certain base-level expectations that any guest would appreciate.”
Kathleen Hedges, Deputy GM at voco, The Bank, Johannesburg makes a similar point: “I enjoy it when the basics are done well – amazing linen, comfortable pillows, etc. and the small touches – recently, while at a hotel for my birthday, I received a bottle of wine upon my arrival and a lovely welcome card from the GM to wish me a happy birthday. A lot of hotels offer generic amenities and do not take the time to know who their guest is – for example, if you sleep on the right side of the bed, turn the right side down in the evening. Small touches could be made in terms of added-on amenities for all genders.”
Johnston agrees: “The best travel experiences I’ve had were when the hotel paid attention to small details. When I was in Mauritius, I made a comment one morning at breakfast that I enjoyed a particular fruit with muesli. The following morning, they made sure that fruit was set out on the buffet with a little dish of it on my table for me.”
“My best travel experience was in Tuscany,” shares Megan De Jager , Portfolio Director at Africa Travel Week. “What made it so special and memorable were the locals who ran the establishment with such authenticity and passion. I remember sitting in our courtyard each morning with a vine of sweet red grapes above us that we would pick and eat. Every afternoon the owners would bring us homemade bread, olive oil and wine from their farm that we would enjoy at dusk overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills. The property also had a small Trattoria whose chef was an elderly Italian woman who cooked all her traditional recipes that had been passed down through generations. We ate there every night, and guests ended each meal with homemade Limoncello!”
There is one aspect of travel which is far more of a concern to women travellers than to their male counterparts – safety. Amenities and services that cater to this are important. De Jager says, “On a practical level, I look for security and safety. I want to be able to lock and bolt my hotel room and to lock away my valuables in a safe”. The women team at Bon Hotels adds: “A shuttle service for early departures and late arrivals is a huge plus as women do not always feel safe taking an Uber at off-peak times.”
An escape from the everyday
Regarding women’s holiday preferences, these too are not unique to gender. They reflect current travel trends and the universal need for a break from normal routine. “I want to transcend my comfort zone in a safe environment. I want to experience novelty and a change of scenery,” Rosa explains.
De Jager speaks of the desire to escape everyday life: “I want a break from the daily grind! I want to be able to wake up without an alarm clock and have the commodity of time. I want to leave behind the feeling that I am rushing from task to task and that everything is planned and scheduled. I love the road less travelled, and I love to get lost in a place. I also look for good food. I’m inclined to eat my way through a holiday and love nothing more than going to restaurants that locals recommend.”
Food is central to many travel experiences. Olivia Gradidge, Marketing Manager for Travel and Tourism at Africa Travel Week adds, “Seriously good food and wine, especially if there is an element of surprise, like tasting something new, is a key part of a good holiday.”
Great holidays also strike the perfect balance between social- and me-time. “A holiday is a chance to spend quality time with loved ones and still get some alone time to unwind and rejuvenate the soul,” says Johnston.
Rosa ends with a point about the people who make the travel and tourism world go round. “When it comes to what makes a travel experience special, it always comes down to the staff. Something small like being greeted with a smile and helpful hand by every staff member always stands out in my mind, and I will return to that hotel if I’m in the vicinity again. I stay at a lot of hotels, and that is by far the thing that stands out most positively for me.”