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Women-only hotel floors tap boom in female business travel

By Susanne Gargiulo for CNN
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
Behind a locked glass door on the 17th floor of Copenhagen's Bella Sky Hotel, is the Bella Donna floor -- Europe's first women-only hotel floor. Behind a locked glass door on the 17th floor of Copenhagen's Bella Sky Hotel, is the Bella Donna floor -- Europe's first women-only hotel floor.
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Ladies first
Designed for women
A safe space
Little luxuries
A growing market?
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Copenhagen's Bella Sky Hotel was the first in Europe to dedicate a floor entirely to women
  • Special touches in the rooms include fresh flowers, day and night moisturizers, and powerful hairdryers
  • Hotels globally are adding women-only floors to cater to boom in female business travel

(CNN) -- Walk into a room on the 17th floor of Copenhagen's Bella Sky Hotel and you'll be greeted by soft rose and burgundy toned colors, fresh flowers, fruit smoothies, fashion magazines, and a bathroom stocked with exclusive products, including day and night moisturizers.

This might not sound all that appealing to Joe in accounting -- but that's okay because he'll never make it past the locked glass entrance to the floor.

This is the Bella Donna -- Europe's first hotel floor dedicated entirely to women -- and according to the hotel's CEO Arne Bang Mikkelsen, it is designed by women, for women.

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"Men's and women's preferences are very different. When men come into a hotel room, the first thing they do is check the view, turn on the TV, plug in their computer, and check out the minibar. Women on the other hand go straight for the bathroom. Does it smell nice? Is it clean? Does it have a nice bathtub and shower?"

Unlike other hotels, it seemed like someone actually thought about what women wanted
Michelle Williams, Bella Sky Hotel guest

To get it right, the hotel asked a number of women what they wanted, and added to their list of priorities things like cleanliness, a nice bathroom, high-powered hairdryers, steam irons, cosmetic mirrors, healthy options on the room service menus, and full-body mirrors.

Judy Brownell, professor and dean of students at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, says the hotel is onto something. According to her research, women's hotel preferences are very different than men's with key priorities being to feel safe, comfortable, empowered, and valued.

"The problem is that in many cases, no action has been taken to meet women's needs," she says.

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Michelle Williams, event coordinator with Ernst & Young and guest at the Bella Donna floor agrees. "Unlike other hotels, it seemed like someone actually thought about what women wanted. And there are so many women in my type of role traveling around the globe -- hotels need to wake up to that a bit."

It seems they are -- helped along by the boom in female business travelers.

The problem is that in many cases, no action has been taken to meet women's needs
Judy Brownell, professor, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University

Global numbers are hard to come by but research cited in Brownell's Cornell University report shows women accounting for nearly half of all business travelers in the U.S. in 2010, up from approximately 25% in 1991 -- and less than 5% just 40 years ago.

Places like the Naumi Hotel in Singapore, the Premier Hotel in New York, The London Dukes Hotel and the Georgian Court Hotel in Canadian Vancouver, seem to be realizing the potential in catering for women.

See also: How girl geeks can get the best tech jobs

The Georgian Court Hotels says their Orchid Floor -- with its special offerings for women such as magazines, curling irons, nylon stockings, bath salts and yoga mats -- has been so successful they're considering adding a second floor.

At the London Dukes Hotel, management says bookings to their "Duchess Rooms" -- which are standard rooms with fresh flowers, fruit, styling accessories, and other extras added -- have surged 25% over the past year.

But not everyone thinks this will last -- or that it's a good idea.

"A lot of hotels will jump along on this fad -- and prove me wrong -- but I think it's a flash in the pan," says Marybeth Bond, National Geographic Author and founder of gutsytraveler.com.

She sees it as little more then an advertising gimmick. "I have seen the hotel industry cater subtly to women without being patronizing, for example by putting shower caps and nail files in the room, and adding a room service menu expanded beyond hamburger and fries to include a big salad. Why not have standard rooms and extras being offered at the front desk? We've lived through fighting for our equal rights and this is making us unequal."

Sanne Udsen, author and consultant on women's issues and careers, participated in the Bella Sky survey and sees no problem in targeting women as a segment. "A lot of hotel services are geared towards men," she says. "If you want to sell three-wheelers you target them at two-year-olds," she says.

But Bond is not the only one who sees a problem. Denmark's gender equality board has ruled the women-only floor in Bella Sky Hotel discriminatory and illegal, following a complaint by a man. The hotel has been ordered to close the floor, but Mikkelsen refuses, saying he is prepared to take the case to court. "It's no different then women having their own cycling club. Should I be allowed to be part of that?"

Discrimination and disagreements aside, the bottom line, says Judy Brownell, is that women will likely reward hotels that are "listening" to their preferences.

"This comment may stir controversy but that's okay. My personal guess, having focused on this subject for several years: Men see the beer and nuts and go, "Wow, food! This is great!" Women see the smoothies and fruit and go, "I love this place -- they were thinking about my preferences."

But she adds, "It's important for hoteliers to recognized that separate floors are just one way to address the situation."

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