For young ambitious women who were looking for professional career opportunities in New York from the 1920s through the 1960s, there was no better place to stay and be seen than the Barbizon, a 23-story women’s-only hotel that was located at 140 East 63rd Street in Manhattan.
The residential hotel played a symbolic role in the changing culture, particularly in women’s independence from their families; more women were coming to New York looking for work, and their families saw the hotel as a safe place for them to live. Men were only allowed in the building’s lobby without strict supervision.
Famous residents of the hotel included American novelist Sylvia Plath, American actress and singer Liza Minnelli and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.
By the 1980s, women-only residences were no longer popular, and the concept slowly died. In 1981, the Barbizon Hotel started admitting male guests.
Now, more than 25 years later, the concept of hotels that cater to female travellers is picking up again, not only in New York but globally. In a modern twist, this rise is due to the preferences of female business travellers, who account for 60 per cent of business travellers globally, up from only 1 per cent in 1971. Women want to be included with their male peers in the boardroom, but they also sometimes have different desires than men do.
Maiden Voyage’s 2016 Women in Business Travel Report revealed that 70 per cent of female business travellers believe travel providers need to try harder to address women’s needs. In addition, 76.3 per cent say that the companies they work for should prioritize working with suppliers who pay attention to the needs of female travellers.
What are hotels doing? They are catering to female guests more than ever.
In New York, The Premier Hotel’s women-only rooms come with curling and flat irons, yoga mats, vanity kits, bath salts, loofahs, large bathtubs and mirrors equipped with make-up lighting – all at no additional cost. The Crown Plaza Hotel in Washington has two women-only floors in its Washington, D.C., property. It also has a ‘female-friendly’ floor that is open to both genders in its Milwaukee, Wisconsin, property; there, men who would like to enjoy special amenities such as fresh flowers and ice cream are able to do so.
Safety at these hotels is not compromised, as most of women-only floors grant access only to those floors’ guests via security key cards. Some, such as The Naumi Hotel in Singapore, also have all-female staffs.
The Arabian Gulf states are traditionally conservative in nature, which causes some to expect that the women-only option has been available there for years. However, this catered service only arrived in the past decade or so, though it has become more popular recently.
In 2005, the Jumeirah Hotel in Dubai’s Emirates Tower partnered with Chopard to dedicate its 42nd floor, named the ‘Chopard Ladies Floor,’ for the use of the hotel’s female guests. The rooms include make-up fridges, in-suite yoga facilities and kimonos.
Dubai is a key global city, so the hotel industry there aims to cater to all kinds of travellers. A growing number of hotels in Dubai are now providing female-only floor options, including properties such as Meydan Hotel and Grosvenor House. Dukes Hotel, which opened this year on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, has a devoted duchesse floor – with 20 guest rooms, private lift access and a separate breakfast lounge – for its female guests.
In Saudi Arabia, one hotel has gone a step further: Luthan Hotel and Spa in Riyadh is a women-only hotel that is modelled as an urban retreat. It is the first of its kind in the GCC region. In that male-dominated society, it is one of the few places where men cannot go.
Luthan is women-owned, women-managed and women-run; it provides the feel of a private members’ club with its 25 exclusive rooms, which are designed to capture the essence of a spa. In addition, the hotel provides spa and leisure facilities, a variety of fitness-class options, a restaurant, a café, and meeting facilities. Because it has tinted front windows, women can take off their abayas or veils and wander freely throughout the property.
The hotel’s location is key, as it is close to Al Nayyara’s Banquet Hall, where many Saudi weddings are thrown. This makes it an attractive venue for wedding guests who are preparing for events, as they can avoid commuting through the city’s busy streets.
Another property, the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh, has followed in the Luthan’s footsteps. This year, the Four Seasons launched The Pearl Floor, a private-access, women-only floor, to help women who are travelling in Riyadh feel more comfortable and secure. The floor is fitted with 20 premium rooms and 2 executive suites, and the entire floor is managed by a female staff.
“From the moment women set foot in the hotel, our goal is to make them feel special. No matter what their needs are, we will make sure they are being well taken care of with utmost consideration, all the way down to the smallest detail,” says General Manager Rolf Lippuner of the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh.
The number of hotels catering to female travellers is increasing around the world. However, when the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, added women-preferred floors that offered extra amenities for women but that did not exclude men, some Westerners saw it as a backward move that was discriminatory against men. In addition, three years ago, a Danish court ruled against a women-only floor in the Bella Sky Hotel, stating that it was gender-discriminatory.
In the Arabian Gulf, many families are still conservative, and they tend to be cautious about women traveling alone. Only within the last three decades have more women started traveling without chaperones, both on business trips and for leisure. The provision of women-only rooms is thus encouraging, not only for these families but also for women who like to feel safe when travelling abroad.
“My first introduction to a women-only floor was at the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh. The concept, whilst created out of a need in Saudi Arabia, has value for female travellers across the GCC and abroad,” says Annique Labuschagne, a South African resident of Dubai who founded the consultancy Voyique.
“Personally, I enjoyed the safety aspect. At the hotel, we had a bodyguard stationed on the floor at the lifts. There is definitely a heightened feeling of ease and comfort, and I believe providing the option to solo female travellers extends value,” she adds.
How does the future of this female-centric option look in the Arabian Gulf states? For now, hotels are listening, and some, such as the soon-to-be-opened TIME Asma Hotel in Dubai, are taking the extra step. This hotel’s team will be 80 per cent female; it will restrict two floors for its female guests, provide a dedicated female-only check-in counter, grant female guests the option to book a women-only taxi and offer designated female-only parking spots.
Manar Alhinai is the Storyteller-in-Chief at Sekka.