On the road again

More women are travelling for business than ever before — but is the world geared well enough for female business travellers?

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The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recently announced that women make up the majority of the tourism workforce in most regions of the world. In South Africa the percentage of women travelling for business is much higher than in the past — and the percentages are still rising as more women enter the professional workforce and climb the corporate ladder to the top.

It is also a fact that women, high tech and connected, are the fastest growing segment of corporate travellers in the world. And Africa is no exception. According to the latest Skift report, almost half of women who travel, travel for business.

But has the tourism industry recognised this? Are policies and services being adapted to meet the needs of our corporate road warriorettes? Is there really a difference between men and women travelling — and if so, what are the issues women have to deal with that their male counterparts most probably don’t even have to think about?

Explore met up with frequent traveller Fatima Anter, Marketing Project Specialist at Thebe Tourism Group, at the recent Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban.

Anter says women are more prepared once they know they have to travel for work. “The minute we hear we have to travel, we start researching, preparing physically and mentally. Most of the time our travel arrangements are done by someone else, so we tend to do research on the places we are staying at to familiarise ourselves with the area, since we didn’t choose it ourselves. We are also more concerned about safety when travelling than men seem to be. I, for example, always send all my booking documents, flight details and copies of my ID to my family before I travel — even if I travel locally.”

She says safety is a major issue for women travelling for business. When travelling for leisure, most women travel with their families or in groups. When on business trips, women travel on their own and that presents its own challenges. “When I’m travelling alone, my biggest challenge is getting around. If I’m not familiar with the area I prefer not to rent a car. I tend to rely on GPS a lot and those things aren’t always that accurate. Yet, if I have to use taxis to get around, it’s still stressful because I worry about my safety. Another challenge for me as a woman, is being away from my family for long periods — especially over weekends.”

When asked whether she thinks the travel industry in SA in general is doing enough to ensure the safety of women, especially considering that women make up an ever-increasing amount of our business traveller population, Anter believes that more needs to be done for the safety of all travellers, not just women. “Some players in the travel industry do their part, and they do it well. Others are unfortunate with their locations (in areas dubbed unsafe), but they could offer services, such as free regular shuttles, that make people feel it’s safe to stay there.”

Research done by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reveals that awareness of the risks faced by female travellers in general has never been higher, but only 18% of corporate travel policies specifically address matters related to the safety needs of female business travellers. In response to this, Anter says, from her experience, security issues are adequately addressed. “I do feel, though, that corporates should make it a policy that hotel transfers or any transport is always pre-arranged so that female travellers don’t need to leave the airport to find a ride. Where possible, travel should happen during office and daylight hours.”

Being selective regarding the location and type of their travel lodging is also quite a big concern for female business travellers. Anter advises to take note of the location in relation to where you need to be daily while travelling for business. “I like proximity. If I’m travelling alone, I prefer a hotel instead of a small B&B or self-catering establishment. I feel that hotels and lodges have better security measures in place and the establishments are not as easily accessible to outsiders (usually it’s a boom entry, then doorman, then reception).

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