New approach to safety needed for female business travelers

One in four female travelers had experienced a ‘negative incident’ while traveling for business. Source: Shutterstock

WOMEN are now the fastest growing segment in business travel. According to Skift, 47 percent of women that travel do so for business.

Despite the rise, safety is still an issue for women, their employers, and the travel providers and travel management companies they use.

Independent research conducted by Maiden Voyage, a network that offers travel safety advice and training to women, found one in four female travelers had experienced a “negative incident” while traveling for business.

This ranged from accommodation-related incidents like hotel room intrusion and theft to personal attacks such as stalking, robbery, sexual assault, harassment, kidnap, and even attempted murder.

Areas of risk

Women surveyed felt most vulnerable when using public transport. Source: Shutterstock

Insights from Maiden Voyage also revealed 67 percent of the women surveyed felt most vulnerable when using public transport, something echoed in other research as a hostile environment for lone female travelers.

A poll of the Most Dangerous Transport Systems For Women conducted by The Thomson Reuters Foundation in collaboration with YouGov, identified Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Manila among the cities lacking a provision for safe public transport.

SEE ALSO: Duty of care important to women business travelers 

More worryingly though, the women surveyed rated feeling unsafe traveling alone at night, a sentiment mirrored by the experts polled.

Considering the risks, it is easy to see why business travelers look for alternative transport arrangements. Speaking to Travel Wire Asia, Maiden Voyage founder and CEO  Carolyn Pearson explained her choice:

“One of the riskiest parts of the trip is the ground transportation, so I would use a reputable chauffeur drive company to get me to my first destination.

“I would agree a password in advance with the driver so that I know this is definitely my car and I would look at the route in advance so that I would know immediately if I was being taken off-course.”

Beyond direct threats, legal and cultural differences can present unique challenges to female business travelers.

“In many places, women have to dress or conduct themselves differently, and ignorance of these facts could put the traveler at risk of causing offense, losing a deal and therefore wasting the money spent on the business trip or in extreme cases, put their personal safety at risk,” cautioned Pearson.

Travel safety gap

Training and support given to female travelers often lack a gender-specific component. Source: Shutterstock

The 2016 Women in Business Travel Report (WIBT) conducted by the Travel Intelligence Network and Business Travel Magazine on behalf of Maiden Voyage, shows a clear gap between the training and support given to female travelers – which often lack a gender-specific component – and that which they need to feel safe and confident.

Over three-quarters of those surveyed reported feeling underprepared to deal with the incidents they encountered when traveling. Nevertheless, it is possible for women to take steps themselves, to help close the gap.

SEE ALSO: More women blazing the trail for solo travel

“The key consideration is in the planning of any trip.  It’s important to thoroughly research the destination in advance so that travelers understand the region they are traveling in,” Pearson said.

“I personally would always look at differing attitudes to women, how to dress appropriately and how to conduct myself. I would also look to understand the types of risk and crimes that are pertinent and how to protect myself… I would be looking to mitigate these specific risks.”

Role of travel management companies

Issues such as transport and accommodation safety should not deter employers from sending female employees on work trips. Source: Shutterstock

Alongside the efforts of travelers, the WIBT report also highlights the steps travel management companies and travel managers can take to narrow the gap between the needs of women and the delivery of programs to support them.

Central to this is a tighter focus on duty of care obligations and provision for a more personal approach to safety that takes into account the gender-specific problems and risks faced by female business travelers.

“I see TMC’s and travel managers putting too much emphasis on cost and compliance and too little on Duty of Care,” said Pearson.

“They are hellbent on hitting a hotel rate for a particular city, sometimes when that means putting a traveler out in the suburbs rather than looking at the overall, total cost of a trip and the additional risks involved.”

However, Pearson points out that a good duty of care process can actually drive compliance and help organizations and TMC’s ultimately reduce their costs as well as protect their travelers.

But initiating this sort of change is not without its challenges:

“Many travel security managers have told me that they have shied away from these discussions… one or two have suffered the blunt end of somebody’s tongue because they didn’t phrase their well-meaning advice in the best way,” explained Pearson.

In light of this, Maiden Voyage and its partners propose that a new, personal approach to travel safety is best thought of in terms of appropriate treatment and not special treatment – a common misconception associated with the needs of female business travelers.

SEE ALSO: More women blazing the trail for solo travel 

If successful, not only could such an approach make business travel safer for women, but also other groups.

“The question that I most often get asked is ‘what about my other diverse groups of travelers such as LGBTQ or disabled travelers’ and it’s great they are thinking inclusively,” said Pearson.

“The reality is they have to start somewhere, and women often make up 50 percent of the workforce, so I recommended starting there and then tackling the other groups of travelers.”