International Women’s Day 2020 – The Rise of the Female Business Traveller.

There has been a significant rise in the number of women travelling for both business and personal reasons in recent years, an estimate of $125 billion is to be spent on travel by women in 2020 alone(1). Regardless of the different situations and incidents going on within the modern world, women are not averse to travelling. Even with the enhanced media attention of risks to females travelling abroad, various studies showing that women are travelling now more than ever.

This figure is only going to grow throughout the coming years, representing a cultural shift that is beneficial for businesses globally. Travelling is very popular amongst women and we see this reflected by our own clients with more and more women conducting business trips each year, varying from short visits to Europe and the US to more complex journeys in Africa or Asia. Therefore, Solace Global want to celebrate the fact that female travel is becoming more frequent and to offer our travel safety tips.

Ensuring personnel safety worldwide is one of our top priorities, and we cannot stress enough the importance of companies considering and preparing for all the unique threats that female travellers can face when abroad. According to a study by SAP Concur, 52% of business travellers cite travel safety as the most valuable training their company could provide(2), at Solace Global we offer specific country advice and a range of safety training courses for all travellers, a vital element to making sure your employees are empowered with travel confidence.

Certain countries can be recognised as particularly ‘high risk’ and lone female travellers will need to review various country specific and more generalist aspects when conducting business trips in order to stay safe, for instance understanding the local laws and cultural norms. Women are often treated differently to men and therefore it is highly important that these factors are studied and accounted for before commencing a trip e.g. if travelling to a Muslim country, women must cover shoulders and wear clothing that covers just below the knee.

More than 3 in 4 (77%) female business travellers have had a negative experience related to their gender(3) highlighting the importance of pre-travel planning and country-specific research. While many of the risks affect travellers regardless of their gender, male travellers are seen as less vulnerable, meaning women are more likely to become a target. According to a recent survey by YouGov and Tourlane(4), 46% of women are concerned about their safety when travelling solo, compared to only 20% of men, highlighting the perceived risk women face.

There is no escaping that there will always be an element of risk when travelling regardless of who the traveller is; male or female. However, as long as a person and their company are aware of the risks that they may face, and these are mitigated as far as possible, there is no reason that anyone should not conduct an enjoyable and safe trip.

This is important because the last thing travellers want to do while on a trip is to be constantly worrying and making continued threat assessments about their surroundings while doing what they actually came to do.

There are a number of things that both travellers and company risk managers can do to ensure that female business travellers can conduct their business safely and successfully. These include preparation before and actions during their journeys.

Advice for the travellers

  • In the majority of cases, common sense precautions, such as dressing conservatively, avoiding travelling alone after dark in unfamiliar places and watching your drink at the bar, will keep you safe.
  • Do not be too trusting, do not accept food or drinks from strangers or be accepting of lifts.
  • Always ask the hotel receptionist not to verbally announce your room number and ensure they don’t give you a ground floor room or one at the end of a dark corridor / by an external fire escape, feel free to ask for an alternative room if it does not feel right.
  • Ensure your hotel has double-locking doors and that both work before unpacking.
  • Consider carrying two doorstops to place under the door when you are in your room, or a device such as a DoorJammer, to provide extra security for your room.
  • Research your destination before you travel, be aware of the safer areas, the places to avoid and any other things to look out for.
  • Be aware of the cultural sensitivities in the country you are visiting. For example, reporting sexual assault in the United Arab Emirate can result in the victim being detained and even charged.
  • Cultural sensitivities can extend to how you dress, whether or not you should initiate handshakes and even the length of eye contact.
  • Ensure that someone knows where you are travelling to; be this friends, family or work colleagues. Additionally, ensure that you check in regularly with this person.
  • Certain hygiene products can be difficult to buy in some countries; it is advisable that, where possible, you bring your own.
  • If feeling harassed or receiving unwanted attention while in a bar or a club, do not hesitate to tell the staff. They will be able to help you and call a taxi for you to safely leave the premises.
  • One of the best ways to avoid harassment is to say you have a boyfriend/you are married to avoid unwanted attention. Consider wearing a fake wedding ring.
  • If confronted with an uncomfortable or threatening situation, attempt to leave, otherwise, try to attract attention to yourself and call for help.
  • It’s always a good idea to talk a female friend or colleague that have travelled to the country you plan to visit to find out about issues they may have encountered.

Advice for travel managers

  • Travel managers already know they need to focus on safety as more women travel for business; however, this needs to translate into specific changes to travel policies, consider including pre-travel female specific briefs, regular check-in monitoring, and a female traveller training course.
  • Global travel policy should reflect the diversity of your travellers; different locations and different travellers will all have varying risk profiles which should all be respected.
  • Companies should be able to account for their employee’s whereabouts at all times; this is especially true in more high-risk locations.