What do women want? Decoding female travel preferences and moving beyond stereotypes

A female traveller enjoys a boat ride at a scenic location. Picture: Pexels

A female traveller enjoys a boat ride at a scenic location. Picture: Pexels

Published Aug 31, 2023


Patricia Johnston, area leader for the KZN region, Flight Centre South Africa, believes that when it comes to travel, gender-biased beliefs like women shouldn’t travel alone, women aren’t interested in active travel experiences, and that catering to women means hairdryers, bubble baths and baby changing stations, still exist.

Johnston said this puts not only women at a disadvantage but the industry as a whole.

“The statistics show that women love to travel more than men: 64% of worldwide travellers are women, 36% are men. By getting to know women travellers, travel and tourism can see huge growth,” she said.

On that note, a group of women travel and tourism experts were asked what women really want from their travel experience and this is what they said.

From generic to personalised

Moving beyond generic features (like hairdryers for women or shoe-shining kits for men) can help travel businesses better connect with their market.

According to Natalie Rosa, CEO of Big Ambitions, a hairdryer is great, but really most amenities and features women value would be the same as what anyone would – whatever their gender.

“For instance, having a USB charging spot next to the bed, a nice fluffy towel or two, a basin that’s not the size of a Tupperware dish, a TV that doesn’t require a doctorate to switch on and navigate, etc.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what gender you identify with, there are certain base-level expectations that any guest would appreciate,” said Rosa.

Kathleen Hedges, deputy GM at voco, The Bank, Johannesburg, shared the same sentiments.

“I enjoy it when the basics are done well – amazing linen, comfortable pillows, etc, and the small touches. Recently, while at a hotel for my birthday, I received a bottle of wine on my arrival and a lovely welcome card from the GM to wish me a happy birthday.

“A lot of hotels offer generic amenities and don’t take the time to know who their guest is – for example, if you sleep on the right side of the bed, turn the right side down in the evening.

“Small touches could be made in terms of added-on amenities for all genders,” said Hedges.

Johnston added that the best travel experiences she has had was when the hotel paid attention to small details.

“When I was in Mauritius, I made a comment one morning at breakfast that I enjoyed a particular fruit with muesli. The following morning, they made sure that fruit was set out on the buffet with a little dish of it on my table for me,” said Johnston.

According to Megan de Jager, portfolio director at Africa Travel Week, her best travel experience was in Tuscany.

“What made it so special and memorable were the locals who ran the establishment with such authenticity and passion. I remember sitting in our courtyard each morning with a vine of sweet red grapes above us that we would pick and eat.

“Every afternoon the owners would bring us home-made bread, olive oil and wine from their farm that we would enjoy at dusk overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills.

“The property also had a small trattoria whose chef was an elderly Italian woman who cooked all her traditional recipes that had been passed down through generations.

“We ate there every night, and guests ended each meal with home-made limoncello,” said De Jager.

There is one aspect of travel which is far more of a concern to women travellers than to their male counterparts – safety. Amenities and services that cater to this are important. De Jager said on a practical level, she looks for security and safety.

“I want to be able to lock and bolt my hotel room and to lock away my valuables in a safe”.

The women team at Bon Hotels added: “A shuttle service for early departures and late arrivals is a huge plus as women do not always feel safe taking an Uber at off-peak times.”

An escape from the everyday

Regarding women’s holiday preferences, these too are not unique to gender. They reflect current travel trends and the universal need for a break from normal routine.

“I want to transcend my comfort zone in a safe environment. I want to experience novelty and a change of scenery,” Rosa explained.

De Jager spoke on the desire to escape everyday life and said she wants a break from the daily grind.

“I want to be able to wake up without an alarm clock and have the commodity of time. I want to leave behind the feeling that I’m rushing from task to task and that everything is planned and scheduled.

“I love the road less travelled, and I love to get lost in a place. I also look for good food. I’m inclined to eat my way through a holiday and love nothing more than going to restaurants that locals recommend,” she said.

Food is central to many travel experiences

Olivia Gradidge, marketing manager for Travel and Tourism at Africa Travel Week, emphasised that good food and wine, especially if there is an element of surprise, like tasting something new, is a key part of a good holiday.

Johnston also said that great holidays strike the perfect balance between social- and me-time.

“A holiday is a chance to spend quality time with loved ones and still get some alone time to unwind and rejuvenate the soul,” said Johnston.

And finally, Rosa said that when it comes to what makes a travel experience special, it almost always comes down to the staff.

“Something small like being greeted with a smile and a helpful hand by every staff member always stands out in my mind, and I will return to that hotel if I’m in the vicinity again.

“I stay at a lot of hotels, and that is by far the thing that stands out most positively for me,” she said.