For women, the fastest-growing group of business travelers, the usual fatigue and frustrating logistics of visiting a foreign country may be the least of their problems. There’s personal safety to be considered as well. And how companies are dealing with this Duty of Care issue is a mixed bag, at best.
Sixty-nine per cent of U.S. travel buyers (who are charged with arranging corporate travel) believe that women generally face greater dangers than men when travelling solo for work, according to recent research from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), in partnership with accommodation service WWStay.
“While all travellers face risks, women often face unique risks when travelling, especially when alone,” says Christle Johnson, GBTA president. “Some of the concerns travel managers shared with us were about risks they feel women face on the road, including sexual harassment/assault, kidnapping risk, destination-specific gender-related norms, gender-specific health risks or public transportation.”
The majority of those surveyed believe it is important to take steps that address these issues, but the results revealed this doesn’t always happen. While two-thirds said their travel programs offer safety/security resources though a third-party – such as 24-hour emergency hotlines – only 44 per cent said their companies recommend booking women into rooms with additional safety features such as double locks and 24-hour security. Taxi rides and airport transfers can be particularly hostile environments, yet three out of five respondents “rarely” or “never” offer chauffeured transportation at the destination.
This is consistent with research conducted this summer by global insurance company AIG Travel. In a poll of U.S. women, the overwhelming majority (84 per cent) stated that their employers either did not provide travel safety tips/resources or that they weren’t aware of any such tools.
What this means, of course, is that female business travellers are often left to manage their personal safety by themselves.
Ms. Johnson, the GBTA president, says it’s important for employers to play a role in mitigating risk by providing women with appropriate advice – and the right to say no.
“The option to refuse to travel to a destination where the risk exceeds the traveller’s tolerance level must be offered and accepted,” she says. “Organizations should identify that female travellers may have different travel needs and be prepared to provide the appropriate level of care and support for those travelling alone or with other women.”
The hospitality industry itself is beginning to address safety concerns. Some hotels, such as the Hamilton Hotel in Washington and the Ellis Hotel in Atlanta, have begun to install female-only floors.
Last year, Air India introduced female-only rows on select internal flights, mirroring the gender-segregated seats available on train carriages and buses across the country that aim to provide some protection from harassment and assault.
In the meantime, female travelers should take care when traveling to follow these guidelines to reduce risk:
- Give Out Copies of Your Itinerary
Leave your itinerary with a friend or family member and check in daily.
- Travel Light and Cheap
Carrying heavy bags not only weighs you down, but slows you down as well. The point is to get in and out of the airport quickly.
- Dress Conservatively
It helps you avoid unwanted attention, whether you’re eating alone in the hotel bar or in a foreign country.
- Leave the Backpack at Home
Bring a handbag that can be worn as a crossbody and zips close. Backpacks are not a good choice — especially in city environments.
- Careful with the Luggage Tag
Use a laminated business card as a luggage tag so your home address isn’t exposed.
- Carry a Personal Safety Alarm
If you plan to do any sightseeing on your trip or go for a run, a personal safety alarm is a good addition to carry.
- Pack a Doorstop Alarm
Stay safe in the hotel by packing a doorstop alarm.
- Bring Backups
Pack a backup credit card and some cash hidden inside your carryon. If someone steals your purse, you’ll have a backup. Always have a copy of your driver’s license or passport as well.
- Reserve all Transport
Reserve hotel, car or ground transport. Planning ahead prevents you being stuck at the airport. Skip services like Uber or Lyft in high risk countries, use trusted transportation services instead.
- Make Use of Room Service
Both smaller and larger hotels have their pros and cons. But larger hotels offer room service, which is a great way to reduce risk as compared to dining alone at a restaurant. Large hotel chains will have card keys and better security as well.
- Get a Room With an Interior Entrance
Whatever type of hotel you pick, request a room with an interior entrance and above the ground floor. You want to be near the elevator, but not too close to the emergency exits.
- Load Local Emergency Numbers in Your Phone
This way if you do need the police or an ambulance, you can call quickly for help.
- Use Valet Parking
Use valet parking rather than walk to your hotel, restaurant or conference from a distant lot or a parking garage.
- Get Two Room Keys
Always ask for two room keys — it helps hide the fact that you’re traveling solo. Keep both with you, one on your person and one in your purse. That way, if your purse is snatched, you can still get into your room. (But tell the hotel so they can change your key code.)
- Don’t Give Out Your Room Number
Also, make sure no one overhears your room number at check-in. If they do, ask for another room.
- Check all Locks
Once you get to the room, check doors, windows, closets and the shower. Make sure all locks work, and use them — including the deadbolt and security chain.
- Don’t Open the Door for Just Anyone
If someone claiming to be from housekeeping or room service shows up unannounced, call the front desk to check before opening the door. Many hotels will give you a five-minute advance call if someone is coming up to your room. You just have to ask.
- Use Concierge Services
Have some time to view the local sights? Use the concierge’s services and don’t be afraid to ask about safety, whether you’re planning a quick morning run along the river or a fancy dinner, if you’re going solo.
- Don’t Use a Map
When out and about, use a GPS on your phone instead of a map so you won’t look like a lost tourist. (That said, it’s good to have a map on hand in case your phone dies.) If you still get lost and have to look up new directions, duck into a store or coffee house instead of standing on the street.
- Keep Your Phone Charged
Keep your smartphone charged. It’s not just a business necessity, but also a smart safety precaution.
With a little planning and a watchful attitude, female business travelers can reduce risk and increase their chances of a incident free visit.