Women traveling alone face all the usual frustrations that regular people do: plane delays, fatigue, difficulty finding healthy food. But they can come up against other greater risks: sexual harassment or assault, gender-specific health problems, or kidnapping, to name a few.
The number of female business travelers has increased over the years as they have risen up the ranks.
In a survey of 503 female business travelers conducted last year by the Global Business Travel Association in partnership with AIG, 71 percent of the respondents said they feel that they face greater risk than their male counterparts. Eighty percent said that in the past year, safety concerns have impacted their productivity on business trips.
Their top three concerns are: general women’s safety, sexual harassment and assault and traveling to certain countries or cities that may be dangerous.
So what are companies doing to educate and protect their female employees on traveling alone?
“Companies differ with regards to their posture and commitment on differentiating female traveler safety, specifically, from their regular duty-of-care responsibilities,” said Katherine Harmon, senior director of product risk content for WorldAware, a risk management company.
Some companies, particularly the larger ones, offer seminars, workshops and other training for their female employees before they send them off on a trip. That often includes explaining the nuances of destinations that may be dangerous for women to travel alone or places where it’s culturally frowned upon for females to travel solo, Harmon said.
The women surveyed by GBTA/AIG said they would like their companies to offer more of these kinds of services. While 83 percent said they believe their organizations care about their safety on business trips, 63 percent said their employers could do more to take the needs of female business travelers into consideration.
Some of the resources those surveyed think companies should provide are: an emergency contact or hotline, safety accommodations such as chauffeured transportation and security escorts, and training on issues such as sexual assault and kidnapping.
Many women in the survey said they take their own precautions when traveling alone. Regularly communicating with the office, friends or family while traveling is what 58 percent of the respondents do. Only staying at trusted accommodations is what 56 percent do. And 51 percent share their itinerary with family or friends.
Catherine Rigby, CCTE, GTP, Manager, Travel Risk and Safety at CFA Institute, said that many companies don’t specifically address this need, but that “there are some standard guidelines that female travelers need to adhere to in order to mitigate risk.”
Guidelines include being aware of any security concerns in the area, not walking alone after dark, refraining from publicly divulging their room numbers or names, and trying to conduct their business at the hotel as opposed to off-site.
“Safety and security, and international law and culture information can be found on multiple government resource sites,” she said.
Gabe Rizzi, president of Travel Leaders Corporate, says the company’s travel advisors send thousands of female travelers on solo trips each year and make efforts to give them practical advice.
The advisors tell the travelers to check the U.S. State Department website for guidance on what is happening in countries around the world. The State Department has a STEP program, a free service that lets U.S. citizens traveling abroad enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
While many companies still could do more to educate female travelers, some are making strides.
Rhonda Sloan, head of marketing and industry relations at AIG Travel, said her company launched a Women’s Safety Travel Campaign in 2017 and a microsite: www.aig.com/travel/forwomen.
The company provides alerts and guidance to all employees traveling to destinations with elevated risks. All AIG employees have access to the AIG Travel Assistance website and mobile app, which offers updates on information regarding travel health, safety and security at a particular destination. Travelers can sign up for alerts about the destination through the site. They can also take security training on topics such as food, safety, crime, and kidnapping. There are training modules dedicated to women and the LGBTQ community, Sloan said.
Travel Leaders Corporate offers all its employees and customers who book business travel through one of its advisors a tool called CONNECT. It’s a text-based chat feature that lets travelers connect to a live agent for assistance 24/7. The company’s CARE program tracks where business travelers are and any threats or situations that can impact them in their location.
“Tools like CONNECT are purpose-designed to support an employer’s duty of care program,” Rizzi said.
Harmon, of WorldAware, said the travel industry in general has become aware of how important it is to pay attention to female solo travelers.
“Travel suppliers have really come a long way in the past decade,” she said.
There are more female-friendly hotels that take extra steps to ensure the safety of females traveling alone or in groups. Transportation services now understand the need for well-lit pick-up and drop off points, identifying drivers to customers and allowing for advanced arrangements.
“In the event of a medical issue, many travel health insurance companies know their network of medical providers and can recommend someone who is empathetic and responsive to female traveler concerns,” she said.
What can female travelers themselves do to make sure they have a safe trip? Here are tips from Sloan of AIG Travel:
Save an electronic and hard copies of your travel documents, including your itinerary, and share them with a trusted friend, co-worker or family member.
If you have travel insurance, sign up for safety alerts about the destination. Research the laws, customs, security, and health issues of the place you are visiting.
If possible, don’t book late-night arrivals when businesses are closed and situations can get more dangerous.
Never stay on the first floor of a hotel or near exit stairways.
Pre-book a reputable taxi, car or shuttle service to and from the airport. Be guarded with your conversation with the driver, and most especially, do not say that you are traveling alone.