Graciously dropped by the hotel industry at the dawn of the feminist movement, demand for women-only floors is back on the rise.
"Hotels are finally recognising the extensive travelling done by women and the need to ensure that their key priorities are being safe, comfortable and pampered," says Paulomi Bhatt, founder of World At Her Feet, the first travel group for women in the Middle East.
"Walking in Copenhagen's Bella Donna floor and being greeted by soft music, yoga mats, smoothies and a bathroom stocked with exclusive products, styling accessories, complete with wide shower heads and floor-length mirrors, it was sheer heaven," Bhatt says.
Not just Europe, ladies travelling to cosmopolitan cities across America, South East Asia and the Middle East can stay on floors creatively called Donna, Eva, Orchid and Her Space.
Vying to attract the loyalty of female travellers, Jumeirah Emirates Towers launched The Chopard Floor in 2005, aptly named after the designer brand whose amenities are supplied in all rooms.
"Originally, the hotel was predominantly occupied by male business travellers. In recent years, there has been a huge surge in the number of female guests, so we decided to dedicate the 40th floor to ladies," says hotel manager Maren Kuehl.
Creating a niche
Since then, prestigious hotels across Dubai, such as Grosvenor House, Meydan Hotel and the Sharia-compliant Tamani Marina, have joined the ranks. "We wanted to do something different for ladies, to attract a niche market," says Walid Al Awa, general manager, Tamani Hotel.
Grosvenor House also created an exclusive wing dedicated to XX chromosome guests when they opened Tower Two last September. "More and more women are travelling on their own and looking for more privacy and bespoke rooms. We wanted to match their needs," says Pam Wilby, complex general manager of the Grosvenor House and Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa.
For Meydan Hotel the decision was based entirely on matching expectations, says general manager Karim Bizid. "In providing a ladies' floor in our hotel, we are aiming to exceed the expectations of all our guests. It is very relevant here, as we are in an Arab country where the tradition for most services still remains separate for men and women," Bizid says.
"Themed rooms are a growing trend in the hotel industry internationally, and are gaining popularity in this region as well," says Dubai-based hospitality consultant Angelica Suraga.
Saudi Arabia shows the way
"Hotels have identified an increase in female corporate travellers and have, therefore, introduced women-only floors. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was the first city to open a women-only hotel, which only accepts female guests and only employs female staff. Now many hotels offer a full range of health and beauty facilities, snacks, newspapers and magazines that cater exclusively to women."
Since tuning in to what women want, luxury hotels have come to understand that when women travel, they need things men probably never did, such as a copy of Oprah magazine, a curling iron, cosmetic fridge, yoga mats and perhaps nutritious room service. "A room-service menu especially for women travellers has been created. Items include chilled apples, stuffed olives, a salad of sprouts, chilled Atlantic lobster, sea bass fillet and so on," Kuehl says.
And nothing exceeds the practical thrill and convenience of crossing over to another room on the same floor in just a bathrobe. "Many guests feel it is more hygienic knowing that the previous guest was a woman," Suraga says.
A different take
Staying on a floor meant only for women is not so much about asking not to be around men but more about the convenience. However, not everyone feels the same way. "Would I choose a hotel because they provide me softer blankets, yoga mats or only ladies on a floor? No!" exclaims media professional Malavika Varadan. "Would I like it if they offered me the option? Yes! There is no reason the hotel can't reach yoga mats, DVDs or softer blankets to me if I'm on a mixed floor."
Ladies-only parties, in my experience, tend to be more boring and uneventful than mixed parties," she adds.
Another exceptional feature of these floors is that they are staffed entirely by women, from service personnel, lady butlers, security stewards, room attendants, lady engineers and even women translators. "As we get a lot of guests who speak Russian, we have a dedicated Russian employee to help solve their issues," says Maria Shakina, executive assistant to general manager at Tamani.
Comfort is directly proportionate to customer satisfaction. "Guests staying in the ladies' wing can expect a 24-hour all-female butler service, special amenities, exclusive arrival and departure gifts and access to ladies' hair-styling appliances," Wilby says.
There are ways in which employees also benefit when working on these floors. "Women tend to be tidier then men," explains Pricilla Bermudez, housekeeping attendant at the Chopard Floor. At Tamani, the experience of working around female guests translates to safety. "I feel safer here because I'm a Muslim woman working in an Islamic environment on a ladies-only floor," admits Fatima Saidani, sales executive at Tamani. The hotel strictly follows Islamic principles of operation. "There is no alcohol served here, and the environment is clean, as there are no pubs. Women feel safer here because there are no drunkards in the lobby; the staff also prefers to stay and work here," Al Awa explains.
Security, above all
Security remains the main reason women choose to stay on ladies-only floors, especially when travelling to a new city. "I remember travelling to this quaint, cute hotel in India once. However, the suspicion that I was probably one of the very few women there quickly had me checking out. So it's very important to have women feel safe and know that they are not alone in a massive hotel building," Bhatt recalls.
Not just when travelling solo, women with children also find this facility advantageous. As an added security feature, the Chopard Floor has two glass doors on either side of the corridor accessible only with a guestroom key. "I feel more comfortable and more secure, especially if I have children with me. I know that all women will understand what it is like travelling with a kid, but men will not easily accept kids running around or crying," says Omneya Fawzy, account manager Tamra C2.
Hotels in Dubai have kept room tariffs standard for all floors, including the one exclusively for ladies. In January, the emirate topped the global hotel occupancy list with 86.2 per cent average revenue per ranking. According to a Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing report, this distinction places Dubai above cities such as Hong Kong, Sydney, London, Tokyo, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. "People are choosing Dubai, as the political situation in other countries is not good. If I am from Ukraine and want to go on a holiday at this time of year, Europe is still cold, so is Lebanon. Bahrain, maybe, but there's not as many things to do there as in Dubai," Al Awa says.
As women entered the workforce after the Second World War, their need to travel on business grew, along with security concerns. With economics as a motivator, the hotel industry started opening ladies-only floors. The trend came, went and has now been revived. "Guests expect the hotels to keep up with trends and, therefore, certain facilities to be available in the room. The industry now sees more woman business travellers than ever before, and offer products based on demand. However, no one knows if this is a trend that will continue or fade," Suraga says. The future may be fuzzy, but what these floors mean to women travellers is clear. "I feel this gives us a choice, especially when travelling alone. I just hope this is not just a trend," Bhatt says.
— Shahana Raza is a UAE-based freelance writer
Many international hotels today offer exclusive floors dedicated entirely to women. Some suggest their guests request the option at the time of check-in.
The Premier Hotel, New York City
- Rooms accessible only by elevator key card.
- Yoga mats, plush robes and slippers for all rooms.
- Lighted make-up mirror and wash mitts.
- Fragrant bath salts in bathrooms.
- Women's magazines.
Bella Sky Comwell, Copenhagen
- Option of bathtub or shower.
- Extra-large shower heads and handheld shower.
- Large bath towels.
- Large hairdryer with ionic technology.
- Cosmetic mirror with magnification and LED lighting.
- Large dressing mirrors providing front and back reflections.
- Quality brands of beauty and care products for face, hair and body.
- Nail file, disposable razors and sanitary articles.
- Anti-allergy natural down duvets of the highest quality and lots of pillows.
- Camilla Stærk slippers and bathrobes.
- Extra clothes-hangers for skirts and dresses.
- Steam iron and ironing board.
- National and international women's and news magazines.
- Minibar stocked with smoothies, water and good-quality chocolates.
Fleming Hotel, Hong Kong
- Rooms with beauty kit and jewellery box.
- iPod station.
- Equipped with facial steamer.
- Minibar tailored for women with herbal tea and healthy snacks.
- Leg massage machine, available upon request.
Naumi Hotel, Singapore
- In-room cosmetics, such as make-up remover and toner.
- Aromatherapy products from all-natural Australian brand Aesop.
- Pink and grey flowery wallpaper.
Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi
- Rooms serviced by female butlers.
- Security cameras outside doors.
Guest Profile, Employee Verdict.
Profile of guests checking into ladies-only floors remains common through most hotels in Dubai. They are either Western and Asian women travelling solo on business or leisure, Arab ladies, women from GCC and CIS countries, or large families and groups preferring to stay together on an entire floor.
But what is the difference when it comes to working here as compared to other floors in a hotel? The verdict seems pretty clear.
- "The only difference is that all my colleagues working on this floor are female!" says Janice Bautista, maintenance assistant Chopard Floor.
- "Women drink much more coffee! There are more bottles, cosmetics and skincare products to arrange," says Pricilla Bermudez, housekeeping attendant Chopard Floor.
- "Women complain more compared to men, especially about food," says Mayan Agnes, F&B department Tamani Hotel.
- "I prefer mixed guests, as women are more complicated!" says Maria Shakina, executive assistant to the Tamani general manager.
Ladies-only floors are staffed exclusively by women, but products and amenities provided by each hotel differ.
That special touch
Jumeirah Emirates Towers
- Chopard amenities and bathing products.
- A cosmetics fridge.
- Yoga mat and DVD with introduction to yoga.
- Bathroom linen, including bathrobes, embroidered with Chopard logo.
- A room-service menu for women travellers.
- Rooms decorated in neutral tones with warm bursts of feminine purple.
- Feather-weight duvets and plump pillows for extra comfort.
- Aside from a working desk, there is a touchscreen panel.
- iPod dock.
- State-of-the-art entertainment system.
- Luxurious Bvlgari bath amenities.
Tamani Hotel Marina
- Sharia-compliant hotel, alcohol-free and serving only halal food.
- Two-, three- and four-bedroom suites spread across three floors.
- Each room offers expansive views over Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina.
- Special decor, pastel pink walls, carpeted floors and fine paintings.
- Female-oriented room amenities.
- Gift upon departure.
- Different linen and pillow choices (pink colour).
- Special room-service menu (female-oriented and healthier).
- Yoga mat and yoga DVDs in all rooms.
- Extra women magazines and newspapers.
- Dedicated library with a wide selection of books.
- Music library and DVDs of popular TV shows.