FIRST FOR VIRGIN
A Female Friendly hotel is not a new concept, however, with Virgin’s first Female Friendly Hotel having opened its doors at North Wabash Avenue in Chicago on 15th January, Richard Branson thinks he has found an edge: WOMEN.
Virgin is courting female business travellers, Branson says. His hotels will emphasize safety with separate room chambers to accept deliveries and will pamper professional women with features such as well-lit vanities.
Branson says that he does not think that any hotel caters to the female traveller. This hotel will “give Virgin an edge to make sure we look after them.”
Most of the major operators are pursuing this concept. InterContinental Hotels Group PLC agreed last month to pay $430 million to acquire Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants Group LLC, the largest independent boutique hotel operator, with 62 properties. .
With Virgin room rates in downtown Chicago starting at £136.00 and rising to £780.00 a night for a penthouse suite, the company will have higher prices than several other brands. Still, Mr. Branson says he isn’t worried about the competition.
“There are still a lot of very crappy hotels out there,” Branson says. “The big chain hotels are completely impersonal. As long as we’re in the best 10% of the sector, we can do very well.”
Virgin determined early on that appealing to female business travellers was part of that approach. Company executives cited a 2011 report from the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University that highlighted the market opportunity: While females accounted for only a quarter of business travellers in 1991, they now comprise about half. The study also found that female travellers had more multiple-night stays than men and are more likely to incorporate leisure time at the end of their business trip.
Virgin held focus groups with frequent female travellers, says Virgin Hotels Chief Executive Officer Raul Leal, asking them what was on their hotel wish lists. The responses boiled down to two wishes: safety and convenience.
For security, Virgin hotels will have closing doors that divide the room in half, so guests can be separated from anyone delivering room service or bringing up luggage. A peephole allows the guest to see who is there. Good lighting lines the corridors. On the convenience side, rooms offer extra closet space, drawers for makeup and supplies and larger showers with a bench that makes it easier for guests to shave their legs, Mr. Leal says.
what women want
What makes a hotel female friendly: Carolyn Pearson of digital magazine More says: We have a checklist of about 30 things. First, we really focus on safety because there has been a history of women business travelers being sexually assaulted or just disturbed by people entering their rooms. Our No. 1 requirement is double-locking doors—an extra chain or deadbolt that will prevent anyone with a master keycard from entering your room. It’s also important for a hotel to be located in a safe area, man the reception desk 24-7 and have a spyhole in the door so women can see who is knocking. Those are positives; one big negative is if the person who checks you in says your room number out loud.
Then there’s comfort: We look carefully at the hairdryers (they should be salon-quality rather than the type that requires you to hold down a button to keep it running); whether there is a full-length mirror with an outlet nearby; coat hangers; room service menus with healthy options, rather than the usual steak or club sandwiches; and most importantly, good brand-name toiletries. I don’t know anyone who likes those two-in-one shower gel and shampoo products. We prefer Ren, Molton Brown, Jo Malone, L’Occitane, Elemis, and of course, Bvlgari and Hermes. If you know you’ll find that level of product in the bathroom, you won’t have to pack as much. Hotels that invest in these products earn more loyalty from female guests.
Virgin has two other hotels in the works: properties in Manhattan set to open in 2017 and in Nashville, Tennesse which is set to open next year. Meanwhile, Mr. Branson is counting on females. “And male business travellers like to have females around,” he adds. “So it’s win-win.”
What do you think Women business travellers expect from their chosen hotel? Would anyone like to comment?
comments from salon partners:
Crest Hotels which became Holiday Inn introduced “Lady Crest Rooms” with equally “silly” things as Richard Branson is putting in. Crest put duvets instead of blankets, with pink covers (!), put magazines in the bedrooms which they thought business women read (e.g. Cosmopolitan, The Lady, etc), put peeping holes on the doors, decorated the rooms in flowery / pink patterns, can’t remember what else (?) and charged £10 extra per room. They made Lady Crest Rooms of ones that were near the lifts. They only did a few rooms per hotel. They were very successful in that they were requested frequently – but mostly, by men! The men liked the duvets and thought it was worth putting up with the silly décor and magazines in order to have the duvets…. As a result, average achieved rate did increase slightly in most of the properties. But they were soon abandoned because they realised that MOST people wanted duvets, that peep holes are also wanted by everyone, etc. etc.
Quite clever. Dress up a product flaw (lift and lobby noise) as a service enhancement, and pile on the margin/yield